This post was originally published on February 14, 2019, and updated most recently on March 21, 2021.
Being able to communicate effectively is one of the most important skills you can nurture. But it isn’t just a matter of speaking clearly and concisely. It’s also about understanding how other people communicate differently and being able to adapt.
The ability to respond appropriately to different personalities was being touted as one of the must-have soft skills for 2019, but it requires a high level of emotional intelligence to perform.
So what exactly are the different communication styles? How do you work with each? And what should you avoid? We’ve got you.
The real damage of bad communication
Have you ever been in a work situation where you’re talking to someone and they just don’t understand what it is you’re trying to achieve? Of course you have. Because everyone has a slightly different communication style, and not everyone knows how to adapt theirs to match other people’s. It’s not your fault — or theirs; it’s just what happens when you work with different personalities. But there are consequences.
Firstly, conversations (online and IRL) tend to run on longer when communications styles clash. Extra clarification is needed, tempers are tested, extra emails are sent, and everyone involved feels more frustrated. This is the immediate downside to a mismatch of communication styles.
When two people are having trouble communicating, a terrible thing often happens: They start guessing. After asking for clarification again and again they tend to give up and just do their best based on the incomplete instructions they have. Usually, this means more revisions down the line.
No one likes feeling misunderstood, and two people who’ve struggled to mesh their communication styles in the past will avoid working with each other in the future. In offices full of different personalities (as most are and should be), this puts a real damper on productivity and morale. Teams work best when everyone values and adapts to everyone else’s differences.
How stronger communication benefits you (and your team)
Less time wasted. Check! Better relationships. Double-check! More engaged, calmer, and happier employees? You betcha.
By paying attention to our different communication styles, we can achieve more and do so with less stress and frustration. And that’s only a good thing when it comes to collaboration.
A quick guide to the different communication styles
The famous four when it comes to outbound communication styles are assertive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and passive. However, when it comes to improving how you communicate with other people, this isn’t particularly helpful. You really want to know what works best for them.
The DiSC communication model provides a useful framework that categorizes the key inbound communication styles into four main types: dominant, influencer, steady, or conscientious. Not everyone will fall squarely into one or the other; there will be some crossover. But as a general rule of thumb, it’s a useful starting point.
How to communicate with Dominant people
Dominant people love efficient, big-picture conversations. Project managers, directors, CEOs, in fact, anyone in charge of a team or at the top of the career ladder are usually dominants. They’re action-focused, excitable, ambitious, and respond well to a challenge.
- Be as direct as possible when speaking to them. Get straight to the point, and stay on-topic.
- Prepare before you speak to them. They like to have a plan of action, so expect to answer questions on the spot.
- Take offense when they respond with blunt answers or seem a little impatient. It’s not personal; they just want to take action as quickly as possible, and they like to be direct.
- Waste their time by making promises you can’t fulfill.
- Bother with niceties, such as weekend plans, lavish compliments, or profuse apologies. If they had a motto, it’d be “Less talk; more action.”
How to communicate with Influencers
Influencers (also known as socializers and initiators) love working with other people. They’re the chatty ones in your office. You can count on them to make immediate friends with the new starter, show guests around, and share their hot take on the latest trends. They work well in short bursts, are easily trusting, and emotionally honest. But a word of warning: They often lack focus and commitment, so they’re better off working on shorter projects.
- Be friendly, playful, and let your sense of humor shine. They respond well to casual conversations.
- Support conversations with a written follow-up. They can be a little forgetful, so having written notes to refer back to keeps them focused and grounded.
- Give them the freedom to express their emotions and creativity.
- Recruit them to shape the culture of your team.
- Be prepared to give them a gentle nudge if they get off track.
- Take their optimism as fact. They often overestimate their own abilities and those of the people around them, which can, if not monitored, lead to disappointment later on.
- Be overly serious, curt, or stifling in conversation.
- Expect them to focus on smaller details.
How to communicate with Conscientious people
Conscientious people (also known as ‘analyzers’) tend to be slow and steady. They are detail-oriented and highly competent. Sure, they’re not the chattiest people, but they can always be counted on for precision and accuracy.
- Give lots of detail up-front, and support in-person conversations with notes for them to refer back to. Conscientious workers get frustrated by a lack of clarity or direction, so be as thorough or organized as you possibly can.
- Give them clear goals and direction, so they can be left to get on with the job independently. They’re usually pretty introverted and would rather plug in their headphones and knuckle down than float around the office asking questions or engaging in lengthy brainstorming sessions.
- Give them the opportunity to learn new skills, or show off their own.
- Rush them. They will triple-check every scrap of information before making a decision, and nothing you do or say will make them abandon their commitment to accuracy.
- Package feedback as criticism, which could leave them feeling very demotivated.
- Engage in personal chit-chat prior to every work-based discussion. This doesn’t mean you should never do this, it just means you should pay attention to their cues to see if they’re interested in a longer conversation. If they’re responding with monosyllabic answers, then nip it in the bud and move onto business.
- Take their quieter demeanor as a lack of enthusiasm. They’re enthusiastic on the inside; they just don’t want to waste too much time expressing this when they could be working.
- Interrupt them in person with questions. Focus is a prized state of mind for these hard workers. Instead, try sending an email, or drop them a quick note via your team’s chat app. They’ll really appreciate it.
How to communicate with Steady types
Steady people (also known as ‘harmonizers’) are calm, loyal, and kind. They work well with other people and are particularly good in roles that require a high degree of support and empathy. They’re quick to adapt to other people and prefer to blend in than shake things up.
- Expect them to ask follow-up questions and ask for more details.
- Be relaxed and approachable. Encourage them by praising recent work they’ve done, and feel free to chat with them about their weekend before getting down to business.
- Practice active listening, and encourage them to open up by responding to their statements with relevant questions.
- Rush them. Like contentious types, they like direction and being focused and are naturally risk-averse.
- Assume they support your idea just because they haven’t voiced opposition. Instead, try to ask them explicitly, preferably in a one-on-one set up so they can think about how best to express their answer without the pressure of immediacy thrust upon them.
Making the adjustment
Now you know all the main communication styles and what works best for each of them, it’s a good idea to think about your own colleagues. If you can label them as one or two of these communication styles, you’ll be able to better communicate with them in the future. Once you’ve figured out where everyone falls, take a little time to dissect some conversations you’ve had with each person. Was there a time you could have better communicated with them? Did they do something to obviously show their communication style?
Thinking all of this through will allow you to brainstorm a little bit on how you can improve communication with them. Next time you talk with them, either about the next project or just how their weekend was, try to infuse your conversation with these tips. And, voilà! More than likely you’ll start to see your working relationship flourish more than ever!
Working with different types of people is something we all have to do. Instead of avoiding the challenge, wouldn’t it be nicer if we all saw this difference as an opportunity rather than a hurdle? Sure, it’s great working with people you click with immediately, but there’s also a real sense of reward to be found in successfully communicating with someone you wouldn’t naturally gel with. Be a social chameleon: Flex around your teammates’ communication styles and watch the conversations (and productivity) flourish.