Style is everything (for effective communication)
Anette sat opposite Abhishek, feeling dizzy and deflated. He’d questioned her on her proposal for what seemed like forever. She knew it was sound, and she’d spent much of the last hour trying to reassure him of this, but he still didn’t seem to get it. “Anette, can you please build the additional details we’ve worked through into this presentation and then let me have it back. I’ll take another look over the weekend and get back to you”. Anette forced a smile and left Abhishek’s office feeling frustrated and as though she had just been interrogated.
After she’d left, Abhishek reflected on the session. Anette’s idea was great, but she seemed to really resent his questioning. She knew all the detail, so he didn’t understand why she seemed to get so uptight when he took an interest in what she was proposing.
On the next floor down, Simon was walking away from Jasmine feeling slighted and just a little resentful. He’d come to her with some information that he knew would be valuable to her. He thought she’d be pleased that he’d thought about her, but she seemed anything but! There he was trying to be friendly asking about her day when she cut him off and asked him to get to the point. Jasmine, meanwhile, was grateful to Simon for coming to her with the information but she was busy and wished he didn’t waffle so much.
Are any of these situations, or ones like them, familiar to you? Have you ever felt frustrated when communicating with someone? Have you sensed another’s frustration when communicating with you? If so, then read on, this article is for you!
To begin with, here is a little theory.
Each of us has preferred ways of behaving. Because communication is a key behaviour, these preferences extend to the way we communicate. To put it another way, each of us has a preferred communication style.
There are different models for communication styles, just as there are different behavioural models. For the purposes of this article, I am going to refer to a communication style model, which is aligned to a behavioural model known as DISC.
In this model there are four styles of communication*:
- Direct (dominant) – People with this preference are, as the name suggests, direct. They are decisive and like to get straight to the point and can appear blunt, or even rude.
- Initiating (influence) – People with this preference are the most sociable. They like to meet new people, and share stories.
- Supportive (steadiness) – People with this preference like calm and steady communications. They need patience and supportive language and can appear to prevaricate when a decision is needed.
- Analytical (correctness) – People with this preference are into their details. They’ll ask you lots of questions about your ideas. When telling you’re their stories or ideas they’ll give you with large amounts of often seemingly irrelevant information.
* (Brackets indicate aligned DISC behavioural style)
A very few people have a strong preference for one style. When this does happen, their preferred style is very easy to spot. Most people, however, have at least one supporting style which tempers their preferred style. Usually, though, their preferred style can still usually be discerned relatively easily. A person’s preferred style can normally be easy to see when they are at ease and are most comfortable being themselves.
So much for the theory, how do you make use of this in your life?
Well, in the first instance, we need to understand our own preferences. When we better understand ourselves, we can start to see why we might find certain situations frustrating. Self-understanding can also help us to make authentic modifications to our style to make our interactions with others more pleasant and effective.
To get some initial insight, try asking yourself the following questions and grading your answers on a scale of 0-5 as indicated in the question
1) When being asked to do something, I prefer:
- A detailed explanation of what needs doing and why (0)
- A short, simple request that I can quickly move into action (5)?
2) In social situations, I am more likely to:
- Stand quietly by waiting to be invited into a conversation (0)
- Initiate a conversation by introducing myself to others (5)
3) In stressful situations, I prefer people to communicate with me in a:
- Fast paced and functional manner (0)
- Calm, steady, supportive manner (5)?
4) When telling stories, I am more likely to:
- Keep them high-level focusing only on the essential facts and moments (0)
- Get deep into the detail of who, what, where, why, when and how (5)?
Your scores for each of these questions 1-4 will give you an idea of your level of preference toward direct, initiating, supportive, and analytical communication styles respectively.
Using these questions as a guide, we can then also consider the preferences of others. This will give us insight into what modifications we could make when dealing with them to improve our interactions.
Warning: Simply trying to adopt the style that we prefer could lead others to see us a phoney. This will damage rather than improve the effectiveness of our communications. In order to remain, and be perceived as, authentic, we need to draw on our preferences when modifying our style.
Let’s go back to the people that at the beginning of this article for some examples of how we might do that. We’ll turn to Anette and Abhishek first.
Anette has a supportive style preference but isn’t particularly analytical. Her boss, Abhishek, on the other hand, has a strong analytical style preference and is more direct than supportive. In situations where Anette needs to present a proposal to Abhishek, Anette could support him more by providing a little more detail in her proposal. She could also be patient when he is questioning her, recognising that this is his way of getting reassurance. For his part, Abhishek could be more supportive in his questioning technique, whilst still getting the details he craves. He could even be direct with Anette by saying at the outset that whilst the idea looks good and he supports Anette, he needs to get a more detailed understanding. This would give Anette the context for the questions to follow.
Turning now to Simon and Jasmine. Simon has an initiatory style preference with a supportive influence. Jasmine, on the other hand, has a strong direct style preference, although is not without some supportive influence of her own. To make their interactions more effective, Simon could draw more on his supportive style when approaching Jasmine and, in the first instance, ask if she has a few minutes. He can then judge whether now is the right time for chit-chat, or whether he would be better to get straight to the point. For her part, Jasmine could equally have drawn more on her supportive style, by explaining that she was busy and offering to chat with him later, perhaps over a coffee or a glass of wine. She could also let him know that she was grateful for the information that he had passed to her.
In each of these examples, the suggested communication style modification draws on the preferences and strengths of each person. This helps to bridge the gap, easing the frustration that can be felt when we doggedly stick to our own preferences. It also helps us to remain authentic ensuring that we don’t damage our communication efforts by appearing to be phoney.
Behavioural profiling and coaching from a qualified practitioner can help enormously in this area by:
- Providing you with a deep understanding of your own preferences and how they impact you and those around you
- Developing your ability to identify the preferences of others and approaches for significantly improving your interactions
But, even without coaching, following the advice given in this article will start to make a positive difference in your life and in the effectiveness of your communications.