What would the world be like if everybody communicated exactly the same way? On one hand, everybody would know what was expected of them and where they stood with one another. On the other hand, the world would be so boring! We know that people communicate differently, but we don’t always think about why that is. We often judge how people communicate, questioning why they behaved or said something in a certain way in a given situation, instead of really appreciating that at the heart of it, we all have a communication preference; and we default to it, as that is what is most comfortable for us. In between the communication styles of two people, there may be complete alignment, a sliver of a confusion, or a canyon of misunderstanding. It doesn’t make either preference “wrong” necessarily, but it does highlight the need for us to take more time to understand each other so that we can appropriately interpret the differences. Without that understanding, differences can seem quite negative when they are not, or may be taken as positive or neutral, when something negative is, in fact, going on! You would think that, on a personal level, we tend to attract people who communicate similarly to ourselves, but this is not the case. We have friends and loved ones who are quite different to us, and we take them for who they are. Somehow, when it comes to co-workers, employees and employers, we often have a different tolerance level for those same differences. This is where the danger lies.
There are many different “tests” and “programs” for identifying personality styles. The variety is endless, as are the outcomes. There is a significant difference that lies between assessing personality style and communication preference. The fear in discussing personalities is that it can feel accusatory, forcing team members into categories that may not fairly represent the totality of who they are.
A quick Google search will bring up all sorts of assessments and quizzes. While many of these are entertaining to do on your own, they are not evidence based in their approach and are really better left for fun. Even with the more well-known programs, much information can be found on the pitfalls of personality analysis if not put in the proper context, or if the outcomes are not presented and managed correctly.
Keep in mind that whatever program you choose, the outcomes do not assess skill level or intellect and therefore should never be used as a way of judging workplace ability.
While some programs have elements available at no cost online, most have some sort of pay-for-use/pay-for-interpretation/pay-for-facilitation element. Buyer beware, invest when you have the time, commitment and ambassador for the program in place (and the majority of your team interested in growth and development in this area). You will get what you pay for, and this type of learning should be considered crucial for most teams. Just like with personal culture, looking inward is the first step. The more you understand about your own personal style, the easier it will be to understand why you do what you do, say what you say, think what you think and react how you react. Deeper learning should layer on top of this foundation.
A few things to look for when selecting a program for your team:
1. The assessment isn’t so short that it cannot give you an accurate (or consistent) outcome, or so long that it is tedious to implement.
2. The assessment language is easy to understand, using words that will lead to consistent and reliable answers.
3. Results can be utilized with new team members as a way for them to better understand the team, and for the team to understand them.
4. Results doesn’t deal in absolutes. Just because a person has a specific communication preference, it doesn’t mean they cannot communicate in a way that is more comfortable for somebody else. Everybody is technically capable of almost anything if they put their mind to it and understand what the goal is. Saying one person “cannot” communicate or be a certain way is simply unfair to both the person communicating and the person being communicated with.
5. Outcomes should be memorable. If it takes a novel to remember what everything means, you are not going to see long-lasting success or the ability for team members to implement on what they have learned.
The entire team must understand why they are undertaking this type of learning:
1. Gaining insight into themselves and those around them; allowing them the opportunity to be their best self with their team and clients.
2. Understanding how they come across; allowing them the opportunity to alter this should they want/need to.
3. Allowing team leaders, supervisors and managers to set their people up for success by improving engagement and customizing their approach with each team member.
4. Engaging a variety of people with different communication strengths and approaches - knowing who we are as a team allows us to be our best selves.
The team must personally understand a few things in participating in this type of exercise:
1. Your communication preference is not an excuse for your negative behaviours.
2. Your understanding of your preference is meant to allow for self-reflection and self-awareness.
3. Better understanding preferences different to your own allows you to work on how to best communicate with people who are different to yourself.
4. There are no secrets as to assessment outcomes—we expect people to be different and we will share individual outcomes with the team. Being different is a good thing.
5. There are no “good” or “bad,” “right” or “wrong” preferences—you are not better, neither is anybody else.
After the initial outcomes are determined, build on them:
1. Begin with a solid understanding of oneself.
a. What was your own outcome?
b. What does it mean about who you are and how you behave?
2. Understand the other outcomes.
a. What does it mean to be each of them?
b. How do they interpret the world similarly to you, and differently to you?
3. Consider your team, assess the big picture.
a. Share the outcomes of the individuals you work with.
b. Do your interactions with each other to-date make sense when the individual outcomes are considered?
c. What is working well? What isn’t? Why?
d. Are there specific team members best suited to certain situations/conversations?
e. What are personal next steps and who might be best suited to help you with your learning?
4. Take a deeper look.
a. What motivates and energizes each individual? What discourages and exhausts them?
b. How might we appear to others and what might people assume about us (rightly and wrongly)?
c. What will you commit to doing as an individual, to have smoother interactions and minimize confusion or drama?
5. Apply your knowledge to the outside world.
a. What cues or tells exist that will help us in better understanding what people need from us and how best we can communicate with them?
b. How will we elevate everything from history taking to compliance, sales, recommendations and customer service?
A program that resonated with me many years ago is by a company called Learn2, and is appropriately named “Communicate Naturally.” I enjoyed this program so much when I was first introduced to it that I became a facilitator of the program so that I could impart its wisdom on those around me and utilize the content as part of my team’s everyday vernacular. There is a significant benefit to using a facilitator with your team—somebody from outside who understands the complexities and can determine insights specific to your team. In this program there are 4 approaches: Gold Mine, Green Planet, Blue Ocean and Orange Sky. The use of both colours and environments allows for a more memorable experience for participants, setting an automatic stage for fun and learning combined.
While everybody has a primary approach, the idea is that everybody is all four, just in a different order and with different ratios. Understanding all approaches means that you can better appreciate your own and also adapt your style to the people around you. It is this type of awareness that allows for more fluid interactions and less resistance. Information on Communicate Naturally can be found at www.learn2.com/programs/communicate-naturally.
At the end of the day, having a team with varied styles is to everybody’s benefit. The main thing is to realize that people don’t have to change for you; you have to shift for those around you. If everybody makes this effort, there will be more harmony both within the team and because of them!