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Earlier this year, I joined Toastmasters, a nonprofit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. The speech I delivered this week was about communication styles and how my preferred style impacts my professional and personal relationships.
In the Toastmasters assessment there are four communication styles: analytical, direct, initiating, and supportive. In addition to confirming my own preferred style (direct), I learned how to adapt to someone else’s style to have more effective conversations.
Borrowing elements from the non-preferred styles and adapting to someone else’s preference will improve our empathy skills, deepen our relationships, and make our communication much more effective.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” George Bernard Shaw
What are the characteristics of each communication style? When is it best to use each one? How do we interact more effectively with each approach?
This approach is precise, exact, analytical, and logical. People with this style are systematic and task oriented. For this reason, they may be perceived as perfectionists. They are organized, self-reliant, purposeful, and diplomatic. They need to feel sure of their position and others’ expectations so they are often private with personal information, do not easily express emotions, and they will not share their opinions unless asked.
This style is great when the interaction requires facts, data, or a specific process to be followed. It is immensely helpful to gain credibility.
I have used this style successfully when dealing with processes that need to follow particular rules, regulations, or policies. It is highly effective when interacting with internal and external auditors to demonstrate our position with evidence and facts.
I also use elements of this style in my writing. Because I take the time to research and reflect before putting my opinion out there, I tend to have high credibility.
When interacting with someone with this preferred communication style, present your information in an organized manner, with facts and evidence, and think of and prepare for all the potential questions they may have. Because they need time to analyze and form an opinion, you may want to consider sending material beforehand to give them time to properly prepare.
“Let’s just try to have a marvelous time this weekend. I mean not try to analyze everything to death for once, if possible. Especially me.” – J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey
This approach is decisive, competitive, independent, and confident. People with this style are focused, results-oriented, ambitious, and driven. For this reason, others may perceive them as strong-willed or demanding, and as impatient when bored. They like to feel in control and may become frustrated if dependent on others. At work, they display more concern for results than relationships and they do not easily share their feelings.
This style is great for decision-making, problem-solving, and creating action plans especially when the time to do so is limited.
Using a direct style has been essential in moderating working sessions, communicating with senior leaders who usually have limited time (and patience), and in articulating the objectives for the interaction.
In my coaching sessions, I use this style to keep the conversation focused on my client’s goals and agenda. With friends and family, I default to this approach when making travel plans or deciding where to go for dinner.
When interacting with someone with this preferred style, try to get to the point quickly and in a succinct manner. Be specific and avoid over-explaining or repeating yourself.
For example, if you are inviting them to a meeting, make sure that you include a clear agenda with the objective. This way, the person will not be distracted thinking ‘Why am I here? What is needed from me? What are we trying to solve?’
“The use of charm as a tool made her hackles rise. She respected a more direct approach. A battering ram approach. At least one knew where one stood with the battering ram, none of this butter-wouldn’t-melt nonsense that could mean yes, no, or maybe.” – Lauren Willig, The Passion of the Purple Plumeria
This approach is sociable, enthusiastic, energetic, spontaneous, and fun-loving. They are gregarious and they may be perceived as self-assured, innovative, persuasive, as well as someone who talks more than listens. They like to feel accepted and are motivated by relationships. They respond strongly to praise and approval.
This style is great when new teams are coming together, to host networking events, and to provide very necessary boosts when the team is approaching a project deadline.
This mode of expression is the most challenging for me both to adapt to and to interact with. As part of my growth and development, I do my best to use this style with friends and family since usually there is nothing to solve or decide in those conversations.
When interacting with someone with this style, allow time for socializing usually at the beginning of meetings. Create a friendly and non-threatening environment so they have the space to express their feelings and opinions (as well as their stories).
“To like many people spontaneously and without effort is perhaps the greatest of all sources of personal happiness.” – Bertrand Russell
This approach is calm, steady, accessible, sincere, and gentle. People with this style usually dislikes change so they may appear indecisive. Mostly, they are perceived as careful, patient, and amiable. They are great listeners, so others see them as cooperative, dependable, and loyal. They prefer to receive praise privately, they like a personal, relaxed environment, and they put high priority on close relationships.
This style is great for people management related interactions such as mentoring, one on one meetings with direct reports, and networking.
I use this style with my clients, direct reports, and mentees because I go into intuitive listening mode. I am very present, and my objective is to create and maintain a psychologically safe space for them.
When interacting with someone with this style, provide plenty of reassurance to gain their trust. If you need this person’s buy-in for a project, you may want to consider approaching him or her directly and privately before putting them on the spot in a meeting. This way you will know their concerns, opinions, and ideas and will allow them time to make decisions.
“Good listeners, like precious gems, are to be treasured.” – Unknown
No communication style is better than another. Even when maintaining a preferred style, the key is to adapt our communication approach to the situation and the other person by borrowing from the other styles.
What is your preferred communication style? Which elements from the other styles can you start incorporating right away? Please, let us know in the comments. You can write in English, Spanish, Portuguese or French.
My mission is to help women transform their inner voice from critic to champion, so they can confidently realize and fulfill their potential achieving what they want most for themselves, their families, communities, organizations, and teams.
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