Spend a day in any office, and you’ll quickly observe the multitude of different communication styles present in the workplace. Some people like to stick to facts and figures; others love to ask about your latest family vacation. Some people’s eyes glaze over if you start by diving into nitty-gritty details; others panic if you don’t start a project with a robust timeline in place.
What’s not quite so readily apparent is the impact these differences can have on the workplace.
A recent report by The Economist Intelligence Unit and Lucidchart examines different communication styles in the workplace and the effects they have on organizations. The report looks at four different communication styles, based on research from Mark Murphy:
Analytical: Prefer to have data and facts; use specific and precise language
Intuitive: Prefer to get the big picture and not get bogged down in too much detail
Functional: Prefer to focus on the process and think through plans step by step
Personal: Prefer to place emphasis on relationships and establishing personal connections to understand what others are thinking
What I found particularly interesting is that when you break down the distribution of communication styles by role, you find a fairly even spread across all job functions. (Sales is the exception, as they lean towards the “personal” communication style, but that probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise.)
What’s the takeaway? Communication styles aren’t packaged nicely by department. All types of communicators are scattered throughout your workplace.
That variety is a good thing—your team wouldn’t function very effectively without it, and it’s these differences that drive innovation. What’s problematic is that 42% of survey respondents cited different communication styles as a leading cause of miscommunication at work.
It’s not as if we only want to work with people who are just like us— 54% of respondents report enjoying communicating with people of different communication styles. The problem is that we don’t know how to do so effectively.
If left unaddressed, the communication breakdowns can take a toll on your organization—increased stress, decreased productivity, low morale, and even sales losses.
So how do you make sure this diversity in communication styles works for your bottom line rather than against it?
Pay attention to how people communicate
Make an effort to understand your co-worker’s communication style. This point might seem obvious, but it takes conscious effort. If you simply spout off information the way you like to hear it, you’ve only got a one-in-four chance of getting a positive response.
It’s especially important that managers understand how each member of their team communicates. They need to know how best to present information and feedback in order for an individual to receive the information well and act upon it. If you work with a functional communicator, they are likely to be very stressed about a new project unless you provide a detailed and clearly defined process. If you’re announcing changes to a team process, your analytical communicators will want the numbers behind that decision before they buy in. Taking the time to understand what makes a person tick will make your interactions with them more effective.
Provide the right tools
According to the Economist report, 63% of respondents believe communication could be improved by using a wider range of tools. Just as different types of learners in the classroom are more receptive to certain teaching methods, different communication styles lend themselves to certain tools.
Defaulting to email just won’t cut it. People need to be able to choose the tool that allows them to share their ideas and feedback effectively—while also taking into account what avenue will resonate most with their audience.
Many workplace communication tools revolve around the written word. This is the optimal method for certain instances; however, there are also times when taking a visual approach will paint a clearer picture. When explaining a new process, it is much easier to look at a picture mapping out the steps and assigning responsible parties than it is to read a page of text.
A culture of transparency opens the door for frequent and honest dialogue, regardless of communication style. Be transparent about your company goals and progress towards those goals—this practice keeps everyone on the same page so they know how their individual contributions impact the larger company vision.
I don’t filter what my employees know about our organization. Transparency has been a staple of our culture from the get-go. We have two company updates per month—one led by executives covering the previous month’s and year-to-date performance and one led by employees highlighting their department’s current projects. Once a quarter, the executive team walks through the presentation they gave to our board of directors and relays the feedback they received. Twice a year, we have an Executive AMA session in which employees ask the executives any questions they have regarding the business.
Provide the resources
Just like any skill, communicating can get easier with practice. We recently started offering company-wide trainings as part of our learning and development program. Many of these trainings are designed to help employees communicate with their colleagues, regardless of differing communication styles. For example, we’ve had trainings on how to overcome your fear of public speaking, how to collaborate effectively as a team, and how to provide feedback.
I already mentioned making a variety of tools accessible to employees—in order to encourage people to branch out and actually use these new tools, you’ll want to provide training so people across generations understand how to best use them.
In addition, our managers have weekly 1:1s with each member of their team. These intimate meetings provide an ideal setting for managers to talk with their direct reports to understand their communication styles and how they personally like to receive feedback and instruction. In addition, managers can coach employees on how to better communicate with team members who have communication styles different from their own.
Take the time to figure out how those around you communicate. Make your goals clear. And give employees the tools and trainings they need to communicate across styles. Because every style has its strengths, and it’s through building an inclusive environment where team members can effectively share and communicate their different perspectives that you’re able to create that powerful synergy that really gets things done.