Have you ever wondered why you seem to naturally gravitate towards some people and not to others?  Or where your communications seem to go well with some people and not with others? Often when we are triggered, it is either because somebody else’s natural style is different than our own or there is something about what the other person is saying or how they are saying it that does or does not resonate with us.  It can help to first increase our understanding of ourselves and, then, apply understanding to others.

Various inventories are available to help us understand ourselves and others.  To name a few: DiSC Behavioral Assessment, Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, and EQ-i 2.0 .  Myers and Briggs built on Carl Jung’s theory to test, expand upon, and apply this information. DiSC is similar but looks at behavioral styles rather than personality types.  Personalities are similar throughout our lives; whereas, behaviors we can change and adapt to suit the situation. EQ-i is more about understanding ourselves and starts with self awareness and leads to self expression, relationship building, decision making, and stress management.

It is natural to look outside of ourselves.  However, Senge (2006) and Short (1998) pointed to the importance of self-reflection first and, then, dialogue with others.  Using a journal, write:

  1. What is going on for you as a leader or individual?
  2. What are you thinking and feeling?  
  3. What is going on for the others you may be writing about?  
  4. What is the big picture of the situation?  
  5. What is going well?  
  6. What could be going differently?   
  7. What are you learning about yourself?  
  8. What might you try differently as an experiment?

When we are aware of our style and other possible styles, this can go a long ways towards depersonalizing the tension we feel with others.  Let’s say we are quiet and the person we are trying to communicate with is a talker. We might surmise that they want more from us than a task.  They want us to show that we care by engaging in relational conversation first. Ask them how they are doing. Take an interest in things that are important to them.  On the other hand, for instance, you may work with somebody who does not want details or perceived ‘small talk’. They want a high level overview and to get down to business.  Neither of these scenarios are personal to you. They speak to the different styles of these people relative to your own style. When we observe and know this, we are not as likely to take offence or be frustrated because we understand this is not personal and that this is just the natural style of the person.  Further, we can adapt our style accordingly so that the communication is relevant and absorbable for the other person. This is more about how we communicate versus what we communicate.

There are many different styles.  We do not want to use these tools to label people.  Such tools are meant to help us understand and, then, narrow down our approach to experiment with and see what impact that has. Some people see this as manipulative. I see it as meeting people where they are at so that we can optimize our communication and collaboration with positive intent.

Kolb’s (1984) experiential learning model suggests we start with an experience, observe the experience, look into evidence relating to the situation, and try a new or modified approach.  Applying this to communication with others asks us to look at our experience, observe it, look at related evidence (in this case, the use of an assessment tool and journaling to create clarity) and decide what we will try differently. It is not about what is right or wrong with others. It is about the one person that we have control over – ourself. This is a relief in a sense that we need only to look to ourselves, use the tools available to us, and be vulnerable in experimenting with new approaches. Many people are pleasantly surprised to find that this new understanding combined with a small bit of fine-tuning to their approach can make a profound difference.

What situation stands out to you as one where you might want to learn more about how to approach communication and collaboration differently?  What is your role? What more do you need to know about yourself, others involved and the situation (Brown, 2015)? Reflecting on these questions can help you see a different approach to experiment with.

Yours in reflection and learning,

Brown, B. (2015). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. London, England: Penguin Books.
Kolb, D. A. (2015). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.
Senge, P. M. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization (5th ed.). New York: Penguin.
Short, R. R. (1998). Learning in relationship: Foundation for personal and professional success. Washington, DC: Learning in Action Technologies.