Embracing Diverse Communication Styles within your Team
Over the course of centuries, humans have devised countless methods of communication – from the alphabet, to Morse code, to a binary system of 1s and 0s.
Today, we have technology at our fingertips to make verbal and nonverbal communication and the widespread dissemination of information faster, easier and more efficient.
Whether it is texting from our phone or Zooming from our laptop, we enthusiastically enlist a variety of communication means and modes. Each type of communication can have its place and purpose.
In the same way, our workplaces need to embrace people’s diverse communication skills.
For teams, communication can be the biggest obstacle to its productivity or the secret to its success.
Communication starts at the top – a lack of communication can result in confusion and misunderstanding, whereas clear communication from leaders can facilitate constructive collaboration, reduce misdirected conflict and increase understanding among team members.
Team members establish their own communication styles. It is tempting to believe that teams work best when everyone has a similar communications style, but in reality, diverse styles of communicating contribute to greater productivity and performance.
Having members who are widely spaced along the spectrum of being an assertive communicator, a passive communicator, a direct communicator or emotional language moves teams to more effective communication.
Assertiveness - Telling vs. Suggesting
Team members who are perceived to be overly-assertive communicators often get a bad wrap. Then again, so do those who are considered to be passive communicators.
People who are always the first to speak up and assert their opinions are considered pushy, while those who wait to be asked are viewed as indecisive or lacking confidence. There is no one right answer – there is a time and place for all styles of communication, and teams can benefit from both.
Occasionally, someone needs to take charge. An assertive style, or telling communication style, is valuable when the team is at an impasse and needs a decision to move forward. This more aggressive communication style conveys confidence, and can help build consensus and conviction around the direction the team is headed.
However, a suggesting style can be more persuasive and is an effective communicator's crucial skill when trying to sell a recommendation to clients or get buy-in for an idea from cross-functional teams that weren’t part of an initial brainstorming process.
Directness – Straight Forward to Sensitive
Direct communicators are straight-forward and to the point – that is often valued in work and social situations, but directness can also be perceived as rude, inconsiderate, or insensitive.
Ironically, sensitivity is most people's preferred communication style when being communicated to – even if that is not their own personal communication style. Despite that, more tactful, sensitive communicators are frequently accused of being hesitant or overly concerned with others’ feelings.
High-performing teams embrace both direct and tactful communication, and there are occasions for both. A direct communication style can be concise and convey a sense of urgency – it’s logical when fast action and decision-making is needed. Sensitive communication fosters a psychologically safe environment and helps team members feel at ease with superiors.
More tactful communication is useful when dealing with workplace issues of a more personal nature, like performance reviews or disciplinary discussions.
Some team members have very practical communication styles, focusing more on facts than feelings. Their objectivity and analytical approach to work and the issues that can arise are viewed positively in the workplace.
Other team members are more expressive – they are quick to share their feelings and have a need to be heard. They prefer a team dynamic that offers an outlet for strong expression and they like having time to process situations before taking action.
Effective teams strike a healthy balance between pragmatism and passion. Practical communicators are capable of quickly assessing all sides of a situation without becoming distracted by emotion – this enables them to resolve problems with even-minded expediency. Understandably, their practicality is welcomed in a crisis.
More expressive communicators willingly show their own vulnerability, so they tend to be easy to confide in – their openness helps promote interpersonal relationships because other team members feel safe sharing with them. And their ability to convey enthusiasm and encouragement can help boost employee morale when the team encounters challenges.
Embracing Diversity of Style
No one would give up the real estate of an email for a text; nor would they want to replace every quick phone conversation with a video conference. We may prefer one method of communication over another, but one is not inherently better or a more effective communication style than another – each has an appropriate time, place and purpose.
In the same way, passive communication styles or assertive communication styles should not be labeled as good or bad – different situations call for different approaches and all uniquely contribute to a team’s effectiveness.
Understanding how each individual team member's personal style as well as how they prefer workplace communicationcan help teams avoid conflict. Not only can it facilitate better collaboration and cooperation among team members, but when members recognize their leader’s style, it helps them receive feedback and direction more readily and increase employee engagement with the team.
Birkman’s Signature Report is specifically designed to help teams uncover the type of communicator they are and learn how each member prefers others to communicate with them.