Flex Communication
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Learn to Flex Your Communication Style

Working with others is a daily requirement, but it’s not always easy. By understanding your preferred communication style and the preferences of those you’re working with, you’ll achieve better results.

By Samantha Whitehorne

No matter what organization you work for, it’s inevitable that you’ll have to work with others many times a day. And the better you do it, the better results you and your team will achieve. In fact, research shows that 90 percent of personal and professional success is directly attributable to how well we communicate.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. “The reality is that working together doesn’t always work well—working with others isn’t easy, and teamwork isn’t natural for some people,” says Carol Vernon, certified executive coach and principal of Communication Matters. “But being able to build strong, effective working relationships with team members is often the determining factor for both an individual and team’s long-term success.”

Working effectively in a team environment requires that people communicate well and often. “It demands that you be flexible and adaptable and recognize the importance and the contributions of other people on your team,” Vernon says.

For that reason, it’s key for people to understand how they communicate and how others receive information. “When we’re talking to certain people—whether our boss, a member, or a colleague—we must remember that they may communicate in a different style,” she says. “So they may hear what we’re saying, but they may receive it in a different way.”

Vernon uses a model that identifies four different types of communicators:

Systematic. “A systematic communicator communicates with a heavy emphasis on logic and inquiry,” she says. “They’re focusing on and listening for the ‘how.’”

Direct. This person is focused on action and wants to get things done now. “They’re looking and listening for the ‘what,’” Vernon says.

Others may communicate in a different style. So they may hear what we’re saying, but they may receive it in a different way.

—Carol Vernon

Spirited. This person is focused on ideas, possibilities, and long-range thinking. “This person comes from a place of ‘why,’” she says.

Considerate. This person is focused on human interaction. “They are listening for and from the ‘who,’” Vernon says.

Vernon adds that most people are able to use all the communication styles to some extent. “This means we may have a clear preference in terms of how we want to communicate with others and also be communicated with, but we can flex and blend the way we communicate to help our team be more effective,” she says.

Here’s an example: If you have a coworker whose primary style is direct, but she has several team members who are more systematic in their communications—meaning they want more detail and look for cause and effect—then it makes sense for her to flex her direct style. She should include more detail in her communications and ask her teammates what other information would be helpful to them to move the project forward.

“In other words, her preferred style may mean she doesn’t need to communicate anything more, but she realizes those she is communicating with need more,” Vernon says. “If you’re able to step back and identify the other person’s style, you’ll have a better chance of getting to your goal.”

Samantha Whitehorne is deputy editor of Associations Now. Email: [email protected]
Career Development