Communication Dynamics in Professional Contexts

Seth Galligan
C2 Team Member Alumni


Communication dynamics in professional contexts … wait … what!?! Sounds very heady but really, this is something anyone who works deals with every day. Communication dynamics is the study of the way communication lives in the world; what communications does as it functions between people in various contexts.

A simple way to think about communication dynamics is to picture yourself in a chair in a room. People enter the room and talk with you. You know some and some are strangers. Some come alone, some come in groups. Some listen, some talk—all combinations are possible. You alter the way you speak slightly for each individual and for various groups as the procession files through the door. The people passing through will, in turn, adjust the way they speak according to who is around them. The communication happening will be dynamic in the way it is created and conveyed. It will respond to the context. Communication is never not dynamic. A page with writing on it is nothing to anyone until it is observed. Communication dynamics is a factor at ALL times.


One of the most important and impactful scenes for complex communication dynamics is while we are at work. Almost everyone spends a large part of their day working and most people need to communicate to work. Understanding the communication dynamics at play while we work can be extremely valuable. A clearer understanding of the way things work can help with efficiency, fulfillment, purpose, and creativity.

Any time someone is involved in doing work (used here in the most general sense) they will be oriented in relation to others (also used in a general sense). I have come up with a simple outline of the 5 basic ways in which anyone can be oriented to others within the context of doing work. The ways to work outlined below are in no way value statements—anyone can excel or stink in any particular orientation. Also, there is a time and place for each, even within single positions. None are better or worse than another.


Alone – You are a one-person show. You do it all and need no one. You march to the beat of your own drum and value that highly. You are very wary of any formalized relationship that would in any way erode your complete autonomy over your work life. You pride yourself on your ability to “get it done” and independently solve a wide variety of problems.

For – Someone hires you and you work under them. You are not a “shot-caller” but prefer to be told what to do. You avoid leadership roles and prefer being given assignments. You want clear work hours and never want to bring your work home with you. You do not want to be burdened with higher level responsibilities and decision making requirements, preferring to focus on your piece of the pie.

Over – You are the person under whom people work. You are the boss. You are good at knowing what needs to be done and telling people to do it. You can see the big picture and can handle heavy loads of responsibility. “Work hours? What hour hours? They are all work hours.”

Against – The main motivation for your work is creating opposition against someone or something. You have strong beliefs and if someone is opposed to what you stand for, you find meaning in neutralizing their affect or outright defeating them in some way. You can generate high levels of energy and motivation but need something to oppose to do so.

With – You work as part of a team, collaborating to achieve mutually agreed upon ends. You prefer to be part of groups in which all members have a voice. You have little need to take credit (although you may like it when it does come your way) but value most highly achievement as an end unto itself. Creative spaces are best and open people will create the optimal environment for you to thrive.


First, remember that almost any job imaginable will shift from one orientation to another even in the midst of a single conversation. There is no need to pick a style or value one above the other. What would the world be like if no one was willing to work “for” others? Every style has an important role to play. Think that working “against” is wrong or less effectual than other styles? What about police officers? They actively work against criminals, doing everything in their power to neutralize them or completely defeat them.

The point is not to self-identify, but to become aware. Understanding roles and the dynamics of professional social contexts can help you be a better communicator and help you feel more clarity about your purpose from moment to moment. Maybe you are struggling as a result of trying to force the wrong orientation on a relationship. Try analyzing the relationship using the 5 ways. Figure out who plays what role and when. It is possible that the relationship and the communication needed to drive it will become more smooth and productive.

My 5 Ways to Work theory in no way is a comprehensive panacea for all workplace communication issues, but I hope it provides you with an additional tool for contemplating the nature of communication in your life. Increased awareness is the best possible goal and every moment spent considering the dynamics of the communication you are a part of will yield positive results.

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