Managing the Five Styles of Communication

By Dave Willmer

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Your employees need to be able to interact with end users, staff from other departments and members of the executive team not only to solve technical issues but also make a case for investments or projects your group deems critical. However, everyone has a different communication style, which affects their relationships with others and the ability to collaborate.

As a manager, understanding individual approaches to communication can help you maximize staff performance. Here are five common types of communicators and tips for helping them communicate more effectively:

The Over-Communicator - This person shares too much information. For instance, when asked to summarize progress on a project, he or she gives you a whole host of irrelevant details, such as the amount of time it took to install every application on a desktop.

You can help minimize this problem by setting clear guidelines: “Due to time constraints at this meeting, discussion of your requests for the 2010 budget should be limited to three minutes” or “Please keep status reports to between 300 and 400 words.”

The Under-Communicator - You’re often left confused after communicating with this individual because you are given little information. The key to helping this person become an effective speaker or writer is to set specific objectives. For instance, rather than saying, “Tell me about your discussion with XYZ vendor,” try: “After talking to XYZ vendor, e-mail me details about the product, pricing and ease of implementation, as well as your opinion about whether it’s a good option for our needs.”

Sometimes people give succinct responses to questions because they think you’re too busy to want additional information, so explain when you value the finer details.

The Poor Communicator - Not everyone is equally comfortable communicating both verbally and in written form. An IT professional might get extremely nervous when training a large group on a new application but provide a brilliant written document explaining the software instead.

In these situations, try to tap into individual strengths as much as possible while also doing your part to help the person improve the area in which he or she is weak. Small investments in training often can make all the difference in allowing a Poor Communicator to boost his or her skills.

The Aggressive Communicator - You want employees who are passionate about their work, but Aggressive Communicators often take it too far; refusing to listen to other perspectives. Managers need to stay on top of this type of behavior and set limits, especially during brainstorming sessions where all ideas should be encouraged. If the person has a valid suggestion, recommend the individual submit to you a formal proposal in writing. This gives the employee an outlet for sharing ideas while enabling discussions at meetings to move forward.

The Passive Communicator - This staff member is the quiet type, who tends to agree with what is said, doesn’t voice his or her opinion, and rarely commits to a strategy or idea. While it may be nice to have someone in your group who doesn’t make waves, you also want an active participant in the team’s success.

To encourage greater involvement within the group, remind the person of how critical it is to speak up and also make an effort to ask for the person’s feedback. Recognize, too, that the person could be nervous offering candid comments in front of others and may become more vocal if allowed to share his or her opinions one-on-one or in writing.

Remember that your employees’ communication skills and style reflect on you and your department. If people can’t get the information they need from your staff, they are likely to see your group as unhelpful or ineffective. Do your part as a leader by being clear about expectations, working to bring out the best in your staff, and supporting training and mentoring as improvement strategies. At the same time, recognize that much will come down to the individual’s desire to succeed, so consider including communication abilities within performance review criteria.

Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multi-platform systems integration to network security and technical support. The company has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.rht.com.