Dr Bev Smallwood

Articles Library: Team Effectiveness

Communicating With Style

Recently, as I rode in the shuttle from the Phoenix airport to the hotel, I saw on the street corner the guy you’ve seen many times before. You know what he looked like. He had the long, scraggly, dishwater blonde shoulder-length hair; the leather-tan reddish face; the dirty clothes, and the cardboard sign.

Only one thing was different. Printed in big letters on his cardboard sign were these uniquely candid words: “OK, I won’t lie. I need beer.”

Though I didn’t support his cause, I wanted to jump out of the shuttle and give him a dollar for his honesty (not to mention his creativity and humor).

The man on the corner was clear about his needs. Other people are rarely so candid. Yet, your success in communicating with an individual or group depends on your understanding of their needs and wants.

William Bernbach said, “Nothing is so powerful as an insight into human nature…what compulsions drive a man, what instincts dominate his action. If you know these things, you can touch him at the core of his being.”

The Biggest Communication Mistake

At the root of many communication snafus is an assumption born of good intentions. Using the Golden Rule, you tend to communicate with others in the style you would want. This seems like a worthy goal…but it will miss the mark unless that individual is just like you.

The truth is, you will be most successful when you communicate with people in the way THEY feel most comfortable.

Learning to Flex

In our program, “From Personality Clashes to Partners,” we apply state-of-the-art assessments to the development of specialized strategies for relating with others more effectively. By becoming a more skillful observer of behaviors, you can make a strong “educated guess” about the best way to communicate with a given individual. Your credibility and influence will go up exponentially as the person experiences you as “similar.”

The details of understanding and blending communication styles are outside the scope of this brief article. However, these three steps are giant strides in the direction of better teamwork with a diverse group of people.

1. Understand yourself and your natural style. The beginning of communicating with style is to understand your own habits…HOW you communicate and relate naturally. Unless you are consciously adapting, you will instinctively rely on what “seems right” to you. However, “normal” for you may be abnormal and foreign to a person with a different style and other talents and strengths. You have to take the process a step further.

2. Learn to “read” the communication preferences of others. Some people like…

  • directness;
  • lots of details and data;
  • friendly chit-chat;
  • ime to think;
  • spontaneity;

…and some don’t!

Pay attention to people’s customary actions, and this will give you strong clues about the communication style and content that they prefer. For instance, notice whether the person’s behavior is outgoing and direct, or whether the person tends to be more “inward.” Further, observe whether the individual seems to be more people-oriented or task- oriented.

Notice how this person decorates his/her office space. Does the person seem to value order and organization? Are the pictures on the wall graphs of productivity? Are there family pictures on the desk? Cartoons posted on the bulletin board or filing cabinet?

Observing the person’s actions and forming hypotheses about the person’s style, you can begin to plan how you will communicate with the person, speaking his or her “native language.”

3. Customize your approach to that person’s preferred communication style.I can hear you saying, “But wait! I have to be myself! I don’t want to be false.”

I’m not talking about BECOMING something you are not. I’m talking about temporarily flexing your approach to enable you to connect more quickly and strongly with all types of people. That’s what the most persuasive communicators and most successful salespeople do.

Flex When Listening Too

Did you ever get impatient with someone who ran on and on with endless, seemingly irrelevant details? Or, on the other hand, have you become really uncomfortable when a person seemed to speed through important points, apparently without the thought you felt was necessary?

Don’t turn off! Realize that he or she is just different from you, not wrong.

Be a patient listener to the detail person…but then help him or her focus with questions like, “What’s the bottom line to what you think we need to do?” Or, summarize… “So if I’ve heard you correctly, the top three things that you think have contributed to our low productivity are…”

If you, as a thoughtful and cautious person, are in collaboration with an intuitive, bottom-line, quick thinker…briefly summarize the vision or results he/she wants to achieve, affirm your desire for the same results, then add a statement like, “In order to do that, we want to be sure that roadblocks don’t catch us off guard. Maybe it would be good for us to anticipate those possibilities so that we can be prepared in case they occur. We definitely don’t want anything coming out of the blue to slow us down.”

What About People With Unreasonable Wants

Yes, there are those.

You have to decide just how far you will flex. For instance, if you are relating with a tyrant, will you sacrifice your self respect? Is there a time to set a limit on analysis paralysis, when the needs of people are being sacrificed in the process? Just where are the boundaries between reasonable and unreasonable?

Maybe this illustration can shed some light.

A woman accompanied her husband to the doctor’s office. After his check-up, the doctor called the wife into his office alone.

He said, “Your husband is suffering from a very severe disease, combined with horrible stress. If you don’t do the following, your husband will surely die.

“Each morning, fix him a healthy breakfast. Be pleasant, and make sure he is in a good mood. For lunch, make him a nutritious meal he can take to work. And for dinner, prepare an especially nice meal for him.

“Don’t bother him with chores, as this could further his stress. Don’t discuss your problems with him. It will only make his stress worse.

“Try to relax your husband in the evening by wearing lingerie and giving him plenty of backrubs. Encourage him to watch some type of team sporting event on television. And most importantly, be romantic with your husband several times a week and satisfy his every whim. If you can do this for the next 12 months, I think your husband will regain his health.”

On the way home, the husband asked his wife, “What did the doctor say to you in there?”

She replied, “He said you’re going to die.”

Yes…there are limits!

Dr. Bev Smallwood is a psychologist and professional speaker who is the author of “This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me.” Visit her website, www.DrBevSmallwood.com; or contact Bev at 601.264.0890 or by email, Bev@DrBevSmallwood.com. Also connect with Bev on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and her blogs, Shrink Rap and New Morning Devotionals.

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