You may have noticed that much of the world treats problems, tasks, people, and games differently than you do. If you lead a team, you may have wondered why some people enjoy the friendship of team meetings while others struggle with the same meetings hoping to start on time and finish quickly. You may have found that the drive to action displayed by some members of your team is balanced by the need for evaluation or analysis expressed by others on the team.
In fact, our workplaces are filled with amazing, complex people who do and say things that constantly surprise us. If you’re managing a team of diverse people, it’s up to you to learn not just how value These differences but also how Builds on these differences. As a first step, you should begin to understand your own communication style, as well as your own strengths and weaknesses.
It doesn’t have to be a complicated process to get started identifying communication style differences. You may have seen some patterns in yourself and the people you work with. For example, do:
It is interesting to note that it doesn’t really matter how or why you developed these preferences. It’s just important to realize that you have preferences or habits that you tend to rely on to get your way in the world. Of course, we all have the power to do whatever the situation demands of us, but let’s face it: there are some behaviors that feel more comfortable than others.
Let me give you an example: When a member of my team drops an issue on my lap, my first instinct is to ask questions and gather facts. When I have enough information, I can begin to weigh my options. When I have considered these options, I may then recommend an experimental solution. Would it surprise you to know that I prefer the analytical communication style? (We call this method a parser in NetSpeed Leadership.)
Now let’s think of the team member who dropped the problem onto my lap. Maybe she was actually a little upset that she didn’t notice a bug that caused the problem. Let’s imagine she feels bad about this issue and hopefully I can take a few minutes to sympathize with her discomfort and reassure her that we’ll work together to make things right. She is probably more interested in her relationship with me, her boss, at the moment than in solving the problem. Would it surprise you to learn that she prefers a relationship-oriented style of communication? (We call this pattern an anchor.)
As you imagine this scenario, you can probably guess that we will be like two ships passing by in the night. In the face of my questioning and fact-gathering, she would probably dissolve into tears, convinced she had really messed it up. If she realizes she needs sympathy and support before she can move on to problem-solving, we’ll likely make more progress in resolving the problem together.
Without appreciating these kinds of differences in style, team members can also misunderstand each other, interact poorly, and experience unnecessary frustration. One of my team members is a tight deadline. He has an endless to-do list and gets most of his daily satisfaction from working his way through that list. The more activities he does each day, the better he will feel. When he leaves for the night, his desk is well organized and ready for him to tackle the challenges of the next day. Perhaps it is not surprising to hear that he prefers a results-oriented style of communication. (We call this method done.)
Now imagine this achiever working with another team member who loves the creative process. In fact, brainstorming, playing with ideas, and looking for creative solutions takes up a large part of her day. If you look in her office, you’ll wonder how she could find anything on her desk. There are stacks of paper everywhere, open journals of interesting articles, sticky notes with ideas, a stack of books, a steno board with notes, lists, random ideas and important phone numbers. She is delighted to go to the Achiever’s office and exchange ideas with him. You can guess that she prefers a creative communication style, and certainly not one driven by deadlines. (We call this style adventurous.)
If I want to develop synergistic teamwork, I must not only select team members who demonstrate these different styles, but also make sure that they value these style differences in their teammates. Otherwise, the team will waste a great deal of time arguing over differences in style rather than negotiating good business strategies that meet everyone’s needs.
So, as a team leader, where should you start? Consider inviting each team member to share some accomplishments with other team members at a team meeting. As the team member talks about these proud moments, everyone records the gifts, talents, and skills they demonstrated to be successful.
For example, imagine the investigator describing his achievement of completing the New York Marathon. He describes the daily training he did, the training plan he developed, the goals he set, his commitment to running the race despite the unusually high heat on race day, and his satisfaction in achieving his personal goal: to run the marathon in under 4 minutes. Team members may notice gifts, talents, and skills such as goal setting, perseverance, commitment, focus on results, discipline, and self-direction. When they notice these positive qualities, they begin to see what their fellow team members have to bring to the team.
Next, consider introducing the team to your communication styles or behavior. At NetSpeed Leadership, we offer a three-hour training module called Working with Communication Styles to help organizations develop an awareness of differences in style and language of appreciation and the ability to leverage these differences. When each team member begins to understand their own preferences and moves from judging others who display different styles, to appreciating and building on those differences in style, your team begins to mature. And your job as a team leader becomes a little easier.