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Mental Health

Communication Styles in the Workplace

Whether you’ve just moved for a job in a new city and want to make a stellar first impression or are just looking to improve your relationships in your community, good communication is key. In the workplace, knowing how communication styles affect you means the difference between crystal clear messaging and blurry (hurtful) misunderstandings. 

The importance of communication — and what is it?

How important is communication?

Even our kids are getting in on it: 90% of respondents to a Pew survey ranked the importance of developing communication skills in children above math and reading. 

But communication is more than just flapping your lips or typing away on your laptop. 

Sure, the words you use are important, but the way they are delivered, how they’re perceived, and the emotional state of both sender and receiver all play into how effective the communication is.

It’s like a dance, only the floor is made of lava, and you have to figure out how to cross the room holding hands with people who may not be interested in trying, don’t notice the floor, or would prefer to go another way. And in 2021, nearly five billion people are online for work or play. So the lava-covered floor might not even be real.

It’s complicated.

Communication style 101

The first step is recognizing there are six different styles of communication. It’s important to note that one style is not better than any other — each type plays an important role (even if it’s frustrating at the time).

Open vs. closed

Open communicators are open and people-oriented, while closed communicators are task-focused. In broad strokes, think extroverted social butterflies and introverted bookworms.

Open communicators struggle with tight deadlines (they get distracted by other matters), and closed communicators prefer not to explain themselves.

Direct vs. indirect

Direct communicators get right to the point — a good thing when it’s part of the dominant culture or if they’re an expert but abrasive in cultures with less forceful styles.

On the other hand, indirect communicators will often move around a point, offering very little decisive opinions of their own. If a situation is complex or emotionally fraught, these are your stars. They can see multiple perspectives.

Passive vs. aggressive

Passive communicators are those who “go with the flow.” They rarely insert themselves into a scenario, and they struggle to express a personal opinion. 

On the opposite side, aggressive communicators will state their opinion at all costs (even to the detriment of the team or family). It’s not that the communicator is direct — it’s more that there is a general lack of concern about the needs or interests of others. 

Bonus: passive-aggressive

Communicators who are closed but aggressive are passive-aggressive. Of all of the communication styles, this one can be the most difficult to work with. Passive-aggressive communication styles can develop when an aggressive communicator is shut down. 

It is possible to help passive-aggressive communicators become more clear, open, and responsive, but it’s best to look at that issue separately for improvement (and less heartache in the long run).

Processing styles

Beyond how people talk to each other is how they process information. There are four essential processing styles.

Analytical

Analytical people just want the facts, ma’am. No messy emotional details or flowery extras. 

Intuitive

Facts matter here, too, but how you deliver them is key. Intuitive communicators need short, to-the-point data that is in support of the bigger picture. These are your big-ideas people.

Functional 

If you need “i’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed, no stone unturned, and all perspectives considered, the functional information processor is your go-to. She will make sure nothing is missed.

Personal

These are the social butterflies, the human connectors. They like to connect on a, well, personal level before diving into business.

How to communicate like you mean it 

It’s safe to say that if there is a group of two or more people, you’ll have two or more communication and processing styles.

So how do you communicate so you’re heard?

Get clear on your goals first

Since these six communication styles in the workplace and four different ways of processing information can create a seemingly infinite number of potential combinations, you’ll need clarity on what your goals are before you open your mouth (or set up that email blast):

  • Are you looking for feedback?
  • Are you requiring information?
  • Do you need immediate action?
  • Is there already a plan, or does one need to be made? 

If you have your communication goals in mind it’s easier to move to the next step.

Tailor your talk

Now the tricky part: speaking or writing so you’re heard.

What does this mean?

No matter your goals — whether you want action or just a thoughtful response — you’ll need to consider the communication style of your audience before you proceed.

Say, for example, you need a presentation assembled on 1031 exchange companies. If you are faced with a direct communicator who has an analytical processing style, you’ll offer them an assignment with a due date, any specific details you need included, and a format.

But if that same project goes to an open communicator with an intuitive style of processing, they’ll need details, but they’ll also want to know why this project matters, where it fits into their overall work, and how it will affect the audience.

In the end, you’ll still get the presentation you need if you’re able to modify how you ask and the way in which it’s put together for the person in front of you.

Can we change how we communicate?

Yes, you can change your communication style in the workplace. Whether you are trying to sell your house, looking to get your kids to clean their room, negotiating a loan, or closing a multi-million dollar deal, understanding communication styles is key.

You can improve your communication at work by:

  • Knowing the communication styles of your co-workers
  • Working to build respect and trust on your team
  • Recognizing the speed bumps in your own style

Perhaps the most visible communicators — sales leaders — listen more than they speak, and this translates to better communication across industries. 

These simple steps can help you better understand communication styles in the workplace and how to work with them in both your professional and personal life.

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