The Four Player Model developed by David Kantor is at the core of the theory of structural dynamics. You can find out more at The Kantor Institute.
Kantor was originally a family therapist. During his work he began to realise that there are recurring patterns of language, behaviour and communication that lead to turbulence in families.
He realised that the same patterns existed in businesses and organisations. Over the course of several years research working with other experts in the field, such as Senge, Schein and Argyris, Kantor became a leading expert in group dynamics, developing the Structural Dynamics Model (often known as The Four Player Model), as a way of understanding, assessing and changing these patterns.
Structural dynamics is rooted in systems dynamics, and is specifically concerned with how human communication does, or does not work. Kantor argues that being aware of the ‘structural dynamics’, or the unseen signals in a conversation is the first step towards being able to change the pattern of your own conversational behaviour, as well as the direction of the conversation itself. He argues that the nature of communication can in fact be deliberate, and thus be designed to help direct conversations to generate success or failure.
Kantor explains that people behave differently in different situations, contexts and conversations.
Every conversation is made up of speech acts such as speech, statements and questions.
There are three different areas of communication, that combined together make 36 different kinds of speech act, which can be sequenced and manipulated to direct conversation, and can create shifts in thinking and action in the room.
The Rule of Order
Each act is rooted in a personal paradigm of how conversations should take place This is the rule of order, or operating system.
Open: Consensual and unregulated conversation, until the point of action and then the group decides together the way forwards. These systems of conversation use a combination of both negative and positive feedback, but often become dysfunctional, at which point a leader steps in and takes control.
Closed: This paradigm is concerned with hierarchy and position. Conversations here are regulated according to who is perceived to have authority in the conversation. They rely on negative or balancing feedback.
Random: This paradigm is based on the belief that authority is there for whoever wants to use and take it. This allows growth and experimentation. They rely on positive feedback and encourage ‘novelty’ and newness.
The Communication Domain (The language people speak)
This is a domain concerned with personal emotion and motivation. Individuals deliberately and subconsciously use different types of language in order to achieve a specific purpose. It’s this area of communication that most often leads to misconception and misunderstanding in conversation, as one person speaks from one domain while someone else speaks from another.
Power: Using language in order to get something done.
Meaning: Asking for evidence and action that can support their desired outcome.
Affect: This is about using emotive language to affect feeling and to develop connection and intimacy with others.
The Actions Domain (Action Propensities)
Each speech act brings a specific action to the conversation. (Kantor terms these Action Propensities). Understanding these and learning how to use them effectively is a useful tool and practice to develop better conversations. And is a tool to recognise and thus overcome conversational patterns that lead to stuckness in communication, learning and decision making.
Movers: Think of ideas and keep conversations and ideas moving.
Opposers: Challenge new ideas and thus encourage exploration and movement.
Followers: are good at adding to and developing ideas and bring support to conversations and progress.
Bystanders: Often observers, they bring a quieter voice of support, offering a variety of perspectives to support and develop ideas.
These four types of communication action lead to three types of behaviour: Bystand, follow, move.
(There are a variety of 4 player assessments available online, including apps).
Lastly, Kantor believes there is the hero, or heroic mode. This is a style of communication that emerges specifically in response to crisis. However the crisis itself is a form of communication. It is, argues Kantor, often a manifestation of the ‘shadow sides’ of the people in the room; a manifestation of the hidden motivations behind communication, caused by events and experiences of the past, for example: fear and greed.
During a crisis how people communicate and interact changes as they begin to respond in defence and protection. Initially people respond to crisis gradually but as the crisis becomes more threatening so their behaviour becomes more extreme. Left to it their behaviour becomes so extreme that it serves only to make things worse, and an environment of blame emerges.
The true art of communication according to Kantor is in being able to see communication and crisis for what it is, and transcending not only ones own shadows, but also the shadow behaviour of those around them.
This is about self-responsibility, acknowledgement of wrongs, recognition of self and others. And in this then, there is control of the shadows.
Understanding how people communicate, including the communication of self, is a vital part of effective communication and an important tool in managing and developing conversations. As Kantor says:
‘Change your vocal action, and you can change how people perceive you. Change what people perceive, and you’ll change how they respond with their own vocal acts’. (The Thought Leader Interview: David Kantor. strategy-business.com)