How four birds can help improve your communication

How we communicate with each other is key to how we build and manage our relationships. As a species, though, we are so complicated in how we think and communicate. What we say and what we hear is often filtered by our own experience and our preconceptions of others. What if we had a profiling tool that helped us understand ourselves and others a little better? Would that help us be more successful in our communication?

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 called the DOPE test, after the four birds involved) was originally developed by Dr. Gary Couture in the 1970s, since when it has become increasingly popular. It’s rapid growth in use is partly because many people feel they can relate more to something visual and tactile like an eagle or dove, than to a concept like dominant or compliant. That it is freely available also helps.

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.


In February 2012, I hosted a workshop for IIBA Auckland, on ‘Managing Communication‘. This looked at how communication is the key to great relationships from home to work and everywhere in between (in honour of being held near St. Valentine’s Day).  The speaker, Anna McNaughton, used the DOPE test as a fun profiling tool to help us to understand our communication styles.  I was subsequently invited to give a masterclass on what it takes to be great at what we do, for which I further researched mastering our relationships and developed the whitepaper you can find below.


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

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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.

6 thoughts on “How four birds can help improve your communication

  1. 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.

    1. @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. 🙂

  2. 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?

    1. 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.

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