5 Satir Categories for Understanding Communication Styles



“When things are steep, remember to stay level-headed.” – Horace

Virginia Satir was a highly effective family therapist.

Satir achieved rapid results by using five communication categories to identify behavior.

Because of Virginia Satir’s extreme effectiveness with resolving communication conflict, Richard Bandler and John Grinder modeled Virginia Satir when they created Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) to rapidly improve communication effectiveness.

The 5 Satir Categories

In Brilliant Nlp: What the Most Successful People Know, Say & Do, David Molden and Pat Hutchinson write about the 5 Satir communication categories.

The five Satir Categories are:

  1. Blaming
  2. Placating
  3. Computing
  4. Distracting
  5. Leveling

Virginia Satir had four categories that were responsible for many family conflicts and one that can be used for resolving conflict and bringing people together.

    1. Blamer

    Blamer behavior finds fault — never accepting responsibility themselves, always blaming someone or something else. The Blamer hides a feeling of alienation and loneliness behind a tough and complacent mask. Blamers are more likely to initiate conflict.

    2. Placater (Non-assertive)

    Placaters are out to please, non-assertive, never disagreeing, and always seeking approval. They avoid conflict. Their main concern is how other people perceive them.

    3. Computer

    Computer behavior is very correct and proper but displaying no emotion, masking a feeling of vulnerability. They often appear cold or unfeeling. A computer can be a firework of emotions inside while appearing very calm and super-rational on the outside. They often say things that are value judgments without indicating who could have made the judgment, which implies that everyone would agree.

    4. Distractor

    Distractors seek attention to compensate for their feelings of loneliness or inadequacy. Rather than positive action, Distractors use a range of emotions from anger to guilt to either avoid an issue or manipulate how others feel.

    Distractors use a range of behavior from Blamer, Computer and Distractor.

    5. Leveler (Assertive)

    Levelers have emotional balance and can relate to all kinds of people. They are assertive. The goal of leveling is mutual problem solving.

    Levelers have few threats to their self-esteem.

    Words, voice tone, body movements and facial expressions all give the same message.

      The Leveler communication category of behavior can be used resolve conflict and bring people together. The distinction of the leveler is that the leveler has real-time, congruent responses. All the other responses are the result of negative internal feelings causing words and actions to be incongruent.

      Attributes of a Leveler

      The Leveler response is the most effective behavior for solving problems creatively. Their body posture communicates the idea that they are being to true to what they think.

      They come across as ‘on the level’, centered and factual.

      Molden and Hutchinson characterize Levelers with the following attributes

      1. look for solutions.
      2. have a conscious positive intention behind everything they do.
      3. hold strong positive beliefs about themselves and others.
      4. operate from strong personal values.
      5. store positive mind images.
      6. have flexibility of behavior when communicating with others.
      7. establish rapport before trying to influence.

        You can use NLP to learn leveler behavior and acquire leveler attributes.

        Incongruent Behavior

        Virginia Satir used the communication categories to help individual family members become aware of their incongruent behavior.

        Incongruent behavior is when your mind thinks one thing, but your body does another (e.g. such as faking a smile.)

        While you might try and mask your problems, your body gives signals to other people.

        People intuitively sense something is incongruent and this creates conflict.

        Key Take Aways

        Here are my key take aways:

        • Know the effect of Satir Categories. Knowing the effect of the categories on others is a powerful way to have a positive effect and ensure impact and influence.
        • Change your behavior. You are not your behavior. You can adopt a different communication style, if your current behavior patterns aren’t working.
        • Adopt the “assertive” style of a Leveler to resolve conflict. Levelers don’t mask their emotions. They are in tune with them. They focus on problem solving and they are aware of others perspectives.

        I work in a high-stakes, high stress environment. I get to see the Satir Categories in action every day.

        Interpersonal training helps make sense of what I see.

        One of the biggest insights for me among the various training programs was emotional intelligence. From the description of a Leveler, I think a key attribute is exercising a high degree of emotional intelligence.

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