BY AMY COOLEY
Are you old enough to remember the game Telephone? Telephone is a children’s party game where the first person whispers a sentence into someone’s ear,who whispers it into the next, and so on until the last person in the room says the sentence aloud. Invariably, the words and meaning of the sentence changes drastically as different people communicated it, prompting lots of laughter.
Today’s children don’t use telephones enough for the game to even make sense, but communication concerns are still a major fact of life, not to mention business. Have you ever come out of a meeting with colleagues and thought “Huh, for a group of smart, knowledgeable people with a common goal, we did not accomplish very much.” If you’ve experienced something similar, you’re far from alone.
The answer may lie in a basic issue: not poor employees, not lack of interest, not even choosing the wrong goal—but a misunderstanding of communication styles. Just as people have different personality types that have been studied and categorized by assessments such as the Myers-Briggs, there are several tools available to help you pinpoint your communication style and those of others. Having this kind of understanding can help you to improve communication with and among your team, which in turn improves productivity, morale, project completion and success, employee retention, and on and on.
There are many such assessments available that identify a variety of communication styles. One of the most popular is Teaching for the Cross-Cultural Mind by Pierre Casse. A downloadable adaptation of this self-assessment is available here.
This tool describes four different communication styles: Action, Process, People, and Idea. Your score will weight your own tendency toward each style, with the highest number being your prevalent communication style.
Action. People with this style are most focused on the “what” of communication: results, achieving, getting it done.
Process. Those with this style tend to focus on “how”: strategy, organization, facts.
People. If you score highly in this style, you’re likely to focus on “who”: personal connections, relationships, teamwork.
Idea. A person scoring strongly in this style is probably focused on “why”: theory, concepts, new ideas.
I recently completed this assessment and found that I score a near tie between Process and People styles (perhaps you don’t find that terribly surprising in an HR person). There are no good or bad styles, there are no right or wrong answers, but understanding each other can lead to improved communication. The real key is to gain insight into your own communication style AND those of your colleagues and team members. As a person with a strong People communication style, I tend to open a conversation with a little bit of small talk, or by checking in with how everyone is feeling. While I think I am being warm and paving the way for my colleagues to be receptive to my ideas, a teammate with a strong Action style may be thinking, “Can we get to the point, Amy! What are our action items for today?”
By comprehending these different communication styles, we may be able to better connect with our co-workers and deliver our own messages in a way that will be heard. The linked tool only describes attributes of people in each style, but also has tips for communicating with people who lean toward each of the four categories. For example, when working with an Action-oriented communicator, they will be looking for results, so state your conclusion at the outset, and then get into the explanation and implications. On the other hand, a Process-oriented communicator will want the information presented in a logical order. A People person will want to make a personal connection before launching into the meat of the conversation, so start with a few minutes of small talk or catching up. And with the Idea style, break the ice with the key, big picture concepts before getting into the details.
Communication in your organization doesn’t need to be like a kids’ game of Telephone. Use your new insights to improve connections, increase productivity, and reach and exceed your goals through collaboration. [CD1021]
Amy Cooley is HR Administrator for The LMC Groups. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.