Recently I taught a class at the Small Business Administration, where we discussed many characteristics of successful business owners. When discussing communication, and differing communication styles, it became apparent that most of us assumed that others communicated the way we did — or at the very least, could hear and understand what we were communicating. Turns out that’s an assumption that isn’t always correct.
As an example, I’ve had the occasion to communicate often with a colleague over the past 6 months. They are doing their darnedest to let me know what’s going on, deadlines coming up, opportunities and resources available, and the like. After years of working with creative entrepreneurs, I’m pretty good at listening and interpreting fast moving thoughts, swirly brains, and half formed ideas — and yet, most of the time I have no real idea what this colleague is trying to tell me.
It’s frustrating, because they know a lot of things I’d like to know. And I’m sure it’s frustrating for them, communicating away and me not responding in a way they are looking for. Bottom line: our communication styles are different to the point where we’re practically speaking different languages. What to do then, then? Here are a few ideas to get you and your communicator using the same language.
Don’t assume they know what you mean
As annoying as it can be when someone spells out the obvious, this is exactly what’s needed to insure you’re talking about the same thing. If they say something like, “I think we’ve got a deal” you can say something like, “Great! To confirm, what I hear you saying is X, correct?” I’ve seen this lack of clarity and assumption that everyone’s on the same page, sabotage clients’ deals and communicate the wrong message. Even if it pains you, spell it out.
Set ground rules for your communication
It’s helpful to tell the other person what your communication style is, and find out theirs. Spelling your styles out in advance can lessen the impact if you’re a forceful communicator, or help you understand that they imply things and you’d do best if you asked them a lot of specific questions. I had a client once who said yes to all the ideas we generated, then would come to the next session not having acted on any of them. After a few months I realized their style was to say yes to everything to avoid confrontation, and I adjusted my style to more inferential, which produced much better results from them.
Read Getting to Yes by Fisher, Ury and Patton
This powerful little book helped open my eyes about how to approach negotiations and navigate communication styles. It has common scenarios you’ll encounter during negotiations, helps you realize what your strengths are as a negotiator, and how to handle people who are playing the game of negotiation differently than you. Remember: everything is a negotiation, not only client deals — who pays for dinner, who goes to the grocery store, what project should you and your partner pursue next…
What is your communication style? Are others hearing you when you speak? Are you communicating what you intend? Play around with these ideas over the next few weeks and notice what happens in your client interactions -– I bet things will feel easier, for both parties.
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