Because we each see the world through our own unique lens, we communicate and act based on that limited personal perspective. But that approach can shut us off from learning from other perspectives, appreciating the strengths of those who approach the world differently from us and learning how to build effective relationships. Frankly, it can also make many personal interactions frustrating.
Although you want to show up as your authentic self at work and in your personal life, learning how to identify and adapt to the communication styles of colleagues and friends can dramatically improve your communication success and relationships.
Research from Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation and Stanford Research Center suggests that 85% of job success comes from well-developed people skills, including the ability to connect, communicate, influence and resolve conflict, often with people who are not like you or do not see and interpret the world the way you do. Mastering communication is a critical competency.
You can avoid many of the communications challenges that hamper workplace relationships and productivity by learning how to quickly identify them in the moment, adapt your behavior to the specific situation and then consciously choose to act in a way that actually builds connection, according to human behavior expert and 2021 WFF Leadership Conference
speaker, Betsy Allen-Manning.
“Too often, we operate out of an unconscious communication style that relies solely on what makes sense to us but may not resonate with others,” Allen-Manning explains. “By using intentional, situational communication strategies instead, you can learn to see the world through someone else’s lens and then adapt your style to overcome communication barriers and drive more successful outcomes.”
Identify, adapt . . . then interact
By learning to identify various communication styles, and especially how they apply in the face of common barriers, you can make critical choices in real time to improve communication. Paying close attention to cues from others, rather than simply focusing on your own message, will help you understand if they are really with you, tuned out or even shutting down. Only by first identifying
the other person’s communication style can you figure out a recipe for success.
Armed with those insights, you are ready to adapt
your behavior and style to the circumstances at hand. “This is not about being inauthentic,” Allen-Manning cautions. “It is a major sign of respect to tune into someone else’s way of being and engaging, as well as a highly effective approach for actually getting your message through and creating mutual understanding.”
Once you have done the work to identify their style and adapt yours to it, you are ready to move forward into engagement and interaction
Know the barriers
You’re not out of the woods yet, though. Knowing the major pitfalls that often hamper communication, you will be better prepared to deal with them when they arise. Allen-Manning identifies these three biggies.
- Barrier One: Disconnection. You will know you’ve lost communication with someone when you see their eyes wandering, watch them physically pivot away from you rather than toward you, or they interrupt you. Often this happens due to different speeds of communication. If someone is a very rapid speaker and you are slow and deliberate, you may simply lose their attention. If the reverse is true, your listener may feel under attack if you are a rapid and energetic speaker. Simply pay attention to pace and tone and match yours more closely to what makes the other person more comfortable and receptive.
- Barrier Two: Unclear Messaging. What you want to convey is just one part of the puzzle; your real aim is shared meaning. To avoid frustration and miscommunication, pay attention to whether the other person prefers a brief or detailed approach to communication. For those who just want the facts in a nutshell, provide bullet points and a condensed version of your message starting with the headline. If you get into the weeds, you will quickly lose them. For those who crave detail, clarify your main points with specifics. Watch for their buy-in and add more detail if they remain uncertain.
- Barrier Three: Focus and Interaction Style. To communicate effectively, we need to tune in to whether someone is more task focused or relationship focused. People who are task focused are all about getting things done – quickly, efficiently and with no fuss. People who are relationship focused are more interested in creating a shared experience.
When you learn to identify communication styles in the moment, you empower yourself to adapt your behavior to the specific situation, increase the odds of a successful interaction and will be better able to see another’s differences as valuable strengths.