How do you tolerate the mismatch of differing communication styles? That feeling that the person in front of you has no idea what you are taking about? Well that’s the $64K question, now isn’t it? In trying to answer this question for myself, I find it helps to remember that there are many different ways that people respond to others.

And they differ. A lot.

Some people take a while to tell a story, and others like to get to the point. Those two probably feel like oil and water together.

mismatched socks

Some people will give you so much linear information and detail, that they lose your attention as your mind races to the finish line.

Some people cannot confront others and will go to great lengths to avoid any conflict. They are so uncomfortable with conflict they will accept abuse, sometimes verbal, and sadly, sometimes both physical and verbal abuse. And it is clear that abuse has many circumstances that affect both how it is delivered and received, safety being of primary concern.

And some folks are just determined to have their point of view honored above all else. Hmmm, a certain person named Donald comes to mind.

One thing I know for sure is that most people do want to be both heard and understood . So how would you go about it? Here’s a few communication style labels I ran across repeatedly. You can google any or all of them if you want details on a particular style.

1. Passive / aggressive / passive-aggressive / assertive

2. Analytical / intuitive / functional / personal

3. Relator / socializer / thinker / director

4. Traditionalists / boomers / gen X / gen Y–basically generational differences

And there are also cultural differences to keep in mind. Cultural differences will overlay any of the above styles. Those from a Latin American culture will receive and communicate differently from those in Asian cultures, or those from Germanic/Swiss descent may value a different approach from individuals in, say, Italy.

But they are all labels, and I do not believe that anyone is all one style all of the time. Nor is one style better than another; each may be used during appropriate times and circumstances.

However, the number one idea to keep in mind is who is receiving the message you want to be heard? What is their communication style most of the time? We communicate best when speaking with those who share our personal style, so in order to be heard, you may have to adjust your approach slightly. I’m not saying that you must change your message, but if you want it to be heard, truly heard, you must consider your audience’s style. That is easier 1:1 than when addressing a group, since many differing styles will be in your audience.

Employees, for example, want to do well. Most do not perform poorly by deliberate choice. You may need to do some gentle probing and truly listen to their answers to discern what is going on for them. Just ask. And while asking, see if you can determine how they might best receive the message you want to deliver.

Do they want more recognition or more responsibility? Are they unclear on the task at hand? Do they need more training? Is other staff causing an issue?

And when you find out, create some kind of follow up structure. Don’t just have a one time discussion with no further feedback. Continuous, informed feedback produces the best results, and will allow you to address issues as they arise, without long, wasted periods of potential errors and festering feelings. That lack of attention feeds into passive-aggressive behaviors, making employees feel powerless, similar to prison populations.

This applies to individuals as well, and when you give people the reasons for your requests, it helps them to understand their role in meeting the overall goals you have set, whether it is for your six year old’s behavior at home, or your team leader’s importance in achieving the next quarter’s sales goals.

Your style, their style. How will you bridge the gap if you want to be heard? If you pay attention, you can figure this out to the benefit of all.



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