Building Your Team: Understanding and Appreciating Communication Style Differences

You've probably noticed that a good chunk of the world approaches problems, tasks, people, and play differently than you do. If you lead a team, you may have wondered why some people enjoy the camaraderie of team meetings while others suffer through those same meetings expecting they'll begin on time and end quickly. You may have discovered that the drive to action exhibited by some members of your team is balanced by the need to evaluate or analyze expressed by others on the team.

Indeed our workplaces are filled with fascinating, complex people who do and say things that continuously surprise us. If you manage a team of diverse people, it is up to you to learn not only how to value these differences but also how to build on these differences. As a first step, you should begin to understand your own communication style, as well as your individual strengths and weaknesses.

It does not have to be a complicated process to begin to identify communication style differences. You've probably seen some patterns in yourself and the people you work with. For example, do you:

  • Like to interact with other OR Prefer to work in solitude
  • Focus on completing tasks OR Focus on developing relationships
  • Enjoy generating new ideas OR Enjoy streamlining procedures
  • Tend to think first, then act OR Tend to take action first, then evaluate
  • Make objective decisions OR Make subjective decisions
  • Value feelings over logic OR Value reason over emotion
  • It's interesting to notice that it does not really matter how or why you developed these preferences. It's only important to realize that you have preferences or habits that you tend to rely on make your way in the world. Of course, we all have the capacity to do whatever the situation requires of us but, let's face it: there are some behaviors that simply feel more comfortable to us than others.

    Let me give you an example: When a member of my team drops a problem in my lap, my first instinct is to ask questions and gather facts. When I have enough information, I can begin to evaluate my options. When I've thought those options through, I may then recommend a trial solution. Would it surprise you to learn that I prefer an analytical communication style? (We call this style analyzer at NetSpeed ​​Leadership.)

    Now let's think about the team member who has dropped the problem in my lap. Perhaps she is actually a little upset that she did not catch an error that created the problem. Let's imagine that she feels pretty bad about the issue and hopes that I will take a few minutes to empathize with her discomfort and reassure her that we will work together to fix things. Perhaps she is more concerned about her relationship with me, her boss, at the moment, than she is about solving the problem. Would it surprise you to learn that she prefers a relationship-oriented communication style? (We call this style Anchor.)

    As you imagine this scenario, you can probably guess that we would be like two ships passing in the night. Faced with my questioning and fact-gathering, she would probably dissolve into tears, convinced that she had really blown it. If I recognize that she needs empathy and support before she can move to problem solving, we'll probably make greater headway on resolving the problem together.

    Without an appreciation of these kinds of style differences, team members can also misunderstand each other, react badly, and experience unnecessary frustration. One member of my team is extremely deadlined driven. He has a never-ending task list and gets most of his daily satisfaction from plowing his way through that list. The more activities he accomplishes each day, the better he feels. When he leaves at night, his desk is neatly organized and ready for him to tackle the next day's challenges. It's probably no surprise to hear that he prefers a results-oriented communication style. (We call this style Achiever.)

    Now imagine this Achiever working with another team member who loves the creative process. In fact, brainstorming, playing with ideas, and researching creative solutions require a good portion of her day. If you look in her office, you wonder how she can find anything on her desk. There are stacks of paper everywhere, magazines open to interesting articles, sticky notes with ideas, a collection of books, and a steno pad with notes, lists, random thoughts and important phone numbers. She delights in popping into the Achiever's office and brainstorming ideas with him. You can guess that she prefers a communication style that is creative, and certainly not deadline-driven. (We call this style Adventurer.)

    If I want to develop synergistic teamwork, then I must not only select team members who exhibit these different styles, but I must also make sure that they value these style differences in their teams. Otherwise the team will waste a good deal of time disagreeing over style differences rather than negotiating good working strategies that meet everyone's needs.

    So, as a team leader, where should you begin? Consider inviting each team member to share a few accomplishments with other team members at a team meeting. As that team member speaks of these proud moments, everyone else records the gifts, talents, and skills that they demonstrated to be successful.

    For example, imagine the Achiever describing its accomplishment of completing the New York marathon. He describes the daily training he did, the training plan he developed, the goals he set, his commitment to running the race specifically unusually high heat on race day, and his satisfaction of meeting his personal goal: running the marathon in under 4 minutes. Team members may note gifts, talents and skills such as goal-setting, perseverance, commitment, results-oriented, disciplined and self-directed. As they note these positive qualities, they begin to see what their fellow team member has to offer the team.

    Next, consider introducing the team to communication or behavior styles. At NetSpeed ​​Leadership, we offer a three-hour training module called Working with Communication Styles to help organizations to develop the awareness of style differences, the language of assessment, and the ability to capitalize on these differences. As each team member begins to understand his or her own preferences and moves from judging others who exhibit different styles, to appreciating and building on those style differences, your team begins to mature. And your job as team leader becomes just a little bit easier.

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