For twenty-something years I thought that everyone communicated in the same way that I did.
Amazingly (sarcasm intended), they don’t. In fact, every person I’ve ever led communicated in very different ways.
And that meant they preferred to be communicated to in different ways. That’s where my troubles began.
I assumed others were motivated by the same things that motivated me. I assumed that they could be motivated in the same ways that I was motivated. What’s good for the goose (me) is good for the gander, right?
i also assumed that everyone understood me, because everything I said sounded so perfect in my head. It’s as if I thought that everyone was born with a gene that meant that they inherently understood everything that I said.
Okay, so it might have been a little egotistical…just a little…to think that the Creator of the universe provided everyone else on earth with the ability to read my mind. Or to understand me when I spoke in hurried, incomplete sentences.
If someone didn’t understand me, it was their fault. If I didn’t understand them, it was their fault. (See how that works so well in my favor?)
But I eventually learned the hard way just how wrong I was. What motivated me didn’t motivate everyone else. Everyone else wasn’t driven by money, though some were. Most people didn’t react to a crisis by flailing their arms and talking in sentence fragments.
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Communication in crisis
I remember one guy in particular who worked for me. He was a senior level ColdFusion programmer. For the record, “senior level ColdFusion programmer” is a fancy way of saying he used a lot of complex technical words around me to explain simplistic problems.
This guy didn’t flinch in the face of crisis. He was as cool as the other side of the pillow. When code broke, when servers crashed, or when things didn’t go exactly as planned, he remained calm.
I, on the other hand…well, I wasn’t as calm. And by “wasn’t as calm,” I mean that I started talking like a 13-year old girl in a vampires vs. werewolves debate. Words were coming out, but they made no sense. My voice got really high-pitched, my heart pounded, and all hell broke loose. After all, the situation clearly called for immediate full panic mode.
And yet, he remained calm. It literally drove me crazy.
What I mistook for apathy was actually calmness. Who knew?
I didn’t understand him at all. In fact, I could not even relate to him. He wasn’t like me at all and that was causing problems.
But eventually I did learn to communicate with him.
So, How did I do it? Here are four steps I took to learn how to communicate with him and the others on my team.
4 steps to learn how to communicate with anyone
1. Personality tests
Everyone on my team was required to take personality / communication tests.
Knowing someone’s personality style is a huge help to get you on the right track to understanding what makes him or her tick. This helps point you in the right direction with a person. Think of it as the first part of narrowing the communication funnel (see below).
If you know a general personality type, such as that someone is a DS on the DISC profile, you know that they have some similarities to other DS types. You have a starting point for communicating effectively with them.
2. Ask direct questions.
News flash: the best way to get to know someone is to ask them questions. A lot of them.
Ask your team members direct questions such as these:
How are you best motivated?
When ____ happened recently, how did you react?
How did you think through that decision you made?
Do you prefer to be praised in public or private?
What did you like most about your last leader?
What did you like least?
Do you prefer bullet points or long explanations?
Do you prefer written or verbal instructions?
And so on. Get inside their minds a little bit. Find out what makes them tick before a crisis comes.
I spent a lot of time just observing team members in action, especially with each other.
Who do they communicate best with? Worst with? How do they handle the talker or the quiet person? How do they communicate with the ultra high D in the meeting? Who do they gravitate to on the team?
With new hires, it is especially important to take note of who they communicate with best. If the new guy communicates best with Michael and their personality tests line up, I can make some assumptions about how the new guy will communicate best.
If Michael has been on the team for three years and I know him well, it gives me insight into how to best communicate with the new person.
Nothing replaces time. The more time you spend with someone, the better you will know how to communicate with them.
Spend time outside of the office with your team. Observe how they communicate in the “real world.”
The communication funnel
When learning how to best communicate with someone, I like to think of the term I mention earlier…the communication funnel.
Each of these steps narrows the funnel, like this:
The great news about learning communication
The great news about the funnel is that you can get 70% or more of the way to the bottom in less than six weeks.
When you use personality styles and ask good questions, you are 65% of the way there. You can get a large chunk of the observation portion in a short time too.
You don’t have to master this overnight. Take what you can get now, narrow the funnel quickly, and you are on your way to being a great communicator and a great leader.
How have you learned to communicate with the people around you?