Interactional Styles

Mallory E. Lawler
Concordia University-Portland

The Graduate Program in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements

For the Degree of Masters in Education

Concordia University





Style of communication can greatly differ between people. This is especially true when looking at the diversity of a classroom. When understanding communication there are four main styles to consider including: (1) direct/indirect, (2) elaborate/succinct, (3) personal/contextual and (4) instrumental/affective. In addition, it is important to consider conversational distribution among students and how they utilize this within the classroom. The following paper reflects upon these ideas and how they relate to the classroom environment.

Keywords: direct, instrumental, conversational distribution












Interactional Styles

“A dominant-culture classroom in the United States is usually a low-context situation; we give explicit directions and do not expect students to intuit what we expect” (Clayton, 2003, p. 99). The manner in which teachers communicate with their students greatly impacts the level of interaction within the classroom as whole. However, in order to determine the best way to communicate with students a teacher must truly understand their style of interaction. There are four styles of communication including: (1) direct/indirect, (2) elaborate/succinct, (3) personal/contextual and (4) instrumental/affective (Clayton, 2003). These styles differ greatly however, when understanding communicative aspects such as frequency of talking, talking positions, culture and conversational distribution communication styles can be impacted significantly.

When reflecting upon my current classroom I feel that the students have an extremely diverse range of communication styles. However, I have many students who can easily relate to the direct style of communication. This style “contains the person’s true intentions, needs, and wishes” (Clayton, 2003, p.102). Similarly, the parents of these students have the tendency to communicate in the same way. This is especially true in regards to challenging rules or standing up for their children. Many parents take on the “‘Speak up for what you believe’” approach (Clayton, 2003, p.102). Therefore, parents will often argue on behalf of their child. I greatly respect this style of communication because I feel that being confident in your opinion is important. As a teacher, it can be difficult to discuss issues with parents who utilize this approach however; in general I feel that it is a strong form of communication.

I feel that I best relate to the instrumental style of communication. This style is mainly preoccupied with achieving a goal (Clayton, 2003). This is especially true when I am instructing students. The purpose of my communication in this situation is to instill information and knowledge into the audience. I often end my statements with a question such as “Does this make sense?” or, my most common phrase, “Are you with me so far?”. This is my way of informally assessing if the students are understanding the material. My goal here is to give the students processing time as well as allow time for questions to be asked. I feel as though this form of communication greatly differs from that of my students. I often have to remind my students to think before they speak. When they are communicating there is rarely an objective to what they are saying. Many times their communication between peers is impulsive and can result in unfiltered and the occasional hurtful comments. I am consciously aware of this and try to model for my students to have a specific goal of communicating their ideas. Therefore, I urge them to always think about what they are saying and decide if it is something that needs to be said.

When looking at the communication styles of my students I also try to model proper conversational distribution. Cultural distribution refers to “How to take turns speaking (either by interruption or by turn)…” (Clayton, 2003, p.101). This can also be determined by culture. However, I firmly believe that within my classroom it is important to take into consideration wait time between conversations and to be aware of interruptions. This is mainly regarding respect for others and what they have to say. For example, my students are often waiting for their turn to speak rather than truly listening to their peers speak. This can result in interruptions and misunderstanding of ideas. Therefore, I feel that the students should learn how to best communicate within our classroom to allow every student to feel comfortable sharing his or her ideas.




Clayton, J. B. (2003). One classroom, many worlds: Teaching and learning in the cross-cultural classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.