No one sets out to ruin relationships or cause friction when communicating with others. Yet, we each have a unique style of communication that can differ dramatically from the styles of the people we interact with. Because of these differences, we can unintentionally offend someone or create unnecessary conflict.
It is important to recognize the interaction or communication style of others and then mirror or match that style when communicating with them. The interaction will be more effective — one can increase engagement and create rapport, and increase the likelihood that all parties will achieve the desired results.
The challenge for learning and development leaders is to adapt their style to their audience’s style. The good news is that anyone can learn to do this. It gets easier with practice and can become second nature in time.
By becoming familiar with the differences between the four distinct communication styles, people can become more effective communicators:
Initiators want action. Their speech tone is often blunt, emphatic and no-nonsense. Initiators are not shy about invading someone’s personal space to make a point. They hold direct, sustained eye contact and often gesture by pointing or chopping the air to emphasize their words.
Builders value recognition and appreciation. Builders love to share their ideas and their “big picture” viewpoint. They use a varied, animated tone. They like to be near people and will often touch others when speaking. Builders give intermittent eye contact. They use expansive gestures and descriptive language, and are generally enthusiastic.
Connectors are relationship-oriented. They enjoy being a part of a group and collaborate well with others. Connectors use a quieter tone of voice and do their best to avoid conflict. Connectors appreciate a generous personal space, especially when in a group of strangers. Often they avoid direct eye contact when conversing, instead looking down or to the side. Their gestures are casual, not emphatic.
Discoverers value precision, accuracy and process. They are fact-oriented and need data to make decisions. Discoverers use little inflection when speaking, unless they disagree, in which case they may become cynical or sarcastic. They like at least one arm’s length spacing. When asked a question, a discoverer will look to the sides before answering. They use minimal hand gestures, preferring instead to cross their arms or keep them at their sides.
Learning leaders are often challenged to present to audiences made up of a variety of these styles. Before beginning, it helps to observe how individuals are interacting. Are people in close groups speaking enthusiastically? Are people sitting quietly, waiting for the presentation to begin? Are they checking their watches or responding to email? Do they seem in a hurry or more relaxed? Look at any materials they have in front of them: how are things organized? Are piles spread around or are there neat stacks?
These observations can provide an idea of the communication styles present. Adapt a presentation to fit the majority of the people in attendance by gently reflecting their choice of words, tone, proximity, eye contact and gestures.
Here are some more suggestions to help engage the various communication styles:
- Present key information with specific points.
- Be direct about what you want them to do.
- Do activities to test their knowledge.
- Keep energy level high and the pace moving to keep their attention.
- Recognize they may not answer questions if their expertise is called into question.
- Express interest in their ideas and listen to them.
- Gently maintain control of the presentation if they begin to talk too much.
- Use personal examples and stories to keep their attention.
- Make precise points for them to understand.
- Ask them to summarize for the group what they have learned after an activity.
- Draw them into a discussion or activity with questions.
- Provide examples and stories to help them make an application.
- Allow time for their questions.
- Express personal interest in them.
- Explain reasons why they are being asked to do something.
- Provide an agenda if possible.
- Be prepared for questions; be patient. Do not take personal offense.
- Be prepared with data and authorities to support points.
- Provide step-by-step instructions for activities, procedures or processes; written is best.
- Give them time to process new information.
Because many audiences consist of a mixture of styles, the challenge becomes adapting a presentation accordingly. For example, the initiator may to move too quickly; presenters will need to make specific points for him or her. Builders may want to talk about their ideas and experiences, so it is important to keep them on track. Connectors are often very quiet or nonparticipative; presenters will need to draw them in with questions and try to involve them in a productive way. Finally, discoverers may ask many questions, sometimes asking them as a way to make a point or draw attention to their own expertise. Manage this type of questioning to stay in control of the presentation.
As speakers become more skilled at discerning and adapting to audiences’ styles, they will become more effective at connecting with each group, increasing rapport with audiences, and at providing information they need in a way that each style can access.