communication style

Five steps to catering your communication style

It’d be nice if what we meant to say was always received as such.

Not just nice, it’d be an absolute miracle to businesses and personal relationships alike.

There’s an entire industry built on translating between people speaking the same language. Just let that sink in for a second… people who speak the same language OFTEN don’t understand what other people are really saying.

And we all know it’s true, don’t we?

Effective communication is hard. Really hard.

People understand things very differently. We all have an entirely different lens through which we view the world (and hear the world)!

So how then, do we effectively communicate with different people who receive things in an entirely different way?

Well, most people don’t. Most people don’t spend the time to consider who they’re talking to and cater their message to have the highest chance of absorption. In fact, a lot of people don’t even know that they need to do this.

But, as leaders, we know. As leaders, we know we have to cater to individual communication styles. We have to consider our audience. We can’t assume that people understand things as we say them. We have to make sure that everyone gets what we’re saying – even if it’s hard to get it across.

At Padraig, after years of helping clients to resolve communication breakdowns, we’ve come up with five simple steps to help make sure that what you’re trying to say lands on the right ears and as you intended it.

1. Identify your goal.

It may be as “simple” as – getting to know some of your colleagues or staff. Maybe you want to give performance feedback or perhaps you want to engage in problem-solving or brainstorming. If you’re leading others, you have to be particularly mindful of your goal and help them understand what you’re looking for.

If you’re looking for brainstorming but you’re not clear about that, your effort at thought-provoking questions…

“Why do we do this?”

“What might change the way we’re seen?”

… may come across to a nervous junior employee as accusations or dissatisfaction.

Think about the situation or the moment. How do you adapt your style to a casual gathering versus a more formal meeting?

2. Consider your position (and theirs).

You may not realize how your position or the perception of your position impacts what you’re trying to communicate. Something that may seem very straightforward to you, may come across as very stressful to a staff member who is trying to make an impression or is new to their role. Are you more senior in the organization? Do you underestimate the amount of knowledge you have on a particular subject?

Sometimes, in an effort to please or make an impression, people take on more than they should, nod their head in agreement when they want to ask questions and smile when they’re terrified. Think about the information you’ve provided and what you’re asking of your audience – do they line up? If they haven’t had your experience, do they have everything they need to complete the task successfully?

3. Know your audience.

Are you long-time work friends, or relatively new acquaintances? Is the other person new to their role, or new to your team?

Even deeper than that, what’s their behaviour type? Are they driven and goal focussed, or sociable and team oriented, or perhaps they’re caring and focused on the well-being of others, or maybe they’re detail and task-oriented – they like to be left alone to focus on specifics.

If you contemplate where the other person is on that spectrum, you can try adapting your communication style to them. If they’re direct, driven and goal focused, try starting with the end-goal, and then fill in with details.

If they’re more methodical, you might try diving into the details or where you need their help with details.

If they’re sociable and engaging, see if you can communicate in a way that highlights their importance in the conversation while giving them time to digest the details.

Think about your audience’s priorities and deliver your information accordingly.

4. Consider HOW you communicate.

There are a few moving parts on this one – how you communicate in terms of what medium you use but also the words and tone you choose and body language.

We all hate meetings about meetings and “reply-to-all” emails that aren’t relevant to us.

Is more than one person important to the conversation? If so, you may need a meeting. If the topic is clear but requires many to be engaged, email might work. If the topic is sensitive or challenging, if you and the other person are not going to see eye-to-eye and “agree to disagree” is not an option, then face to face is the way to go.

See last week’s column for details on how to succeed at those Essential Conversations.

Then there are the words you choose. Are you prone to exaggeration? Superlatives? Expletives? Think about the others you’re talking to. What will land with them and still get your point across? Is it ok to use technical jargon, or do you need to be clearer?

Watch your body language. Many of us speak louder with our body language than with our words. If you’ve ever been advised “you shouldn’t play poker” you’re probably giving away a lot of thoughts and emotions with your facial expressions.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but regardless of whether you are highly emotive in your body language, or the opposite, be aware of how that is received by others. Are you aware of your body language only when you want to be aware? What about the other times – when you’re nervous, uncomfortable, angry, shy, embarrassed or tickled pink — how do those show up on you?

5. Observe your audience and their feedback.

This is especially important as a follow up to point number two. If your role in your organization is superior to the person you’re communicating with, it’s so, so important to remember that there are a lot of other thoughts, feelings, and emotions at play. They may be trying to impress you or are fearful of disappointing you.

What silent cues and spoken cues are you receiving from the other person? As the expression goes – are you picking up, what they’re putting down?

Consider where they’re coming from and pay attention to the things they’re NOT saying.

Communication is a two-way street but as senior leaders, it’s up to us to make sure that our messages are received as intended.

Coach’s Question

Can you identify two members on your team who require different communication styles? How do you adjust your approach?