Tip #658: Four Roles Necessary for Productive Communication

“The essence of dialogue is an inquiry that surfaces ideas, perceptions and understanding that people do not already have.”  William Isaacs

One very basic communication model states that communication requires three basic elements: the sender (speaker), the receiver (listener), and the message.

However, according to David Kantor there are four roles that a person can take in any conversation. In Kantor’s Four Player Model, these roles include the Mover, the Follower, the Opposer and the Bystander.

Productive communications require the active participation of all four roles, whether we are holding an internal dialogue or are in dialogue with a group of people.

  1. The Mover initiates ideas and offers direction. This works best if the Mover speaks authentically and encourages others to do the same.
  1. The Follower completes what is said, helps others to clarify their thoughts, and supports what is happening. The Follower can only fulfill this role by actively listening carefully to what others are saying.
  1. The Opposer challenges what is being said, questions its validity and offers corrections to improve the initial idea. As long as the Opposer is respectful of other’s views, this role can be very effective.
  1. The Bystander actively notices what is going on and provides perspective on the conversation (not on the topic). The Bystander can only accomplish this by suspending judgment so s/he can objectively see what is happening in the interaction.

Conversations get stuck when:

  • Individuals are locked into playing only one role.
  • No one is acting as a Mover to initiate ideas and provide direction
  • No one is acting as a Follower to support what is said.
  • Opposers are either dominating the conversation or not allowed to speak.
  • Bystanders are either saying nothing or ignored when they do speak up.
  • Habitual behavioral patterns persist.*

*Note: Patterns are the way individuals habitually interact with each other. For example, every time A voices an opinion, B automatically opposes it- and rather than listening carefully to what either A or B is saying, C always tends to withdraw as a participant in the conversation.

We may each have a preferred role, but if we are aware of the dynamics of a conversation, we can move into any of the roles to keep the interaction balanced and constructive.

In the picture below, the Mover and Opposer share the vertical advocacy axis (they state points of view, express opinions and urge action). The Follower and Bystander share the horizontal inquiry axis (they ask questions, clarify information and sense progress).


Amanda Ridings suggests that we can be more aware of the dynamics in conversations in three arenas if we pay attention to:

  • the role we generally play both in conversation and in our internal dialogue;
  • the roles others play in conversation as well as their habitual patterns of behavior; and
  • the patterns of dialogue in meetings.

We can then use our knowledge of the four roles to diagnose which role(s) may need to be added to a group interaction to ensure a constructive dialogue.

For more information about Kantor’s Four Player Model, see https://thesystemsthinker.com/dialogic-leadership/

May your learning be sweet.



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