As a leadership coach, I have the honour of speaking with many people in leadership roles, across a diverse range of organizations — from professional sports teams to the resource sector. I have found that the one overriding challenge these leaders have in common is communication. Over and over again I hear that communicating — being heard, being understood, missing what is being said, being ignored, and the misunderstanding that results from all of these — is right at the top. That is why with every one of my engagements I start by making sure the client understands how they tend to communicate and behave. Once we have done that, we can move on to how to get our message across to others, and how can we get into a better position to have our message heard and understood.
There are several tools and models on the market that organizations use to improve interpersonal communications. Most people are familiar with DiSC and Insights. I prefer to use a model called SOCIAL STYLEs mostly because I find it to be very accessible and easy to grasp. It doesn’t, as I often say, get into the psychological “weeds.” I have often found that after using this model in my work with a client, they invite me in to present it to others in their organization. An interesting outcome happens as the model becomes a language for the whole organization and in some cases becomes part of its culture. In one instance the organization used the symbols for each style as icons and posted them on each person’s office door or cubicle as a quick way to identify the Style of the person with whom they were interacting. You will also notice and hear people referring to each other’s Style in interactions. What is occurring here is an understanding that a person is communicating and behaving based on their “STYLE” and if understood that way, misunderstandings and thereby conflicts can be reduced. Research shows that by using this specific tool, conflict in the workplace is reduced by 67%.
The real secret behind learning about your own behaviour and communication style is then to learn how to be versatile. This is the ability, while understanding your own style of communication, to recognize others’ Style and meet their needs by “speaking their language”. If you think of the four “Styles” in these models as neighbourhoods — your neighbourhood, the one you live in — is “home.” It is where you feel the most comfortable, it’s where you return at the end of the day and can relax. It is your space. However, you can’t stay in your own neighbourhood all the time; there are times you have to leave it to do other things. Versatility is your ability to do those other things effectively in other neighbourhoods.
Another way to look at this is to use the Platinum Rule. Most of us are very familiar with the Golden Rule, that we are to treat others as we want to be treated. We are taught this “rule” from an early age. What child has not been scolded, “Timmy why are your treating Jenny like that? Is that how you want to be treated?”
The Platinum Rule, however, decrees that we should treat others how they want to be treated. If someone needs more detail to do a job, be prepared to give them more detail, even if you don’t need it. Just because you don’t need details, someone else might. If someone just needs to know the end results of a project, simply give them that information and don’t go into all the reasons why, unless they ask for that information.
Getting to know how you tend to behave and communicate is the first step to increasing the effectiveness of interpersonal communications. However, to be the most effective is to understand the behaviour and communications preferences of others, and then to meet their needs.