Assertive Communication Series Article 4: Tailoring Your Communication Style to Others
Part of assertive communication is tailoring your communication style to others. This tip on communication will really help you be more effective in understanding others and yourself. I wrote a blog post a few months ago that addressed this topic called How to Resolve a Communication Barrier. Tailoring your communication style to others can help resolve a communication barrier and it can also make you a much more effective and intuitive communicator.
In order to tailor your communication style to others, you must first understand your personal style. To do this,you can take a behavioral assessment such as the DISC profile (you can buy them from the 48Days website here), do some self-reflection, or take an informal poll from your friends and co-workers. Once you know your own personal communication style, you can them become more aware of others. Take some time to observe other’s styles and see how they communicate, verbally and non-verbally in various situations.
When I was a Program Manager at my previous company, we had a team-building meeting where I had all team members take the DISC assessment and we went over the results as a team. It was an eye opening experience for my team members to understand each other’s styles. Through this experience, I had a great example that exactly illustrates the importance of understanding others communication styles.
On my team, “Bill” was a dominant communicator and liked to get straight to the point when talking with others. He really didn’t care for chitchat. In his opinion, it just got in the way on getting what he needs. For example, if he needed something from someone, he would directly ask them for it, without any “hi, how are you today?” talk. Another teammate, “Lynn”, had more of an expressive personality. She would rather stay at work an hour later just so she could chat with people and get to know her co-workers on a personal level.
Neither communication style is right or wrong. They are just different. The differences can cause conflict and tension during communication. Here’s what we figured out in our meeting. Without knowing each other’s styles, if Bill needed something from Lynn and went to ask her, he would do so in his direct way, and probably offend her. She would wonder, “how rude of him not to even ask how I am doing?” And if Lynn went to ask Bill for something and started chitchatting with him, he would think, “why is she wasting my time with this conversation?”. During our meeting we discussed these differences. Once these two team members understood how the other communicated, they totally agreed that they could now communicate more effectively and not risk hurting each other’s feelings or annoying each other.
When we understand our dominant communication style and are cognizant of others, we can more effectively communicate. One way to do this is by mirroring others styles. If the person you are talking to is very quiet and introverted, don’t get in their face and demand things from them. Tone your style down to theirs and speak at their level. This doesn’t mean you need to change yourself. It means to recognize who you are, but be flexible in how you communicate.
Communication is an art, not a science. It takes lots of practice, observation and self-reflection. As an engineer, we tend to want to deal with things that are concrete, so can feel overwhelmed about improving our communication. My trick is to pick ONE THING to work on at a time. I promise, an engineer who is an effective communicator is worth their weight in gold!
(photo courtesy of www.freegreatpicture.com)