Transcending our communication bubbles

Transcending our communication bubbles

Our communication style is biased towards our own style and priorities. When we connect with people who have a different style, it’s important to be aware of this and take action in order to avoid a communication breakdown.

Key takeaways

  • Everyone has different communication styles – and understanding others’ styles and our own can improve workplace relationships and communications.
  • In times of stress, we can retreat into our own communication bubbles and become frustrated with others who have a different approach.
  • It’s important to acknowledge and adapt at time to the communication style of others, but also be able to ask for what you need.

Most of us think we’re good communicators, usually because we readily connect with like-minded people who have a similar communication style to our own. Without critical self-assessment, it’s very easy to form an impression based solely on these interactions, ignoring less successful attempts or, even worse, simply deciding that our communication style is the ‘right’ one, while everyone else has it wrong. 

In a workplace, the impact of poor communications is enormous. A recent study reported by Forbes shows 89% of workers are negatively impacted by ineffective communications, with close to 50% or respondents citing impacts on productivity and job satisfaction. 

Luckily, there are ways to avoid poor communications in the workplace – and it starts with the very basics.

Assessing communication styles

The first step to addressing these poor communications is to breed awareness of different communication styles. It’s not something that comes easily to most, but it’s very helpful once the realisation hits.

There are many tools and models available and in our organisation we adapted a simple self-assessment, breaking the styles down into four main groups – The Director, The Socialiser, The Relator, and The Thinker. 

Those who use The Director style tend to think of communications almost exclusively as a gateway to meaningful actions. This type simply wants to know what they need to know in order to direct the next steps. 

The Socialiser prioritises creativity and connection. The Socialiser uses communication as a tool to drive collaboration and inspiration. 

Similar but distinct is The Relator, whose main priority is to create harmony, to acknowledge and validate others’ feelings and to smooth over conflicts. 

And possibly one of the more pragmatic styles is that of The Thinker, who analyses the detail of what’s communicated to them in order to make evidence-based decisions. 

Obviously, each one of these styles of communication can be linked to a corresponding way of thinking about the world, and having a mix of these within a team is essential. Cognitive diversity is key to being able to solve as many different types of problems as possible, as well as being vital to a positive workplace culture. Where problems arise, however, is when we as individuals lose sight of these differences.

Retreating to our communication bubbles

While many of us learn unconsciously through many years in a workplace to adapt our communication styles and accommodate others, in high pressure situations where we might be dealing with tight deadlines, low capacity, or high stress levels, it’s very easy for us to revert to our ‘natural’ communication style. We can also start to dismiss different communicators as ineffectual or irrelevant.

The Thinker, under stress, is likely to be entirely unreceptive to what they think of as the ‘thought bubbles’ of The Socialiser, for example. Or The Director, under enormous pressure to fulfil complex deliverables, might start to see the priorities of The Relator as an irritating distraction. The Relator starts defaulting to people-pleasing and makes decisions based on what they think their manager wants, rather than what’s best for the task at hand.

This leads to conflict and can very quickly create a situation of spiralling negativity in our workplace communications. 

In these types of situations, it’s vitally important to take a step back and reflect on our own communications styles, mapping them against our goals and priorities. 

This process will make it easier to understand the differing styles and priorities of those around us, and to recognise the issues which might be motivating their behaviour towards us. It should also allow us to share our own communications needs, thus creating a genuine two-way street in which all parties can better understand how to work together to achieve organisational goals. 

Steps to ensure good communications

The good news is, once we’ve started to become aware of your own communication style, there are plenty of basic steps we can take to lessen the chances of unproductive frustration and conflict related to communications styles:

  • Discover and maintain awareness of our own communications styles and tendencies.
  • Remain curious. Keeping a curious frame of mind is helpful for reducing judgement and frustration with others. 
  • Do the homework. Preparing for meetings and conversations significantly increases the likelihood of a positive outcome. 
  • Remember and acknowledge the value of other people, especially if their styles of communication are different from yours. 
  • Ask for what you need. Consistently accommodating others without reference to our own needs breeds resentment. We must remember to balance what we need from others with  an understanding of what they need from us. 

Good communication is the basis for any productive and cohesive team. Being aware of our style and motivations will go a long way towards creating a inclusive and effective team culture. 

Andrea has spent over 25 years working with organisations, leaders and employees at every stage of a business and career life cycle. She has created positive impact for organisations through her work with executives, leadership teams, and diverse functional teams within the arts, education, government and media organisations as examples. With over 15 years experience within career development and coaching, her direct knowledge of individuals fears and challenges and insights across a broad spectrum of sectors and organisations, creates a unique understanding of what employees need to thrive.