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Business Communication - How to Maximize Outcome and Reduce Conflict

Mismatched expectations supply the fuel that ignites much conflict. What is so amazing is how often the mismatched expectations result from the proverbial “failure to communicate.”   If you have ever seen the movie Cool Hand Luke, you may recall that a failure to communicate can be deadly.

Clients and audience participants often ask what makes communication so difficult.  The answer is people.  Most of us believe that we are exceptional communicators.  My experience in working with groups, businesses, and families is that most of us are not exceptionally good at letting people know what we expect or want them to do.  Depending upon our natural behavioral style, we communicate, or talk to others, in one of four different languages:

  • Teller/Authoritative (get right to the heart of the matter) – say exactly what they mean; make forceful and frank statements; want to say things only once; and expect others to follow their directions.

  • Seller/Persuasive (grease the skids before getting to the point) – enjoy talking about ideas; are generally positive and optimistic; show empathy and give encouragement to others; and they like working as a team.

  • Casual/Careful (speak when spoken to) – deliberate, warm, friendly, and sympathetic; want harmonious and non-chaotic relationships and surroundings; avoid conflict; and generally want time to think before speaking.

  • Guarded/Cautious/Exacting (often seem to be suspicious) – generally focus on what is the right question or response; tend to itemize things in detail; refer to proven policies and rules as a basis for actions and decisions; and are very conscientious.

If we want others to understand and accept our expectations, then we have to learn to speak the language the other person understands.  Here are some suggestions regarding what works with each of these groups.

  • Teller/Authoritative – use direct and concise statement; do not repeat details; be willing to disagree with them; focus on goals; and avoid saying “this is the way it has always been done.”

  • Seller/Persuasive – make friendly comments, be affirming; present things persuasively and as beneficial to people; give recognition for accomplishments; and be optimistic.

  • Casual/Careful – present the benefits of change and show that it is fair and reasonable; give them time to think about and process the need for change; give consistent and clear priorities and directions; and use a calm and cooperative approach.

  • Guarded/Cautious/Exacting – give clearly defined processes and directions for a task or project; present ideas in detail – correctly and in order; give assurance that everything is going to turn out all right; and clearly justify any reasons for criticism of past actions or practices.

Each of us uses one of these four categories as a “default style”, and the other three tend to drive us up the wall.  One of the most important things to remember is that our “default style” drives the other three up the wall as well.  The only way to communicate effectively is to learn to speak all four languages fluently.


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