In a previous post, I discussed how understanding your own communication style and decision process helps you to be part of a successful team. Even more important than self awareness, though, is your ability to adapt to the other team members’ styles when communicating with them.
If you’re a big-picture, inspirational leader, you may rely heavily on your charisma and persuasive skills to win over skeptics. That’s fine, until you encounter a data-driven analytical type who cares more about whether you’ve done your homework than how fine your words are.
If you run into a relationship based people person, she’ll personify the adage: “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” You’ll be expected to spend time making a personal connection before you get down to business. Without that small talk to ease into the meeting, your cause will not stand a chance.
Why is it your responsibility to adapt, and not theirs? You only have to change your style if you want to succeed. In every office, you can find examples of people talking over and around each other without managing to break through the wall that separates them on issues. Stephen Covey of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, spends a lot of time on the concept of “seeking to understand first, then seeking to be understood.”
Covey says that you must understand what’s important to another person before you can truly connect with him. What seems like a gesture of respect and kindness to you, whether it’s performing a difficult task as a favor or calling friends when they seem a little down, may not have the same effect on them that it has for you. A results-driven co-worker may think that offering to help with a project is a gesture of friendly support; the recipient of the gesture may see it as a sign that she is not respected as a professional. A relationship -driven personality may think that stopping by to ask how you’re feeling is an act of kindness; the data-driven perfectionist sees it as a sign that he’s weak and not controlling his feelings well at the office.
It’s usually easy to recognize personality types; the trick is in learning to appreciate and respect them. When you roll your eyes every time your team member brings out his extensive research, or cut short your coworker when she asks about your weekend, you are building walls that make communication on important issues much harder than it has to be. “Seeking first to understand” means, in part, crafting your message in a way that helps your team members hear it and be willing to cooperate with you. Why not make it one of your New Year’s resolutions?