Some working relationships start out like a great first date. Thrown together in an interview or on a committee, people just click. All the positive clichés apply — they’re on the same wavelength, singing the same tune, on the same page. Essentially, they’ve been fortunate to team up with someone who happens to have a similar communication style, making it easy to collaborate.
This isn’t always the case. Most workplaces also include colleagues with clashing communication styles. When they are thrown together, there’s more potential for frustration and failure. That’s when communications training can make the difference between working smoothly toward the same goals or watching initiatives crash and burn.
As managers labor over budgets, plan the next webinar and tend to their constantly buzzing smartphones, they might wonder why they also have to concern themselves with communication strategies. It seems easier to communicate on autopilot, approaching everyone the same way. But by communicating more effectively, they’ll have greater success sharing their vision and reaching their goals.
Consider this four-step approach to effective communications:
1. Understand how people are different. The way people’s personalities are hard-wired affects their responses. It’s why one person leaves a meeting ready to tackle the task at hand, and another person leaves feeling clueless about what’s going on. One widely recognized and helpful model for understanding people is the Jung-based DISC classification of four main personality types. Here’s a refresher: The “D” style person tends to be dominant, direct and results-oriented. “I” style is influence-oriented, social and collaborative. “S” is the stable, solid, dependable person who likes predictability. “C” is conscientious, analytical and detail-oriented.
2. Develop confident self-awareness. Honest evaluation of one’s own strengths and weaknesses prepares leaders to be better communicators. They might ask themselves, “What should I start doing? What should I stop doing?” Understanding oneself is freeing. There’s no need to hide things or be manipulative. When individuals make peace with the fact they are not perfect, they can be more confident, honest and genuine. Colleagues respond in a positive way to self-aware people.
3. Learn to identify the styles of others. Managers don’t have to add psychology degrees to their MBAs. They just need to observe their employees and colleagues, and ask themselves a few questions. Is the person more task-oriented or more people-oriented? Is the person more active or more reserved? While it is important not to make snap judgments, it helps to be alert for cues like speech patterns, eye contact, gestures and demeanor.
4. Modify behavior based on the other person’s communication style. Move beyond the autopilot approach. Modeling or reflecting the other person’s style enables a leader to get their message across with greater ease and accuracy. With a little practice, this approach will come more naturally.
Think about the people in the organization. An “I”-style person is easy to spot — say, the typical millennial. This individual wants interactions that feel lively, personal and fun. To communicate effectively with this type of person, a manager should pick up the pace of conversation, smile more and reflect an animated demeanor that feeds into the person’s enthusiasm.
By contrast, a “C”-style personality requires lots of details. Managers should explain why they’re taking a particular approach on a project, exactly what the expectations are and what the person’s role will be.
While it’s relatively simple to vary the approach to one-on-one communications, communicating about a project with a group that includes all the DISC styles can be tricky. The key is to start by stating the bottom-line goal. Then address the “D” style people: “This is an ambitious goal, but I know you’re up to it. Here’s the deadline …” They appreciate the challenge. Then speak to the “I” style people: “This is going to be fun and exciting, and here’s why … When we’re done, we’ll celebrate with a party!” At this point, the “D” people have started a mental to-do list; the “I” people have heard enough for now.
Next, address the “S”-style people: “This is how we’re going to accomplish this, step by step. I’m here to answer your questions … I’m counting on your help.” At this point, they will be motivated, and they don’t want to let you down. Finally, for the “C”-style people: “This is why we are tackling this project and why it’s important. I’ll provide lots of information to make sure we stay on track and do things right.”
Every manager has talent challenges — people who are mysteriously hard to motivate, people who may listen but don’t really seem to hear, people who can’t stay on track. Of all the tools managers have at their disposal, none is more important than communication when it comes to influencing behavior.
When managers make the effort to communicate more effectively, workplace leaders are more likely to see their ideas, their employees and their companies succeed.