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We don’t all communicate the same: Tips for mastering communication at work

Feedback From The Field | By | 17 Feb 2022 | 4 minute read

Being aware that communication gaps can – and do – occur on the job is only one piece of the puzzle. Whether you’re managing an entire team or onboarding a new contractor, you need to understand all the different ways that people communicate in order to be an effective leader. Not all communication styles are created equal, so paying attention to what your team gravitates toward can build trust and help you get more done with less stress.

What are communication styles and why are they important for leaders?

A ‘communication style’ is simply an individual’s preference for how they like to communicate with others. In the workplace, it’s important that your people are confident in how they interact with others – both when providing information and receiving it. Challenges arise, however, when different types of communicators get their wires crossed. We’ve all been there — navigating those unintentional roadblocks and disagreements.

It’s also important to recognize that communication preferences will differ across departments. For example, frontline workers will often have a very different way of communicating compared to those in head office. Whereas the latter prefer more formal communications, frontline workers value speed and responsiveness above all else. Age groups (i.e. Gen Z compared to Baby Boomers) will also talk to each other differently.

It’s hard to overstate the benefits of working with teams with diverse skillsets, backgrounds and personality types, but navigating those interpersonal dynamics can be tricky, especially when it comes to communication. But there’s another way of thinking about it. Understanding the differences in communication is an investment — in your people and your outputs.

What are the main types of communication styles?

How can you convey a message in a way that the receiver will understand and appreciate? The first step is to get across the main types of communication styles and then adapt your language to ensure your message lands.

There’s a growing contingent of leaders who are using the DiSC model to start formalising their communication plans. This stands for Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness (DISC) – four clear-cut personality types. With this information at hand, you can use that model to inform the four main communication styles:

  • Passive
    These communicators don’t seek out attention; rather, they need to be attended to. They generally struggle to say no and may not ask follow-up questions even if they don’t entirely grasp what you are telling them. It’s best to take a direct approach with passive communicators and ask for their opinion on things.
  • Aggressive
    Dominant from the outset, aggressive communicators can generate a negative environment if not managed appropriately. Interrupting others, being overbearing and intense, and always wanting to be in control are common. Be calm and assertive with them, but always professional.
  • Passive-aggressive
    As emotional communicators, passive-aggressive types often use sarcasm as a crutch. While what they are telling you might sound positive, there may be ulterior motives they are using to manipulate you and others. Ensure your directions are always clear and jump on negative behaviour before it has a chance to fester.
  • Assertive
    Assertive communicators are able to make others feel comfortable even when they are seemingly ‘taking control’ of the situation. They have no qualms saying no, and they are confident in sharing their thoughts and ideals in a respectful manner. Fostering this type of communicator can work wonders for your teams.

How can you manage different communication styles in the workplace?

Ultimately, you want to give your people the type of communication they desire. Are they analytical? Then information that is data-driven will be better received than statements driven by emotion. Are they intuitive? Then they will want to hear about the ‘big picture’ rather than the minutiae. Or are they the type of person who prefers functional communication? A detail-oriented approach can help them understand their responsibilities and task timelines more clearly.

As you work to understand all the different communication styles, you can also help yourself to become a better communicator by:

  • Asking more questions and engaging with your people.
  • Practising active listening – actually hear what they are saying, rather than just waiting for your turn to speak.
  • Asking for feedback. You can’t get better at communicating if you don’t take on board the needs of your people.
  • Improving your non-verbal communication, i.e. body language.
  • Prioritizing the medium as well as the message.

The medium is the message… enter Heads Up!

Successful organizations understand this and the importance of the medium of communication for a healthy workplace. Equipping teams with the right communication tools can help encourage team members to share ideas or any issues, enhance productivity and make remote team members feel heard and connected. 

So what are these tools? Enter Heads Up.

It’s our new communication tool in SafetyCulture (formerly iAuditor). It allows you to send rich media messages with video, images or PDFs that are easy to consume, even if the topic is complex. Most of all, it helps you to connect with your teams and communicate with them in the way they prefer: via engaging, visual, mobile-first content. Here’s how:

  • Reach them where they already are. Push targeted communications right to their mobile device. Reach your teams in the mediums they love to use every day, so it’s not a hassle for them to engage with you.
  • Communicate in a way that’s engaging to them. Your teams are used to the versatility of social media. Pictures, videos, infographics,  and games give a much richer and satisfying experience than emails or bulletin boards.
  • Figure out who’s listening (and who’s not). Take away the guesswork involved with reporting that makes it easy to see who’s read your message and who needs a follow up.

Heads Up is perfect for daily operations announcements, toolbox talks, safety briefings, reminders, short form training and more.

Communicating with teammates in a way that works for them is an express lane to a better day at work. Understanding each individual’s communication style is the first pit stop, then comes the challenge of adapting your own style to match their needs. It’s time to eliminate the disconnect and bring leadership and frontline teams together on a single platform that’s intuitive and accessible to everyone. Close the communication gap in your workplace with our FREE app SafetyCulture (formerly iAuditor).

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SafetyCulture staff writer

SafetyCulture Team

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