Leader's Way 2 - Communicating with Direct & Indirect Listeners
January 4, 2015
First, why does your communication style matter at all? You’re the boss. You’re the person with the big idea. Others should take what you throw out there and make it work for them, right? If only. People don’t work that way. They will only understand what you have to say, and approach it with positivity if you can communicate to them in a way that works for them.
Communication is the magical interplay between a talker, a listener, their two views on the topic, their two communication styles and their underlying expectations around communication. And, it results (when it works) in a melding of ideas, clear understanding between individuals and clarity about how to proceed. When it goes well, communication is the bedrock of great leadership. When it fails, as it very often does, it can be the source of most of a leader’s stress and missed opportunities.
Why didn’t she do that thing I told her to do?
Why is that department reluctant to speak with me?
What is going on over there and why haven’t they told me about it yet?
Why hasn’t he changed his tune about that important change in his team’s workflow?
Why can’t that manager ever give me a straight answer?
Why is that team lead so openly defiant and aggressive when we speak?
Understand your communication style and it's standard outcomes and you'll start to be able to solve these communication challenges.
So, what’s your style? There are many factors at play that give you your unique style. Let’s focus today on direct and indirect communication styles.
Are you candid and matter-of-fact or careful and diplomatic with your words?
Direct, candid communication is easier for people to glean clear information from and it’s fast. People who speak this way often shoot from the hip. “Bam! This is the thought that I have on that topic.”
Downside: But, that quickness can mean you haven’t made it clear to others that you value them and their opinions.
It can leave people feeling battered.
It can shut down follow-up discussion.
Your listener’s biggest stress out question: “Why didn’t they take my feelings into consideration when they said that?”
What you can do: It would be good for you to circle back and check in with how people are feeling about the conversation.
“What do you feel about that?” and “What are your thoughts?” are both great questions that can re-engage those folks who can get flustered by your straight talk.
Pro Tips: Try to avoid getting to the point at the cost of nurturing relationships. For a lot of people, today's project is not uneffected by yesterday's (or even last year's) interactions with you. They are motivated by long relationship trends, not today's to do list.
Open with “How was your weekend?” and actually listen to the answer with interest before you get to your point about a work thing. Engaging in long-term relationship building with this type of person can yield great results for you as a leader because they are the very people who will hear the ideas and concerns from people who are nervous to talk to you directly. An engaged, thoughtful and emotionally-supportive low-key communicator can give you the insights you need to thrive long-term in your leadership role.
You may very well have heard this type of advice before, but don’t forget: getting to the point and being open is a great way to be! This advice is not an attempt to get you to give up your communication strength. It’s aimed at giving you a few tools that you can use to help some of your more sensitive listeners be able to hear from you the great information you have instead of being in their head, worried about what your directness might mean about their relationship with you.
Careful, diplomatic communicators are also sensational. If you speak this way, you regularly demonstrate that you are willing to commit time to individuals and their thoughts, you ensure that other people’s feelings are taken into account when you’re speaking and you probably don’t open the conversation with a clear statement of your opinion so that others can express themselves first without having to worry about conflicting with anything you’ve said. Your style opens up conversation and invites others to participate.
Downside: But, it does tend to take a long time and meander away from clarity.
There are people who need clear-cut answers and who are desperate to move quickly into action and your style can leave them confused (“Wait, what did she want exactly?”) and restless to move on.
Your listener’s biggest stress out question: “What is happening and why is it still happening!?!”
What you can do: If you sense that the person you’re trying to communicate with is checking out, they are probably simply wanting from you a clear-cut, action-oriented piece of information.
Step 1: Ask them what they need from you to move forward and then give them that information in as few words as possible. Ideally, 5 words or less.
Step 2: This type of person is going to shoot from their hip when they answer, so don’t take whatever they say in response personally. “I need you to give me the answer to the question I asked 20 minutes ago!” for example, is probably not meant as anything but information even if it comes out sounding to you petulant and judgy. This type of person, when stressed out, is not considering your feelings and is likely to say something foot-in-mouth worthy once they are restless with the conversation’s length or seeming lack of cohesion. Still, their bluntness is not on purpose and it won’t stop until they calm down so quickly move on to step 3.
Step 3: Release them from this conversation. They weren’t going to hear much of what you wanted to talk to them about anyway because their heart and mind is already running through all the tasks they could be doing instead of standing with you. Don’t take this personally either.
This person might enjoy going for a walk with you when you have a longer topic to discuss with them rather than sitting idly in a meeting room. They might last longer and be more engaged and creative if they get to be busy while they are talking with you. Other ideas: whiteboarding the conversation or creating a list of to-dos together instead of just talking. The relationship they have with you is a lot, for them, about getting stuff done together so go to it. Get stuff done with them and worry less about saying the right thing to them.
Don’t forget, this person is a great ally for you to have as a leader because they are the person who will speak truth to power no matter what. Keep them happy and they also tend to be powerhouses of effective work, churning out an astounding amount of productivity.