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Is How You're Saying it Being Heard? Considering Communication Styles

Cartoon of a mouth speaking to an eyeball

Have you ever tried to get your point across to someone that just didn’t get it? Like the more you communicated the more difficult they became, and their inability to understand left you flabbergasted, frustrated, and just done with this person?


It wasn’t until I was put into a leadership role that I had a big wakeup call: the people I was asked to lead came with a multitude of personalities which immediately challenged my “people skills.” I knew that I could not continue to write people off for not getting it, and my one-way communication needed work if I was going to be an effective leader.


I quickly came to realize that not everyone responds to the same type of communication. It was my responsibility to get the message across, regardless of it meaning I needed to change the way I communicate. So, I began to experiment with learning how to speak to each individual in a way they could hear me. 


Communication Styles by Personality Type

I began to recognize that:

  • Supporter personalities are often shy and need encouragement delivered calmly in a softer tone. These wonderful supporters live to be needed and acknowledged for the compassion and safety they bring to their team.


  • The enthusiastic Promoter personalities thrive on being seen, and personally chosen to ignite the “what’s next” for their team. They need communication that is fun, quick, and alive! 


  • Controllers (a club to which I belong) need to be heard and respected. Period. Telling us what we need to do—or anything that comes close to a demanding tone—becomes fighting words. Giving us choice is a good thing, but remedial, condescending communication will lose us entirely. We play to win!


  • Brilliant Analyzers often think without necessarily feeling. They function best with data, more data, and lots of data. We count on them to catch our mistakes—like reading and analyzing the fine print that keeps us from getting sued!


Recognizing Your Audience

One day, I had the challenge—and privilege—of facilitating a program for a group of academics (professors and doctors) from the University of Columbia, Missouri. During the opening ice-breaker activity, I began with the enthusiastic “Promoter” side of me. I communicated with exuberance, bouncing around and expressing my excitement to be with them.


Then…the bomb hit.


Halfway through the activity, I saw the loud rolling of eyes. If I had to guess what those looks meant, it would probably sound something like: “This is a remedial waste of my time and an insult to my intelligence. And, this person is a flake!”


It became obvious to me that my way of communicating was not working. I knew that if I wanted to salvage any remaining respect from this group, I needed to shift. Quickly.


I stopped the activity. Taking a captain-like stance—a calm expression on my face—I raised my hand and asked, “How many of you am I driving crazy? How many of you find my enthusiastic bouncing annoying? How many of you think I have no credibility, and shouldn’t be teaching leadership skills?” As you might expect, every hand went up without hesitation. I said simply, “Perfect,” and stood silently for a moment, watching their stumped expressions.


After the pregnant pause, I proceeded with a new line of questioning:

  • How many students had they chosen to educate who bounced with enthusiasm?

  • How many students had they impatiently disregarded because their wound-up excitement was just annoying?

  • How many times had they attempted to motivate a class, but lost their attention from one-way, data-dumping communication?

  • How many times had they passed over the perfect “Promoter” personality student who could have helped ignite the entire class?

  • How many times had they negatively judged a student for having a different learning or communication style than them?

  • How many times had they silently thought this wound-up, enthusiastic student was limited, and destined to fail?


As you can imagine, these academic “Analyzer” personalities now stood at attention while my questions hit them smack dab in the face. After that, the day proceeded brilliantly in bringing these folks to a new desire of accepting others.


The final thought I left them with was something they dearly longed to hear: “The good news is that you’re really smart.” Then I told them, “The bad news is, you are really smart but get stuck in your head.” The group chuckled, nodding their agreement, knowing this was not far from the truth. As they left the program that day, each person made a new commitment to put the textbook down and truly see and accept the people standing in front of them, differences and all. (I WON!)


Consider Your Style

Now it's your turn for those probing questions:

  • Do you use one-way communication with everyone?

  • Do you stop and identify what type of communication the person in front of you needs?

  • Are you open to revisiting and fine tuning your communication with the desire to reach everyone?


Choose someone to practice a new authentic and effective way to communicate with. Take time to study people to identify what their strongest style of leadership is, and choose what form of communication will best serve them.


What is your personal leadership style? Are you a Supporter, Promoter, Controller, or Analyzer? What communication works best with you?


**For more information about personality types mentioned, see a Personality Matrix.

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