What’s your Communication Style?

Have you ever been told you’re too abrupt?

Tend to get sidetracked?

Give too much detail?

Are “too quiet” in meetings?

According to a survey conducted by The Economist, lack of understanding around communications at work can lead to stressful work environments, stalled careers, missed performance goals, and lost sales. It corroborates what we’ve known for years.

Companies of all sizes struggle to understand and remedy communication issues in the workplace, according to the “Communication Barriers in the Modern Workplace” report, which includes responses from 403 U.S.based senior executives, managers, and junior staff.

Communication breakdowns result in:

  • 52% of respondents report being more stressed.

  • 44% of respondents said projects were delayed or failed completely.

  • 31% stated it lowered company morale.

  • 25% correlated with missed performance goals.

  • 18% of lost sales were allocated to miscommunication and ⅓ reported these sales were valued between $100,000 and $999,999 EACH!

“Our study with the Economist Intelligence Unit confirms that communication breakdowns have a profound impact on everyone in the organization, regardless of gender, generation, or seniority within the company,” said Nathan Rawlins, chief marketing officer at Lucidchart. “By understanding the causes and impact of poor communications, business leaders can focus on creating strategies for building inclusion and cognitive diversity in the workplace.”

Discovering your own communication style and how it may clash with someone else's will help you prepare for meetings, whether with a client, your boss, or your team.

It’s not about being wrong or right, it’s about learning, understanding, and building awareness. With that in mind, here’s a quick rundown of four basic styles of communication, borrowed heavily from Toastmasters International:

Direct: focused, results-oriented, ambitious, goal-oriented, and driven, others may perceive her as strong-willed or demanding. She can be seen as impatient when bored. She likes to feel in control and may become frustrated if dependent on others.

She measures progress by achievements and successes and is motivated by challenges. At work she displays more concern for results than relationships and does not easily share feelings. Her pace is fast and decisive and she likes a busy, efficient, structured, and formal environment.

Common Descriptors: Decisive, Competitive, Independent and Confident

Initiating: due to the gregarious nature of the person with an Initiating communication style, she may be perceived as someone who talks more than listens. She is often perceived as self-assured, innovative, and persuasive.

She likes to feel accepted and is motivated by relationships. She responds strongly to praise and approval and is fast-paced, appearing impulsive at times. She prefers a stimulating, personal, and friendly work environment.

Common Descriptors: Sociable, Enthusiastic, Energetic, Spontaneous and Fun-loving.

Supportive: because the person with a Supportive communication style dislikes change, she may appear indecisive. More often she is perceived as careful, patient, and amiable. Due to her active listening skills, others see her as cooperative, dependable, and loyal.

She is often modest and prefers praise to be given privately. Patient and slow-paced, she likes a personal, relaxed, no-tension environment. She puts a high priority on close relationships and does not like conflict, but may mediate if necessary.

Common Descriptors: Calm, Steady, Approachable, Sincere, and Gentle.

Analytical: systematic and task-oriented, she is sometimes perceived as a perfectionist. She is organized, self-reliant, purposeful, and diplomatic and is motivated by certainty and will rarely give an opinion unless asked.

She is slow and cautious in her pace and likes a structured, ordered, and functional environment. Because she needs to feel sure of her position and others’ expectations, she is often private with personal information and does not easily express emotions.

Common Descriptors: Precise, Exact, Analytical, and Logical.

Can you see how some of these styles can clash?

It is important to recognize how different styles of communication can impact how your message is heard and understood.

Last week, I explained the three levels of abstraction and how they can impact understanding. Compound the idea of unpacking little packets of meaning when we speak, with the possibility that the listener’s communication style internalizes the meaning in a specific way. It becomes very clear why communication continues to be an issue.

It’s not what’s said or even how it’s said, it’s how it’s heard and understood that matters.

According to HBR, ⅔ of managers are uncomfortable communicating with employees! TWO THIRDS!

Here are some ways it impacts our office. I’m a strong Initiator with some Direct mixed in. Hannah is Analytical and heavily Supportive. We are polar opposites in many ways, but in communication especially.

To ensure that she isn’t drowning in stories with no actionable data, I try to focus on the information she needs so she can move forward.

In return she gives me the bandwidth to expand on member stories, discoveries, new strategies, and concepts that may help. I know she’ll digest what I’m saying and come back later with input, pulling out a valuable strand of information I overlooked.

Take a second and reflect on your own style and how it may clash with some of your teammates, especially the ones you rely on daily.

How does your style emerge during meetings, informal or formal. How does it present for each teammate? How do they conflict?

Next, examine ways you can adapt.

It’s far more effective to focus on adapting yourself instead of insisting everyone else changes. Trust me when I say that bulldozing does not get you as far as cooperation does.

To help get you started

If you are Direct:

  • Rein it in, remember that meetings are also times to connect, teams are composed of people after all.

  • Ask questions. Remember the assumptions you made before the meeting may be off base, so position yourself as a Learner, not a Knower. A conversation should dance back and forth between parties.

  • Try and leave knowing at least three things you didn’t know you didn’t know beforehand. Especially valuable are the things you didn’t know you didn’t know.

If you are an Initiator:

  • To stay on topic, prepare your notes (or agenda) carefully, and use them to stay on track. I bring agendas for ALL my meetings for this exact reason. It takes me about 2 seconds to start telling stories and get off track.

  • If an agenda seems like too much before you step into a meeting, make two quick lists; information that others need from you and what you need from them to move forward.

  • Try and remember that while it’s good to connect, there is a functionality of the meeting that has to be addressed.

  • Use prompts to redirect yourself back to the reason you are meeting. I also have a note on my work notebook that just says “Focus” which helps resist the urge to tell too many anecdotes.

If you are Supportive:

  • Make a goal before you go into the meeting of contributing two or three pieces of information to the meeting.

  • Don’t hesitate to step into the conversation. It’s valid to preface your comment by explaining that the question or discussion requires some thought or research, if you feel that it does. All of the other Supportive Communicators will probably thank you for it later.

  • If you want to circle back, effectively giving yourself time to process and think about your response, tell everyone in the meeting. Be sure to let them know when and how you’ll be following up.

If you are Analytical:

  • Try not to offload too much data at once, segment your explanations with simple statements like, “Would more information be helpful?” so they have an opportunity to say “No I get it” or “This part doesn’t make sense” before you plow through to the end.

  • Remember, it’s a conversation, not a monologue.

  • Supporting documents, like simple reports and charts, can also be hugely helpful to share large chunks of data digitally so everyone can process them in the way that they need.

It is important to recognize how effective communication can impact your interactions with others, leading to higher efficiency, greater morale, and increased innovation and creative potential in teams.

Awareness is key, so monitor your communication styles and that of your teams. Decide if your current strategy is effective based on feedback and outcomes. If necessary, adjust your behavior and try different methods of accommodating the styles of your team. Chances are they’ll likely start doing the same.

There is an ever-growing body of evidence about how communication styles impact our relationships, both inside and outside of the office. I strongly encourage you to dig deeper for a better understanding of how you communicate and how it can impact what your team hears and understands.

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