Lost in Translation – Do You Need to Adapt Your Communication Style?

In my blogs and podcasts, I often talk about the need for effective communication in the workplace. Great communication can motivate and inspire people, make you a more effective manager/leader, and it can help you avoid crossed wires and damaged relationships. 

One of the things that makes communication effective is when it’s tailored to the person or people you’re speaking to. 

Every single one of us thinks, works, and communicates differently. We all have our own needs and preferences when it comes to communication. If there’s any sort of disconnect in communication styles, it can lead to disharmony and it makes it so much more difficult to get everything running smoothly. 

I remember I had a manager and there was a huge disconnect between our communication styles. I used to go into his office and I never had a clue about how to talk to him and raise issues. He had a coaching style and he would never tell you what to do or how to do it, so I spent most of my time floundering and not knowing where to go with projects. 

Then something changed. 

I had my DISC profile done, and I came to understand that he had this quiet, reflective personality and I was the complete opposite! 

So when I went into his office like a whirlwind, throwing all of this information at him, he couldn’t cope with it. He just wanted me to be direct and stick to the facts. 

Using DISC is very useful when it comes to learning how to change your approach and understanding how people work together. I would recommend having a DISC profiling session; in fact, it’s the first session I do as part of my Leadership and Management Mentoring programme. It just might also help you avoid a lot of those dreaded difficult conversations. 

One of the most helpful things about DISC is that it helps you know your audience in terms of who you’re speaking to and what they need. 

Once when I was leading a service team, I used to have to report to the very senior lead who always wanted a report on whatever we were working on. I was used to dealing with a lot of detail; after all, there were some huge work areas within our service. So I would always go into her with an in-depth, super detailed report. The thing is, she only wanted to see the top-level information. 

This made me think about how I could change my approach to meet her needs. 

How do you learn to change your communication style?

Well, the first thing you can do is take the time to adjust your approach, so your communication style matches that of whoever you’re speaking to. For example, do you have a team member who takes quite an analytical approach to their work? 

Say you were having a conversation with them about why you have made a particular decision. A good approach to improving communication with them might be to show them some data that led you to make the decision that you did. They might just better understand where you’re coming from and it may be easier to get them on board with your way of thinking. 

The added benefit of taking the time to adapt your approach shows that you care enough to pay attention to people’s different perspectives and values, and what they actually need. 

However, knowing when and how to adjust your communication style starts with active listening. If you listen to what a person says, what they don’t say, and how they say it, it will help you learn what you need to know about their communication style. Then you can work on adjusting your approach and communicating more effectively. Believe me, if you listen effectively, there will be fewer headaches all around! 

Another thing you can do to improve communication with others and work on adapting your style is to focus on communication agility. No, this is not an Olympic discipline, though it can feel like one! The idea is that you focus on key things when you’re communicating, like listening, coaching, giving direction, and taking on board people’s opinions, ideas, and concerns and learn how to switch between these different ‘modes.’ Over time, you’ll become a much more effective communicator and you’ll reap the benefits. 

A thing it helps to remember is that your team and the workplace overall are like a machine. If one or more of the parts aren’t working, you’re going to have problems. So if nobody is paying attention to each other’s communication styles, there are always going to be misunderstandings and things getting lost in translation. 

What you can do as a manager is lead in a way that encourages others to think about their approach. If you make the effort to know your audience and adapt your communication style, other people might follow suit because they’ll see that it’s helpful and produces better outcomes.

So for example, when you’re talking to your team, you can use phrases to show that you understand how they prefer to work by saying something like, “Because I know it’s important to you that everyone gets to contribute their ideas, let’s take time out and have a brainstorming session…”

Adapting your natural communication style can feel like a steep learning curve, but there are some worthwhile benefits. 

If you tailor the way you communicate to your audience, whatever you are communicating will have so much more impact. However you’re delivering a message, whether it’s in a meeting, 121, or via email, if you communicate in a style that your audience prefers, it removes barriers and it will be far better received. 

If I had known that my manager wanted a top-level overview report rather than my reams of detail and I had tailored what I presented her with to suit, there would have been no disconnect. She would have been satisfied and I would have been happy in the knowledge that I had given her exactly what she needed. 

Effective communication can make you a much more successful manager. 

Do you have a ‘difficult’ team member that you feel you never quite get through to?

Do you often feel that things are getting lost in translation between you and your team?

Maybe you should consider looking for opportunities to adjust your communication style.

What do you need to do to break down barriers with this difficult team member? 

How might you make your team more receptive to what you have to say?

Being aware of how you communicate and being able to adapt will reduce disharmony and make you a far more effective leader.

Try it, and see for yourself.

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