By Lisa Heay, Marketing Planning Manager at Heinz Marketing

Earlier this year I attended a training session for new managers where we did an exercise in demonstrating the value of positive and direct feedback. In that same training session, we also talked about communication styles— how to evaluate our own, as well as how to recognize the communication styles others prefer.

I’m a new manager, and have a ton to learn, but in my short tenure so far, one of the observations I’ve made is that 90% of the conflicts and issues I’ve listened to boil down to either a lack of communication or a miscommunication. Common denominator = COMMUNICATION.

It’s so valuable to not only understand how you, yourself communicate, but how others prefer to communicate or receive communication from you.

Our exercise started with a quiz to help us better understand our natural communication style. For each set of answers, we were given 3 points to distribute between the two answers. If you agree completely with one answer, it gets all 3 points and the other option gets 0. If you are partial, you could award 2 points to one, and 1 point to the other. No half points allowed.

The quiz asked things like…

  • Generally, I am…. open to getting to know people personally and establishing relationships with them, –or– not open to getting to know people personally and establishing relationships with them.
  • Generally, I… contribute frequently to group conversations –or– contribute infrequently to group conversations.
  • Generally, I… introduce myself at social gatherings –or– wait for others to introduce themselves to me.
  • Generally, I… react slowly and deliberately –or—react quickly and spontaneously.

We were told not to focus too long on one question – pick your gut answer and move on quickly – and it also cautioned us to answer how we’d communicate in each scenario at work vs. in our personal relationships. (Communicating in personal relationships is a whole other thing I can’t even begin to unpack here!)

At the end of the quiz, we tallied our point values for each question/answer set, which aligned with one of four columns in a grid: Open, Guarded, Direct, and Indirect. Each of the four values combine to indicate a communication style:

  • Relators fall into the open and indirect categories. This group of people tend to be the social “glue” of the team. They aren’t typically aggressive, though don’t mind a bit of conflict if everyone is working towards a resolution. This group is relatable, and they are empathetic to the feelings of others.
  • Analyzers are guarded and indirect. This group tends to process information internally and therefore prefers to work individually. This person likely isn’t easy to get to know.
  • Socializers fall into the open and direct categories. This group likes to share information freely. They are approachable, outgoing, easy to talk to, and process information by talking to others.
  • Directors are guarded and direct. This group is action-oriented and are willing to exert pressure on others in order to get things accomplished. They are extremely direct in style and often direct others in communication.

The results of my quiz didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know about myself – I fell squarely into the relator category. But what I found valuable in this exercise is not only understanding how I fit into a group and prefer to interact with others, but how to apply these same categories to the people I work with every day.

Here is the revelation: Not everyone prefers to give and receive information in the same way.

The key is to approach each unique personality in a way that appeals to them. If you’re working with a direct personality, you’ll cover more ground by getting straight to the point. No beating around the bush. They like the “what” questions and a direct tone of voice.

With a relator? Discuss ideas rather than tell it to them. And then maybe ask about their big weekend plans! They are relationship builders, after all. They like the “who” questions and friendly, relaxed tones.

Analyzers are factual – they’re not likely going to believe something on face value, they want to know the “how”—and you’d better keep it logical and straight to the facts. No assumptions here.

And the socializers want to know the “why”. Keep the tone calm and even and give them time to reflect.

This becomes even more powerful when approaching a team setting. When you get one or more of these folks in a room together, how do these styles work together? Open people are likely to participate actively and encourage an active dialogue. Direct people are likely to tell it like it is, so perhaps a more open personality is best to lead the discussion? Guarded people may need to be asked specifically to share their thoughts, and indirect, though may be less confrontational than their counterparts, tend to listen intently and assess each situation.

I’m not suggesting you spend all day assessing and dissecting your coworkers in order to finely tune your group settings—but simply having an awareness that not everyone communicates and receives information in the same way will benefit you in your interactions with others.

And of course, it’s a fluid thing — depending on the situation, someone may move through these styles, and once you think you have someone figured out it’ll probably change next week. If you’re at least thinking about how receptive someone may be to different communication styles, you have a much higher chance of communicating effectively with that person.

There are tons of articles and books and leadership gurus out there who focus on this topic. Here are a few resources to get you started on your journey to better communication:

What is your communication style?