Different communication styles: The Axen rose – part 2

Written by , in category Agile & Scrum

3 March 2016

If you don’t know yet what the axen rose is, please first take a quick look at part 1 of this blog series. This way you already know the basics that I will elaborate on in this post.

Given the horizontal and vertical zones that were explained in the previous post, we can start identifying the different areas in more detail. Something that was added to the model after its first publication was the use of animals to make each area (and communication style) easier to identify. I personally like the use of metaphors to help integrate abstract and complex concepts. So I will use the animals to further explain the different combinations.


The hawk

When we communicate out of a controlling and conflicting style, we are exhibiting behaviour of the hawk. The hawk attacks its prey, coming down on it from the sky. When we go into a conversation to challenge someone, to attack a certain belief system or way of working we are a hawk. This can be a very valuable style of communication to innovate and spark a change in an environment (remember it’s not about good or bad, it’s about style). One nice example that comes to mind is a statement along these lines: “Why are you putting story point estimates on unplanned items? You know that is wrong!”

The capricorn

A very natural response to being challenged by the hawk is to go into defensive mode, the capricorn. You brace yourself for impact and are ready to hand out some mean headbuts. Sometimes it is necessary to defend yourself, what you belief in and how you are working. This style of communication can help you to not get carried away to easily by a hawk, to take time to reflect on the challenges in life and how you are going to react to them. A good example of this would be “We need to put these story points on the unplanned work because of the KPI we have on our velocity.”

The owl

Were you ever in a conversation where someone was just sitting there, quiet and looking down on the group that was discussing things? They don’t really say anything or contribute, even though you feel they have useful contributions to give. Then you might have seen the owl in action. From it’s branch in a tree the owl looks down on the conversation that is going on. The owl knows things, maybe useful pieces of information or points of view. They deliberately remove themselves from the conversation. The simplest example from my own experience is when I, working as a team coach, see a team make a certain decision that I feel is going to hurt somehow in the near future. Yet I do not share this, because I feel it’s more important for that team to feel the pain of their own decision, so they can improve their way of making decisions. A typical way of expressing this would be a “Hmm…”

The turtle

The counterpart of the owl, equally eager to remove itself from the conversation, is the turtle. This might be the easiest animal to explain, due to its very specific behaviour. When you behave like a turtle you will shut down, check out or in some very defensive or submissive way try to remove yourself from the conversation. A typicaly phrasing for a turtle style of communication would be “I am not smart enough to have any opinion on this topic.”

Alright, this is already proving to be a longer post that I had thought. So I will come back with the deep dive of the harmony zone in the next one. I don’t want to overload you with information in one go. So try and recognise these styles of communication in yourself and others. And maybe you can already look for certain patterns in reactions to these different styles?


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