It’s probably safe to say you’ve left at least one meeting, call, or customer visit and thought to yourself, “What the heck was that person even talking about?”
As Aubrey Blanche, global head of diversity and belonging at Atlassian writes:
“The differences between communication styles often cause more agony than they really need to.”
We all benefit from working with diverse people with different opinions. But to take advantage of everything they have to offer, we have to start speaking the same language.
Let’s take a look at some of the easiest ways to understand different communication styles at work, and how you can make sure you’re being heard, no matter who you’re talking to.
WHAT’S UP WITH ALL THESE DIFFERENT COMMUNICATION STYLES?
Despite studies saying we spend up to 80% of our workday in meetings, on the phone, and responding to emails, communication in the workplace isn’t always easy. Or enjoyable.
In fact, a 2016 Harvard Business Review article found that 69% of managers say they’re uncomfortable communicating with employees. (And you can only imagine that number is significantly higher when the roles are reversed!)
The majority of the pain of workplace encounters comes down to dealing with (and decoding) different communication styles. Dealing with people who speak differently than you is straight-up stressful. Not only does it waste time with all the clarifying back-and-forths, but it often leaves us feeling upset, angry, and overwhelmed.
So how do we try and sort through the mess of workplace communication?
While everyone communicates differently, most of us fall into a few different buckets when it comes to our preferred communication style. But even understanding those styles is a challenge in itself!
Do a basic Google search of communication styles and you’re bound to come up with a few takes. There are the classics: assertive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and passive. Then you have a more linguistic approach, which places competitive against affiliative communicators and direct versus indirect. Finally, there’s even something called DISC (which stands for Dominant, Influencer, Steady, and Conscientious).
The problem with all these approaches, however, is that it’s easier to see their qualities in ourselves than in others. Even worse, they don’t tell us much about how we should communicate with them. Especially if we’re a completely different style ourselves.
A NEW WAY TO THINK ABOUT COMMUNICATION STYLES AT WORK
One better approach I like to use is the communication styles defined by best-selling author and leadership coach Mark Murphy: Analytical, Intuitive, Functional, and Personal.
Murphy’s approach focuses on the key information each style is looking for in a conversation and how you can best communicate with them.
As he explains, “No one communication style is inherently better than another. But picking the wrong style for a particular audience, whether it’s one person or a thousand, shuts down listening and can spell trouble. Learning to build flexibility around your preferred style allows others to more successfully hear the important things you need to communicate.”
Let’s take a look at the qualities of each one of Murphy’s communication styles; what they’re good and bad for; and how to effectively communicate with someone who has a communication style different from you.
ANALYTICAL: LOVERS OF HARD DATA AND CLEARLY DEFINED TASKS
As an analytical communicator, you love hard data, numbers, and specific language. As such, you’re usually wary of people who deal in vague language and strictly blue-sky ideas and get drained quickly when conversations move from logical to emotional.
One example Murphy gives is of being in a meeting and hearing that “sales are positive.” According to him, an analytical communicator would likely think, “What does positive mean? 5.2% or 8.9%? Give me a number!”
One clear advantage of being analytical is that communication is largely logical and unemotional, which can speed things up. However, the flip side is that you might come across as cold and aggravated when someone wants to talk about anything beyond just getting from A to B.