Sometimes I notice myself being irritated when I’m communicating with others. Up until recently I thought that was because I was tired or the topic wasn’t interesting enough. At times I even thought – Maybe I don’t like this person any more.

While this might be true I’ve found that there is one thing that affects me more than any of the above. Namely the nature of the communication. If it’s to pushy I loose interest at best. At worst I get defensive and the other part will usually go defensive as well.

A model

A few months ago I stumbled over a model I’d like to share with you. It describes the nature of (spoken) communication and gives me a pretty good orientation, or at least a hint of where and how the communication is going.

Picture a ladder or an axis, which gets more intense the farther you get to the right. It has five steps and looks like this:

Dialogue -> Conversation -> Discussion -> Argumentation -> Quarrel

You might want to go even further, to the right, and I guess the next stage after a quarrel would be fighting. I don’t count that as communication so I stop at Quarrel.

I want to give you a basic idea of how I experience each stage and what I think characterizes them. I’ll start at the far right and work my way to the left. Sort of ending up where I like my communication to happen.


As said, not very far from getting physical but still verbal. If I picture it in my head it could be a couple on the verge of separation standing in a kitchen and reaching for something to throw while accusing each other of different things. It could also be an upset customer who aren’t very pleased with a product, that has returned for a refund but the supplier says the warranty has been voided.


This is still really intense. Each part in the communication is trying to convince the other part that their view is the correct one. The words can be soft and the tone could also be very gentle, but the intention is still to convince the other part.


This is middle ground. Not a quarrel but you’re not really open for another persons perspective either. Sentences like: ‘That’s not how I look at it …’ or ‘Oh yeah, how about the time when you …’, is pretty common. I wouldn’t describe this type of communication as very productive. Not in the long run at least. At best you can determine where a person draws the line but not really gain any deeper understanding.


Lunch chit-chat about nothing and everything. You aren’t really really giving the other person your full attention and a comment like: ‘Are you listening … ?’ might appear in this context. This is also the typical mode of exchanging information. A few ‘Can you clarify … ‘ might be tossed in and appear in the conversation. But each part is still spending more time preparing an answer than really trying to understand.


This involves a lot of listening. Here you focus on understanding the other person, before even opening your mouth. You aren’t preparing an answer, the answers and opinions are pulled out of you.

If you give your other communication parties this much attention and really put your hear to it, amazing things will happen to your relationship. Engaging in dialogue is exhausting and requires a lot patience. But with some training anyone can do it.

Summing it up

The farther you go to the left, the more pull oriented the conversation is. The content isn’t key, neither is the tone really. Even though the tone of the communication degrades pretty fast as you move to the right. No, the key thing here is that information is being pulled rather that pushed. As you go left, it gets more pull oriented. Going to the right, more pushy.

What’s important to remember here is the nature of the communication, not it’s content, and how you or the other involved parties react to different natures of communication. What you are trying to communicate and the context also matters.

Oh and one final word. This is a model of the reality, this is not the reality itself.

About Ola Ellnestam

Agile Coach, Systems developer, Agile Practitioner and father of three.

One response »

  1. Hans Brattberg says:

    Sorry about the Swedish:

    Jag brukar skilja på debatt, diskussion och samtal.
    Debatt – vinna inför andra
    Diskussion – övertyga den andre
    Samtal – lära sig av varandra
    Inte riktigt samma sak som du pekar på ovan, men kanske finns några beröringspunkter?
    Mao inleder jag härmed ett samtal 🙂

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