Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host, Tim Simmons, and today, I want to talk about how to adapt your communication style to different situations.
No doubt you’re aware of different communication styles, but do you think everyone has just one style? More likely, your style on a good day looks different from your style on a bad day. Your style during a regular staff meeting might be different from a meeting where you’re going to read the riot act. Indeed, your style in a crisis should be different from your day-to-day communication.
Clearly, different situations require different approaches and different kinds of language. And underlining everything here is the importance of relationships. If you’re a solo entrepreneur working with your own money and with no staff, well, chances are you’re not listening to a podcast about communication styles!
Far more likely is that you work on a team and have to collaborate. And this means you care about cohesion and trust. So team meetings typically call for some small talk to get things going. Teamwork develops at the speed of trust, as they say. So take the time to ask people how they are, create the space for some friendly chatter, conduct a round of personal check-ins, and keep it light.
Then, when the time is right, transition to work. You can do that by listening for something that relates to a work topic, and using that as a transition. Say someone mentions a cool new website, you could say “speaking of websites, we should probably take a look at some of this online marketing stuff.” Or you can make a transition with one or more transition words, like “Okay, everyone, well, I think it’s time we got down to business.”
When you’re collaborating with others, it’s wise to remember that different people think in different ways. Some are more detail- or process-oriented. This kind of person prefers a very direct and clear type of communication. Other people are more intuitive and big-picture thinkers. These people don’t like too many constraints and might like to look at different angles. As in all things, a balanced approach usually works best.
Speaking of balance, it’s often good to have a bit of social time with colleagues, like going out for lunch or drinks. How does leaving the office impact your communication style? Well, you’ll have to read the room – or the table – and get the right mix of business and social conversation. Some people hate talking about business outside of the office, while others can’t seem to talk about anything else. One thing to remember is that there are a lot of people in this world who don’t really enjoy small talk. Or they’re not good at it. Don’t get offended by this. Just find things they do like to talk about.
Regardless, social settings are a chance to let your guard down and adopt a more informal style. If you’re curious how a colleague’s project is going, you wouldn’t say “could you give me an update on your project?” That’s office talk. In the pub, you’re more likely to say something like “hey, so what’s up with that project you’ve been working on?”
Now, a job isn’t always smooth sailing. Sometimes things happen that push us out of our comfort zone. I’m talking about dealing with a crisis. And your style in crisis will really depend on the nature of the crisis. A crisis related to the work itself will require a different approach than an interpersonal crisis. In work crises, there’s often no time to waste and no margin for error. This means a very direct, clear, and assertive style is optimal. Leading in crisis may sound a bit more like command and control than leading on a regular workday.
So what qualifies as direct, clear, and assertive? Imagine someone suggests a course of action that you think is a bad idea. Don’t say “Well, I guess that might work. But we could take a different approach.” Those kind of hedge words like “well” and “I guess” and “might” and “could” are just muddying the waters. Instead, try “no, that won’t work. We need a different approach.”
But when it comes to tough interpersonal issues, a softer approach may be necessary. If emotions are running high, show you’re an active listener. If you sense that someone just needs time and space to vent, then resist the urge to problem-solve. And if you’re the one having difficulties with a person, avoid being accusatory. A good practice is to avoid saying “you” and instead say “I.” Like “I get kind of frustrated when you interrupt people during meetings,” rather than “you always interrupt people during meetings.”
As you can see, different situations require different communication styles. You don’t have to be a total chameleon and just take on whatever style the people around you are using. But you do need to be sensitive to circumstances, to emotions, and to the requirements of the task. With this kind of flexibility, you’ll be able to build good relationships and get things done.
That’s all for today. So long. And see you again soon.