“I’m a no bs type of person. People know what I mean when I say it.” “Jim clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Did you see him take twenty minutes to say something that could have been said in five?” “I wish Janie would speak out more in the meeting. She has great ideas, but she never offers them in the conversation.”
I bet you know people who would fit into each of the scenarios above. The problem isn’t that they are either good or bad people, but that the way they interact with others is sometimes misunderstood. This is their communication style and it stands separate from personality and other traits that we consider when we consider effective leaders.
A person’s communication style, for good or for bad, is part of the identity that we relate most readily to them. There are many models for describing these styles, but one of the most simple and effective is to imagine communication style on two axes. You can imagine the vertical axis to be from low to high assertiveness and the horizontal axis to be low to high expressiveness. Assertiveness, in short, is the degree to which a person shares the relevant information in a direct manner whereas expressiveness is the degree to which a person shares the relevant emotion around the message.
The assumption of many leaders is that a highly assertive, highly expressive communication style is the best approach as it is very direct and leaves little room for interpretation. The problem is, this is no more true than the person who tries to avoid conflict by using low assertiveness and expressiveness in their communication. To have an effective communication style, you have to have one that not only is authentic for you, but that fits the situation and, more importantly, fits the individual(s) with whom you are communicating.
Effective communication is more complicated than most assume. At the end of a communication event, what you intended to communicate is much less important than what you actually communicated. Your message can be right all day, but if your communication style confuses the message, you still haven’t been an effective communicator.
How do you address this? First, you understand that your communication style is neither right nor wrong…it is just your communication style. It is imperative for you to take responsibility for the way you communicate to others rather than waiting for them to adjust to you. Second, communication style is adjustable. It is possible for us to learn to communicate in a more flexible manner based on our audience and situation. Finally, it is impossible to understand how your communication style should be adjusted if you are not open to feedback. The most important element of becoming an effective communicator is being sensitive (and responsive) to the feedback we hear and see in response to our communication efforts.
By the way (he says casually), I have a workshop on this topic coming up on December 5th in Midland, Michigan. Actually there are two workshops on the same day, both only 3-hours, that address issues of personal and communication effectiveness. You can find out more by going to http://impactseminars.eventbrite.com. If you go to that site, register for one of the workshops (or both) and use checkout code “blogreader” you will receive an additional 10% discount.