The big issue with communication is that there is no singular “right way” to communicate. Each of us have a distinct communication style and set of preferences. Recognizing the style of others and being able to adapt; that’s where it gets tricky. Lack of adaptation is where workplace communication internally and with customers can begin to break down.
Consider Robert a CEO and Tim a COO that work in the same organization. The nature of their work requires them to collaborate on a regular basis. However, when they first started working together their relationship was fraught with misunderstandings and frustration.
Robert’s style of communicating is warm and friendly and relationship focused. He prefers in person meetings. These meetings rarely begin or end on time because Robert likes to engage in personal conversations. When Robert does send emails they are lengthy but pleasant. Robert’s a soft touch, often using an indirect approach when addressing a challenging situation or performance issue. He relies on the feedback of his directors to guide him in his decision making process.
Tim’s communication style is direct and efficient. Tim prefers emails or texts because they are short and concise. When he does conduct meetings, you can be sure that they begin on time and often they will end ahead of schedule. Emails from Tim are typically short and in bullet point format. His approach to addressing challenges is straight forward. Robert is quick decision maker using his knowledge and the organization’s goals to guide him.
In the first months of working together Tim grew frustrated with Robert’s time wasting meetings and frivolous emails. Robert was put off by Tim’s abruptness. Tim thought that Robert’s leadership style was too relaxed and “fluffy.” Robert thought that Tim’s leadership style was tyrannical.
After some difficult conversations what they came to realize was that they had two very different styles of communicating with different end goals. Robert’s goal was maintain healthy relationships within the organization and with the public. Tim’s goal was to keep the organization running smoothing on a day to day basis. Both wanted to the organization to be successful. They figured out that they’d get more done if they could adapt their styles to improve communication.
As a result, Tim began to slow his pace a bit. He warmed up his emails by adding salutations and thank yous. He was more patient in meetings and more supportive of Robert’s leadership approach.
Robert also made some changes. He made a concerted effort to keep meetings to their allotted time. He trimmed back his emails. And while he maintained his overall philosophy of leadership, Robert also took a firmer stance on poor performance.
Now, after several years of working together, they rely on each other’s difference in styles when crafting important directives, running status meetings and delivering important messages to their customers.
As you can see, differences in communication style can impact team and customer relationships in a negative way causing a slowdown in productivity, interpersonal conflicts and unsatisfactory customer experiences.
However, differences in communication styles can also strengthen team performance and boost sales and customer satisfaction if you understand how to adapt your style. Here’s how you do it:
Step 1: Know your style of communication
- What’s your preferred platform? In your perfect world, would you rather punch out an email or chat by phone? (Understanding that some communication is situational. For example; you wouldn’t want a complicated policy change to be sent out in text.)
- What tone do you usually exude in your emails and conversations? Is your tone polished and professional? Warm and friendly? Direct?
- What is your goal? In the case of Tim and Robert, Tim’s focus was getting the job done well and getting it done fast. Robert’s focus was maintaining internal and external relationships. What are you working to accomplish?
- When are you most effective? I once read that the optimal time for communication is 10:00 A.M. While that may be true for some, perhaps you communicate most effectively first thing in the morning or right after lunch.
- Share your style with others. This will help them adapt when they communicate with you.
Step 2: Recognize the styles of those that you work with
- Look for clues in past behaviors. Does your co-worker stop you in the break room or pop into your cube to discuss a project? Or do they shoot you an email? Does your manager tend to be all business when you meet or does she spend a lot of time talking about your personal lives?
- Ask the question. “Hey Sara, would you rather I email you or call you if I have a question when working on this spreadsheet?” This is a great question to pose to customers as well.
Step 3: Adapt
- The good news is that you are already doing this. For example, the way you communicate with your 9 year old kid is probably not the same way that you would communicate with your manager or a customer. We constantly make small tweaks to accommodate the person and circumstances we are working with.
- Once you understand your own communication style and that of the person you are working with, try to meet them in the middle. Let’s say that you are making a presentation to a customer who you know from your previous exchanges is all about efficiency and speed. Your presentation should be short and concise.
If you were meeting with a team member who you know likes to chat about his grandkids, allow for a few minutes of time for socializing before guiding the meeting back to business.
Would you like to learn more about your communication style? Contact our experts at Pathfinder Strategies! We offer a variety of services and assessments that help you identify your style and boost your communication expertise. Pathfinder-strategies.com or by phone at (888) 529-0240.