Last year I gave birth to my fourth child and thanks to my company’s generous maternity leave, I was able to take paid leave in order to help my family adjust to our new bundle of joy. It was during my time out of the office and with a concentrated focus on homelife that we also learned our middle child has autism spectrum disorder (ASD). During the months following my son’s diagnosis, I have quickly gained a heightened awareness not only about how my interactions and communication techniques affect my child, but every facet of my life, including with colleagues and clients.
Just as at home, when we don’t learn to recognize and match preferred communication styles in the workplace, it can become emotionally draining for team members and frustrating for clients. Here are a few techniques I’ve been able to incorporate in order to become more empathetic and patient, as well as a better communicator at work.
Understand there are different communication styles
Not everyone may face a life-changing diagnosis like mine to jump-start communication mastery, but simply understanding and accepting that there are different communication styles is vital. I’m decisive and make quick statements to initiate action in my team members. I value emotional and social connections in an effort to build relationships and provoke quick decision-making. However, some of us are knowledge gatherers and think analytically. Not everyone I work with has the same tenets of workplace communication. Every style has its own benefits and one is not better than the other. It is simply different. When we are consciously aware and empathic about human nuances, we’re better equipped to share information in ways that positively impacts our workplace.
Train yourself to recognize different communication styles
Even when we know individual styles exist, that doesn’t mean we instinctively match those styles. The awareness I have gained from my son’s diagnosis is only useful if I practice what I have learned. I remind myself daily of this and work to recognize signs, verbal and non-verbal, that my statements are resonating. When I send an email and receive a response with multiple questions, this is an indicator that perhaps I haven’t given clear, concise, and direct information. As another example, if I give instructions to team members and the finished product isn’t what I expected; this may serve as a reminder that I didn’t give enough in-depth information to empower colleagues to do a thorough job. Recognizing these cues helps me redirect and apply a range of communication preferences for the future.
Use your awareness to match colleagues and clients
I can say, “Put your shoes on, we’re running errands,” to my children and —usually — that’s all it takes to spur them to action. But with a son who has ASD, clear, focused commands with a step-by-step list of what we will be doing are much more effective and let him know what to expect from his day. At work, I have begun practicing this same direct, clear, and literal communication path for team members and clients who prefer directives that contrast to my own style. For example, the statement, “Can you please share that document with me when you’re done,” isn’t as direct and clear as, “Can you please share this document with all the key messages by noon on Friday so I can deliver it to the client.”
Implement tools that gauge different communication styles
To date, there are more than 2,500 personality tests available, which is proof that we are all yearning for better ways to interact with each other. At netlogx, we use the Taylor Protocols Core Values Index (CVI)™, but popular options also include the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI). For example, I know through the CVI that I am a Builder and Merchant so my quick, ‘get it done’ style can be very confusing to someone who might be in the Banker style and needs to gather the information before a decision is made. These tools, coupled with training programs, can help bridge communication gaps and help team members to participate meaningfully and effectively in your organization.
Sharing my own journey is a helpful reminder for business leaders that each and every employee is wired differently and processes information in unique ways. Regular reminders and empathy help increase appreciation for the frenetic consequences that result from poor workplace communication. As an added bonus, the skills I have learned and this new perspective are transferable, paving the way for a diverse, happier, and engaged workforce.