How four birds can help improve your communication


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Feb 16th, 2012

In February 2012, IIBA Auckland hosted ‘Managing Communication for Business Analysts’ with Anna McNaughton of Work and Play.

In honour of being held near St. Valentine’s Day, Anna chose to look at how communication is the key to great relationships, from home to work and everywhere in between, and introduced us to a fun profiling tool that looks at our communication styles, to help us understand why it seems some people are easier to work with, that some people seem to understand where we come from.

Profiling tools were developed in the early 20th century, following psychologist Dr. William Marston’s theory of four basic personality types: dominant, influential, steadfast and compliant, or DISC as it now more commonly known. Many other profiling tools evolved, similarly breaking people into one of a limited number of types, to help people assess styles of thinking, behaviour, or communication (e.g. MBTI/Myers-Briggs, HBDI/Herrmann, LSI/Human Synergistics, etc.).

These are licensed and restricted to use by certified practitioners, however there is one that has elements of all those, is open source and royalty free:

The four-bird model (DOPE)

The four-bird model (sometimes also called DOPE, as the four birds it uses to represent communication styles are the Dove, the Owl, the Peacock, and the Eagle) was originally developed by Dr. Gary Couture, and has become popular because it is freely available and more accessible (most people can relate easier to a visual object like a bird, rather than just a concept or descriptive word).

The Dove is sympathetic, moderate, people-focused.
The Owl is technical, analytical, process-focused.
The Peacock is expressive, persuasive, recognition-focused.
The Eagle is bold, confident, results-focused.

It takes only minutes to complete a self-assessment questionnaire and map your results onto a grid to determine which type of bird you are. See the example shown below, which maps a score of 1.7 for responsiveness and 3.2 for assertiveness, indicating the person is a Peacock.

Four Birds Communication Styles Grid

You can also use this exercise with your colleagues, as a fun ice-breaker and a useful tool to acknowledge that a team needs all types.

Although this is a highly subjective technique that only assesses you in the moment, it does illustrate  how our awareness of different communication styles can help us communicate more effectively.


I have attached a downloadable PDF version of the self-assessment questionnaire with fuller explanations of the four birds.

Walk with me

This blog is an exploration of tools, techniques, and insights and reflects my journey as I strive to be the best I can be. I am still learning and exploring, and I invite your feedback and discussion so that we can learn from one another.


  • Wow! This is neat. I have always been fascinated by such models and creative representation of one’s abilities.

    This blog post is certainly the most legal “dope” to improve one’s communication. 🙂

    One possible extension to this could be:

    1. How does the plotting vary depending on external factors changing (like stress level, environment, experience, age, etc)
    2. How can BAs use this to be more engaged with their stakeholders and team members.
    3. How can someone use this to understand others, interplay of the various birds, etc. 🙂

    Just some thoughts.

    Great post! Loved this perspective.

    • David Morris

      07 Jun 2012

      @Yamo, thanks for feedback. I have another post in the pipeline dealing with relationships that will address some if what you've mentioned; however I do like your thoughts of what happens when under stress. I will follow up on that one too, I imagine great visuals of what each bird looks like when stressed. :)

  • Absolutely! Keep us posted, David!


  • Jonathan Nituch

    12 Jun 2012

    Before I read the article, I was expecting these birds to be angry!

    How do people respond when their bird is identified? When someone gets labeled as a peacock, do they react negatively?

    • David Morris

      12 Jun 2012

      An interesting question; all of the bird profiles could be viewed negatively:

      • A dove might be upset if they were told they were too focused on interacting with colleagues and not enoug on the task at hand, while they would be happy being praised for how much they care.

      • An owl may get unhappy if called slow and boring, while they would be happy being praised for their considered approach and attention to detail.

      • A peacock could be defensive by being called shallow and attention-seeking, while they would be happy being praised for their ability to speak publicly and inspire others.

      • An eagle might get annoyed if called a control-freak, while they would be happy being praised for their ability to make things happen.

      It's all in how it's used or communicated. In the workshops where I've used this, the groundwork is laid to ensure that everyone knows that all the profiles have their strengths and how they can react when under stress, so that people should be OK.

      You do occasionally get people who feel mis-identified, and I put that down to how the four birds process is very simple and subjective. If people want a thorough / scientific approach they need to use one of the other systems, which usually involves some money and time, but tends to come with personalised reports and even some one-to-one consulting.

      I love the allusion to the 'angry birds', especially as it relates to how people are under stress; I cannot believe that I missed that connection. I will be writing a follow-up post at one point to cover that.

  • […] communication, and behavioural styles. I wrote an earlier post on a straight forward tool for determining our preferred communication style. Using that for our key stakeholders, we can then tailor our approach to them to ensure more […]

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