I often work with people who are struggling to ask for what they really want or don’t know how to get it. It's a common problem and often people don't realise why. This is because it’s not about whether or not you are a bad communicator, it's about learning to be an effective communicator. And to be an effective communicator? You must aware of how you are communicating.
Learning this is the key to getting what you want. It's the key to healthy relationships, and progressing at work. At its heart, it is about understanding and accepting that we all think and communicate in different ways. That learning to adapt our asking style to better suit those we want to influence will lead to more predictable results and outcomes.
Firstly, and this one is huge, we are all communicating from within our own frame of reference. Our frame of reference helps each of us to navigate and understand our world from our own perspective. It helps us take mental shortcuts. We draw upon our past experiences to make assumptions about what we are experiencing now. It's like our brain-saving energy so that we don’t have to get up every morning and begin all over again.
Except we don’t realise that we are doing it - and each of us is doing it from our own unique frame of reference. Instead, we assume that we are all the same (except for a few obvious differences like eye colour, height weight, etc) and that leads to all kinds of misunderstandings. When we accept that others are communicating from within a world view that is entirely different from ours, we are on the way to being a more effective communicator.
So, nobody is built the same. Then, when we add into the mix things like cultural differences, unconscious generalisations and biases about gender, generational differences and so on, this just complicates our communications even more. Again, what we know is shaped by our experiences which in turn forms our assumptions.
Given that we communicate from within our own world view shaped as described above, it's hardly surprising that how we communicate is also impacted by our preferred thinking and social styles (you can call this personality).
Have you ever noticed that some people seem to just want to get down to the task at hand with acknowledging you as a human? Or your relationship? Or that some people just seem to block out everything everybody else is saying and just focuses on why something can’t be done? Or that others just want to socialise and take an absolute age to get to the matter at hand... you get the idea.
Mostly, when we run into this kind of difference we are very quick to judge the other person and find fault with them. But imagine what would happen if instead we looked at ourselves and accepted that we could do this differently... imagine if you did this. Do you think it could improve your chance of getting what you want?
Understanding all this means that we can learn to adapt our communication and thinking style, improving the chances of getting the results we want.
Now for how
The good news is that you have achieved the first step - accepting that we are all different. The second step is learning how to adapt our own communication style to make asking for what we want to become more effective.
Consider these three thinking and communication styles that you may come across in your workplace - you will see that each has their own style and there are suggestions on how best to adapt to their way of interacting.
1. The Driver
The assertive one. This person is a fast-paced, driven type. They want to take charge.
Their language is filled with action-oriented words, they talk about the facts, what has to happen and how we are going to get there but not so much about the detail
Their body language is often large with arms spread or hands on hips, they will lean forward and it often feels aggressive to the other two communication and thinking styles; often are unaware of how they are presenting and are completely involved with what they are trying to say.
These people are often big picture and task oriented.
This person gets irritated with too much “soft fluffy stuff like rapport building”
How to get what you want: hold back on attempting to build rapport at first, this will have the opposite effect. You will probably lose their respect and they will probably become dismissive. Instead, win their trust by being assertive. Cut to the chase, to the results. Talk in bullet points and short sentences. Focus on the facts. Be reliable and do what you say you are going to do.
2. The Friend
Unlike the assertive person, this one wants to make a connection with you. With them, it's all about relationships and building rapport.
There focus is people, not tasks or information.
Often their first topic of conversation is about what everyone is doing and how they are feeling; or what happened outside of work on the weekend or at a social event. They may talk about sport or other lighthearted topics.
This person may get up close and personal, perhaps reaching out and touching you on the arm or the hand. They look you in the eye.
How to get what you want: unsurprisingly, you must focus on building rapport and relationships with this person. If you tend to cut to the chase, hold back. You want to keep the conversation light, as if you were at a social event, before getting down to the business. If you take on more assertive qualities, the person may shut down and become defensive. They may feel pushed or bullied. Don’t focus too much on the detail too early in the conversation. They may feel overwhelmed. Ensure you are agreeable and likeable. Even if you do disagree with them, use playfulness, curiosity and responsiveness.
3. The Lover of Detail
The focus with this person is most certainly on understanding details and facts, managing and mitigating risk.
Often they will be slow to respond and want more details - perhaps more than you are prepared for or ready to share.
They will often look into the distance and sit very still with minimal hand gestures; they may lean back in their chair, turn away from you and even pull faces whilst they are thinking.
If this person is pushed too quickly they will begin to resist and try to slow things down. They may begin to tell you that it won't work, often referring to the past when something similar has been tried before and will bog you down in details that have not yet been thought through.
The risk here is that you never get your point across and you end up very frustrated.
This is the slowest of the three. You need to give this person time to digest what has been said and then think of their response.
How to get what you want: to win these people over be prepared with detail at least chunk the information you are giving them; slow the pace down to suit their pace of thinking. Accept that they will be working through all the reasons why not in order for them to be able to begin focusing on the how. When you make a suggestion, start with something like this: “You have probably already had some experience with this”; or “This is probably not going to work but …”. It might also help to break up your communication into two separate occasions. Sometimes this will help to give them time to come along on the journey with you, and this is the single most effective thing you can do.
All in all, the way to begin to understand other people’s communication and thinking style is to use observation. Notice how other people use language - choice of words, language structure and pace of speech; how they move their bodies and what they focus on in the conversation. Then practice mirroring their speech (words, tone and pace) and the way they move. Be curious. Take the time to truly listen to them. Ask questions that will help you better understand where they are coming from, then when you do have a full understanding use this knowledge to negotiate for what you want.
Learning how to be an effective communicator is the most important skill we can develop to succeed in the workplace and in our relationships. If you'd like to learn more, sign up to my 6 part "moving forwards" email series.