Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Effective Communication Across Differing Styles

As mentioned previously, I'm enrolled in ODU's Leadership Management Development Certificate this semester. This first track is primarily focused on personal development, and covers topics ranging from time management to effective conflict resolution. This series of posts allows me to reflect and organize my thinking on the topics covered.

Effective communication is a vital skill for leaders, professionals, researchers, and citizens. Everyone can benefit from a clear understanding of the work that needs doing and communication is a make-or-break factor when working with a group. Why, then, are there so many challenges to good communication? In talking with others about communication, I often find myself drawn down a certain rabbit-hole toward the stylistic use of language, with "artful" prose warring with plain-language dicta for my attention. Even when settling on a focus for the tone of the message, how can we affect the ways it will be received?

Understanding communication is perhaps closer to home for me than some others in the class; I spend my days communicating information! (I could be overblown here, and say something like, "communicating truth.") I was pleased to find a familiar touchstone in the Shannon-Weaver model of communication, with which we began our discussion, however briefly. This model says that communication of a message requires the sender of that message to encode it somehow (speech, email, bat-signal, etc.) and pass it via one channel or another to the receiver, who then decodes the message and hopefully returns feedback in a similar process. Along this pathway, signals can be lost, mangled, or simply overwhelmed by noise--any bits of entropy sneaking in and obscuring the message. Shannon's work in information theory was somewhat familiar to me, and in this context makes a great deal of sense: Communication requires effort from all parties involved to make sure the message is transferred accurately.

In the communications segment of LMDC-I, we took a forced-choice "personal style inventory" (I would provide a link, but I cannot find a citation of any kind) that helped us identify our preferred communication style: Achiever, Enthusiast, Analyzer, or Affiliator.

Achievers, or "Control Specialists," are often assertive, active, and decisive, occasionally to the detriment of interpersonal relationships. Enthusiasts, or "Social Specialists," are often big-picture thinkers, but may have trouble coming down to earth long enough to communicate. Analyzers, or "Technical Specialists," thrive with specific projects and structured work, but move slowly when it comes to to change a process. Afflilators, or "Adaptive Specialists," place a very high value on good relationships, even when the building of those relationships delays decisions.

Even without any traceable research underpinning these communication styles, they make a certain kind of sense. At work, I want to focus on projects, not people--I don't need to know the emotional history of a decision, but I do need context to determine my actions moving forward. As a "control specialist" or Achiever according to this inventory, I need to watch out for a few things, including seeming impatient, unsympathetic, or cold. As I said when discussing these styles with other LMDC participants, it's not that I don't care about interpersonal relationships with my co-workers...I just don't care to let them interfere with my actual work. Others in the discussion immediately challenged the notion that interpersonal relationships "interfered"--to their minds, building strong relationships was a priority of their work. Different styles, different strokes. Moving forward, I know I'll be able to put this information to good use as I try to encode messages for people who receive them differently.

The morning wrapped up with a few vignettes to discuss, including some work on active listening. One suggestion I rather liked was that good listening requires one to be all EARS:

Empathetic -- tap into the emotional state of the speaker.
Active -- be wholly present in listening, not simply preparing a response.
Reflective -- providing feedback to the speaker about the message.
Sensory -- remaining aware of anything else going on, closely focused on the speaker

This session provided some useful reminders of listening techniques, and the personal style inventory was helpful. As time goes on, I expect to see more opportunities to use some of these communication methods in my day-to-day work.

No comments:

Post a Comment