Two People Talking at a Table

The science of communication isn’t hard to understand. Be clear, be compelling and be responsive. To communicate more effectively, it means doing these three simple things really well. And that’s where communication becomes incredibly challenging. As a leaders and employees, we all need to communicate constantly, whether in person, via email or chat, or in presentations. We also all want to be as clear, compelling, and responsive as possible.

The disconnect occurs because what is clear to you may be completely unclear to your colleague. Think about a time when a conversation with a colleague or your boss was less effective than what you’d hoped. I bet you don’t have to look back very far. I can think of several instances in the last few days…and I’m sure I’m not alone. So why is this? What makes it so hard to grasp how to best communicate with other people, especially at work?

The biggest difference in communication has to do with the brain and how we’re wired. No matter who you are, people are thinking across common factors. We know this because we’ve tested it in the workplace, and because it’s been rooted in solid personality theory. You can take a look at our technical manual to learn more, but since that’s a pretty dense document, the main points are that thinking can be characterized in four key dimensions and behavior can be measured across three different spectrums.

However, even though we’re all accessing these same factors (Analytical, Structural, Social and Conceptual Thinking and Expressiveness, Assertiveness, and Flexibility Behavior) every person is using them completely differently. A person who thinks abstractly about issues is tapping into strong elements of Analytical and Conceptual thinking…they think in big picture ideas, they want data to back up decisions and they’re concerned more about if the direction is right than in precisely how things should get done.

On the other hand, a person who thinks in a more concrete factor is pulling from the other two thinking attributes, Social, and Structural. What does that mean? Well, they actually not only want the details, but they’ll get energized by putting ideas into action…by understanding who can make things happen. But they’re going to look for much more depth in the process in order to feel comfortable.

This is why it so hard to be clear, compelling and responsive. Because clarity looks much different from one person to the next. What is compelling can be worlds apart. Being responsive is about listening deeply to other people, who are likely not speaking your language.

However, creating a common language isn’t impossible and becoming a more effective communicator isn’t either. You don’t have to abandon who you are…because that’s when you’re at your most compelling and clear. But you do have to understand where others are coming from and adapt your approach. Here’s how to do it from all facets of the thinking and behavioral spectrum.

  1. Make sure your message is backed up by data: To appeal to Analytical thinkers, communicating clearly means knowing what you’re talking about. You don’t need mountains of facts, data and logic, but you do need to be able to back up your ideas and what you’re saying. Off the cuff won’t work.
  2. Create next steps: Structural thinking is built on clarity moving forward. You don’t need to provide every detail under the sun, but being clear on expectations and next steps or what you want from your colleagues will make a huge difference.
  3. Ask for feedback and involve others: Social thinking is rooted in relationships. You’d think that by default, communication is about connecting with others. You’d be wrong. Think about how many times people are talking for themselves and not for those to whom they’re speaking. Don’t do that—think of the listener.
  4. Be visionary, give people a reason to listen: Compelling communication happens when you believe in an idea and provide the WHY! There’s nothing worse than having no idea why you’re in a meeting or what a presentation is about. Give people the vision.
  5. Express yourself while being open: Expressiveness runs the gamut, from those who are more quiet to those who are more gregarious. Even if you’re quiet, communication can be effective, but maybe it’s done through email or 1-on-1. Be open to different ways to communicate and know that others require that same kind of openness.
  6. Drive things ahead and involve others in doing so: Communication can be directive or inclusive, and both are necessary. Reading the situation is critical to know how to best assert yourself. Knowing how to actually get stuff done means that communication will be more effective because your colleagues will see how it is moving forward.
  7. Be flexible and understand that changes happen: Communication isn’t a one-and-done thing. Effective communication is an ongoing process, and that means embracing all facets of the Flexibility spectrum, from staying the course (and communicating why) to shifting direction (and communicating why).

Leadership is built on effective communication, and knowing how to tap into the thinking and behavioral preferences of your colleagues will make you a better leader and teammate.

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