Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Communication Styles => Recency and Primacy

I was watching a rerun of Bones on Hulu and Dr. Temperance Brennan, the forensic anthropologist, interrupted her excited assistant. “Facts first, then conclusions,” she stated in her matter-of-fact way. It reminded me of how most scientific types like to receive their information: data and reasoning first, then a conclusion. Placing the most important part of the communication last is called recency.

If you’ve ever communicated to someone using recency, and then were interrupted with something like “just give me the bottom line,” then you are speaking with someone who prefers to be communicated using primacy, where the most important part of the communication is placed first.

In studies of human behavior, four ‘styles’ have been identified. All of us have at least some aspects of each of the styles, however we usually have a primary style that is most comfortable and natural for us. If you’ve been exposed to DiSC or a similar behavior or social style system, you know that two of the styles prefer process-oriented thinking and behaviors and two prefer a more expedient, intuitive style.

The two styles that are process-oriented – called Analyzers (also known as “C”, Analytical, or Blue in some style systems) and Stabilizers (aka “S”, Amiable or Green) - prefer recency. Like Dr. Brennan, they prefer knowing that a logical, sequential set of facts and ideas have resulted in the conclusion presented. If you fail to build your case in a logical, rational manner, your argument will be disregarded as faulty and/or rash.

Expedient styles – Controllers (aka “D”, Driver, or Red) and Persuaders (“I”, Expressive or Yellow) - prefer primacy. Present the most important, bottom-line information first. Then additional information can be shared as needed in order to make decisions or gain understanding. If you begin your conversation with a lot of facts and details, you will only frustrate them and they may get impatient and interrupt, or they will tune you out. Either way, your communication will not get through as you desire.

If you are presenting to a group with mixed styles, present your information in primacy fashion. Otherwise, you run the risk of losing your expedient listeners right away. Present the most salient facts and data to support your conclusions, but if there are a lot, have a separate handout that you can give to those who want the data. Process types will greatly appreciate it if you email this supporting data before the meeting. This gives them the time they need to pore over it and they will feel well prepared for your presentation. Don’t expect the expedient types to have opened the attachment at all.

Presenting information in the manner that your listener prefers increases the likelihood that they will connect with you and accept your recommendations. The concepts of primacy and recency are useful tactics to keep in mind when applying behavior style concepts to the practical skills of influence, sales and clear communication.

In this scene from Castle notice how Lt. Beckett responds when Castle starts with his conclusion: “The bullet was made of ice.”


  1. which was the season and clip? I am trying to find it on Youtube....

    1. It was Season 2, Episode 11. It's too bad they took that clip down, it was a great illustration of someone who values recency communication totally ignoring someone who starts with the conclusion.