Ensure Effective Communication

The key is awareness: that people have a particular communication style, and that navigating between styles is a learned skill.

“We need to improve our communication.”

As a business-communications training firm, we hear this a lot. And they’re right—organizations understand that the degree to which their people communicate effectively is proportional to their success.

But what does it mean exactly to improve communication? What makes communication effective? Is it listening? Clarity? Empathy? Grammar? These are certainly important and all worthy of mastery. But first, an often-neglected yet critical element must be addressed: that people have different communication styles.

Today’s workforce spans at least three generations. Broadly speaking, these cohorts lean toward distinct communication styles. And when people with conflicting styles interact, communication can break down fast.

Fortunately, there are concrete steps you can take to prevent this, to ensure communication flows well between individuals, departments, and throughout the organization as a whole.

Here are three key strategies that will improve communication in your organization:

1. Understand that people have distinct communication styles, and these are not necessarily tied to their personality.

The market is replete with personality tests. Much less common are tools to address communication style. For example, two introverts might communicate with entirely different styles: One might like to get a quick overview of a situation and make a fast decision, whereas another might prefer to receive lots of detail and then go away and ponder before deciding. Even with similar personalities and temperaments, these individuals can struggle to communicate because of their conflicting styles.

Our research as compiled in “Mastering Communications,” by Roger HB Davies, our CEO, has found that people fall primarily into one of three distinct communication styles:

  • The Leap! Style: Those who like to give and get the big picture
  • The Think! Style: Those who prefer a lot of detail
  • The Relate! Style: Those who prefer to consult with others

2. Understand that everyone has access to the same communication channels, but will gravitate toward those that fit their communication style.

The main communication channels are available to almost anyone: We can talk in person or by phone, via Web conference, e-mail, text, or instant message (IM). Two things are important to note. First, even people using the same channel will have trouble connecting if they have different styles. For example, imagine two people are texting each other, and one is a “Leap” who likes to get to the point, and the other is a “Think” who likes lots of detail. These individuals likely will struggle when communicating.

And it only gets more complicated when people with different styles use different channels. Consider what happens when someone who likes using his or her phone for actual phone calls, calls someone who uses his or her phone almost exclusively for texting. (We know the answer: It’s likely the call will go to voicemail—if there is one—and it might never be heard, let alone returned.)

3. Give your employees the opportunity to improve their communication skills.

The most effective way to address these challenges is with education: Provide your people an opportunity to understand communication styles. Once people understand their own style, and those of others, and critically, how to bridge the gap, they will find themselves in fewer situations of communication breakdown. Morale, teamwork, and productivity all will improve. The key is awareness: that people have a particular communication style, and that navigating between styles is a learned skill.

Greg Kligman is part of McLuhan & Davies Communications, Inc.’s sales, marketing, and learning development teams. He leverages the power of communication to help people strengthen relationships, solve problems, and sell more effectively.

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