Today I stumbled across an article by Tom Roth and Michael Leimbach of Wilson Learning Worldwide. Versatility: The Engine of Success promotes the importance of using different interpersonal communication skills to help cut down on conflict and tension in the workplace and help improve the efficiency and speed of communication. The idea of these so-called Soft Skills being important in the modern economy is not a new idea (although it does seem to have escaped those in the education system, who prefer to focus on developing hard, technical skills in their students). For example, this survey of 500 executives shows concern that a lack of soft skills in employees represents a significant threat to businesses investment and R&D capabilities. This recent Pew Research Center survey found that a majority of adults ranked communication as the most important skill for students to succeed in the modern economy, followed closely by fellow soft skills Teamwork (#3), Writing (#5) and Logic (#6).
The gist of the article by Roth and Leimbach states that there are four general communication styles: Analytical, Driver, Amicable and Expressive. Each person has a communication preference that puts them in one of the four categories, meaning that only 25% of the people you interact with on a daily basis share your preferred communication style. The authors argue that by not learning to “speak the language” of 75% of the people you interact with, you are missing a huge opportunity to improve the quality of your communication, prevent misunderstandings and the conflict/tension that inevitably results.
The key to this translation, they argue, is versatility. In order to be versatile and accomplish your goals, you should first:
1) Identify the preferred style of the person you are dealing with (He/She is a(n) Analytical/Driver/Amicable/Expressive…)
2) Reflect on what their preference indicates (…so he/she needs….)
3) Modify your communication to match their preferences (…therefore I will modify my communication by…)
Of course Roth and Leimbach argue that by practicing versatility, you can boost productivity (they claim a recent client experienced a 56% increase), improve morale by removing conflict or tension, speed the decision-making process and paint the world with rainbows and frolic with unicorns! OK, the last two I made up, but you catch my drift. Since they are both working for a firm that offers training on this methodology, it is understandable that the article serves as a bit of a sales pitch, and as with any sales pitch there should be a large asterisk with Results May Vary following it.
But I do think they are on to something with their thinking on being versatile in your communication style. In my experience training new customers prior to their major software conversions, I practice the same modification of communication styles. When Loan Officers and Bank Presidents are in my pre-conversion training sessions, I tend to adopt a more Analytical or Driver type communication style, based on their preferences and what they want and need to know from the session I am presenting. I have found that they appreciate a more structured, practical-centered approach to their training; something that will allow them to quickly gain the information they need to continue their jobs. However, when I’m working with Processors or other Data Entry staff who are often far more concerned/fearful about the transition and how it will impact workflow and their current practices, I have found an approach closer to the Amiable/Expressive end tends to both soothe their fears about the transition and increase buy-in. Because they tend to work more collaboratively, using more interactive activities and more real-world scenarios allows them to take ownership of the system and the changes that will be made, which in turn calms their fears and apprehension about the coming transition. It might not make them the system’s biggest cheerleaders (although sometimes it does!), but it will help them see past the initial conversion pain-points, accept the change and begin thinking of how they can improve based on those changes.
Anyone working in the technology field who deals with conversions or implementations will tell you that the Kubler-Ross Stages of Grief isn’t something that is limited to deaths or divorces; they are also experienced in much the same order by customers who are undergoing a data conversion or a new software implementation. Their workflow, policies, and the comfortable way of doing things is getting turned upside down, inside out and run through the ringer. It’s scary, and can often make people shut down, act aggressively or manifest other symptoms of these stages of grief, especially if they were not involved in the decision to make the change. When you are walking into that environment, it is stressful for everyone involved. I have found that small modifications in communication style have not only reduced the stress to all involved, it has helped improve knowledge retention and general support after the system is implemented. I know that our customers appreciate it, and I enjoy both the challenge it provides and the chance it gives me to help others. After all, as Mary Poppins once sang, A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…