Adjusting Your Communication Style

Remember back in the day before GPS when you used to have to get verbal directions that went something like "When you see the blue sign on the red building, take a left"? I grew up in rural Warrenton, Va. and to get to a party, you would often be told to go to the third silo after the white fence and look for the cars parked in the grass (good times).

When we finally did get GPS (yay technology), I remember my mother would ask me to plug the address into her GPS, then print out paper directions from MapQuest, and also verbally tell her how to get there. It drove me nuts! I'd say "Mom, just drive and the GPS will tell you where to turn". Finally one day my much more patient husband said "Wouldn't it just be easier to print out the directions and tell her how to get there"?

It was then that the lightbulb went off for me. Why yes! It WAS easier to just do whatever the person I was communicating with needed me to do for them. Instead of arguing with them to bend to my way, why not just do it the way they ask? Huh.

And so it is with management. I realized that for years, I was managing depending on what would work best for ME, as if I were the one doing the project. The only problem was, I wasn't the one doing the project and it took me a while to realize that I needed to adjust MY style to work for the way that made my TEAM comfortable, NOT vice versa.

For those of you that already knew this, congratulations. You are inherently better at managing people than I am. For me (and speaking for thick headed people everywhere) this was a revelation, and one that has served me well to follow ever since.

One colleague that I worked with for years would get the project scope, and then call to tell me EVERY detail about it, even if I were the one who initiated the whole thing. I remember getting a call from her in the car after we both left the same meeting to give me a run down of what was said. I kept interrupting her by saying "Wendy, I was there. I just heard this first hand. I don't need a blow by blow". No, I didn't. But Wendy did.

Remember? Even though I thought I was the oh-so-busy manager, this wasn't about me. (Ding). This was about Wendy and how she processes information. While I may have thought that there were a thousand other things that I could and should be doing, actually, at that moment, my job was to listen to Wendy talk (without taking a breath, I might add). I learned to put her on speaker and just drive. Because that is what I needed to do to make her comfortable with completing the work to the best of her ability.

Another person on my team would start the story at a point about ten minutes before it actually needed to begin. Do you know someone like this? I would say 'How is the project going?', and he would respond "Well, this morning, I was driving into work. I was late because my alarm didn't go off, and the chicken truck cut me off...". 'Uh Pat, what does this have to do with the project? "Well, the chicken truck reminded me to call the meeting planner to check on the caterer, so I did, and everything is all set". Alrighty.

Do you know what Pat is? Thorough! Do you know what I needed on my team to get that particular project done? Someone who was thorough. Just because those details seemed irrelevant to me, that is why I hired Pat as part of a diverse team. So why would I get frustrated with him for exhibiting the very trait that drew me to want to work with him in the first place?

I think as managers, our tendency is to think that since we are the boss, our team should adjust to us. We also tend to want to work with people who are similar to us in how they go about things. But the most effective teams are made up of all different personality types, and it is our job to adjust our behavior to suit whatever the individual's traits are. Easier said than done, but being aware of it is half the battle.

The next time you feel yourself getting frustrated with a team member because they have a different communication style than you, take a deep breath, smile and go with it. (You can always go home later and complain to your spouse that it feels like swimming with turtles in a vat of molasses). Meanwhile, you are growing as a leader and doing what you are being paid to do: Managing your team to the best of everyone's ability.

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