Push vs. Pull: Why Your Communication Style Matters

Published: Jun 30, 2016
Modified: May 20, 2020


Do you know what your communication style is? Do you push more than you pull, or do you pull more than you push?

How do you lead, manage, motivate, resolve conflict or gain influence? What is your style of communicating—or, more importantly, what do you want it to be?

There are some great assessment tools that provide meaningful insights into how we communicate. The information they provide helps build better workplace teams and relationships in many ways—e.g. helping colleagues understand what’s motivating and what isn’t, how to effectively respond to conflict, and problem solve, as well as providing greater self-awareness for leaders. While these specific insights can be incredibly valuable, they also take a good bit of investment of time and learning to adapt and use.

Not everyone has the advantage of access to a full diagnostic assessment. And not every organization is willing to invest the time or money.  Perfectly understandable. Sometimes reality prevails, and what people resort to is good old-fashioned common sense or advice from a friend.

In my work as a communication coach, I get to observe the communication styles of a lot of executives and their teams as well. Quite often, the lightbulb goes on over my head, producing an "a-ha!" moment that develops into a best practice—or easy practice!—that I can share with others. The push-pull concept is one of those, so consider this to be advice from a friend.

Let me share the story of how this a-ha! came to me:

Recently, I was shadowing an executive client—successful, well regarded, and quite open minded—when I observed something very interesting. With most people he talked to, met with, or even just encountered, he pulled. In other words, I observed that he was curious, he inquired, he mined for information, he listened well, and he tried to learn as much as possible. I was impressed—he demonstrated the kinds of traits that have been marking this new era of more connective and nurturing leadership.

However, when he was face to face with the most junior people in his organization, he pushed. He did the talking, he told stories, and didn’t ask questions; he basically held court. Wow. I was pretty taken aback. Where was his trademark curiosity, desire to hear and learn and understand? I wondered what drove this push versus his usual pull (I’m still gently probing so that both of us can understand it better and make a course correction). It also prompted me to consider this very basic divide in communication styles.

I think it’s fair to say that for most audiences, people who pull are more appealing and obviously, by definition, more engaging. Asking questions, striving to learn and understand as much as possible before offering an opinion, and being a good listener are all behaviors that are universally appreciated. Frankly, these are valuable and valued behaviors in our personal as well as our professional lives.

On the other hand, people who push—and pushing may have its place occasionally, especially if paired with pulling—are not appreciated quite as universally. In fact, it can be a turnoff. As a communication style, pushing can feel to recipients like bossiness, "know-it-all-ness," or control; it can be alienating. Think about the people you know and work with who push, and you’ll probably realize that you find them either exhausting or offensive at times. (The exception would be those who push but are funny or entertaining; we give those people a little slack because they provide us with something of value—comic relief.)

Think as objectively as possible about your own personal communication style, and then think about what you’d ideally like it to be. You can make adjustments, if need be, to find more of a balance between pushing and pulling. Try it out. Ask more questions, remind yourself to listen before you speak, and see what happens.

About The Author

Communications coach Beth Noymer Levine is an expert in helping Fortune 500 executives, professional and world-class athletes, and other high-profile individuals effectively think about, prepare for, and deliver their messages to important audiences. The founder of SmartMouth Communications, Levine is also the author of “Jock Talk: 5 Communication Principles for Leaders as Exemplified by Legends of the Sports World" and the creator of SmartMouth OnDemand , an innovative online learning platform that offers interactive skill-building communications courses. She is a frequent speaker and workshop presenter at conferences and events nationwide.