Have you ever had an executive who just can’t seem to get to the point? It can be an agonizing monologue, and you, as listener, can easily get lost in their narrative.
How do you help them shorten up the time they spend in detail so that you can determine what they need from you?
Tom asked me to work with him on his tolerance levels with key executives. “Specifically, I’m at my wit’s end with John, one of my key executives.”
“I can’t get past his droning narrative,” Tom continued. “It’s as if every conversation he has begins with when he was born and where. Then I start bristling and cut him off. Lately, I’ve noticed him shutting down, and I’m sure it’s because of my reaction. What do I do?”
“John may be a functional communicator*,” I said. “Does he love details and timelines?”
“I don’t know what a functional communicator is, but he thrives on timelines and charts,” Tom answered. “Burying himself in step-by-step guides and combing through details are a mental trip to Disneyland for John. It drives me crazy!”
“And how do you like to get things done, Tom?” I asked.
“Listen, I’m a big-picture thinker,” he responded. “Don’t bog me down with details. Give me a quick overview, and let me ask a few careful questions. That’s how we can move forward quickly.”
“Then I would call you an intuitive communicator, Tom,” I said. “Too many details can seem distracting to you.”
“You aren’t kidding,” Tom said. “My skin starts crawling when we drop below 40,000 feet.”
“Well, Tom, since you say John is great talent, and you want to negotiate a better way of communicating with him, here are four steps you can take with him.”
Let him know you value his contributions.
Tell John he may have noticed you becoming frustrated upon occasion and that you apologize for this. Share that you recognize this is due to your differing communication styles and is no reflection on how you regard his talent or positive impact on the team.
Share your observation about your communication styles.
Note he appears to be a functional communicator. He likes to outline things in a step-by-step way so that nothing is missed and provide details so that someone has full information by the time he is finished presenting. Ask him if this is correct. After listening and confirming, be sure you let him know you appreciate his desire to be thorough. Then, share your communication style with him. As an intuitive communicator, you appreciate the aerial view. You like the big picture, and details can be distracting to you. You prefer for him to stick to the main topic and allow you to ask follow-up questions. You will then ask him to share other details he feels are relevant after you ask your questions.
Pick a topic and role play.
Experiment with how it would be to communicate in each other’s preferred styles. In other words, after selecting the topic, share first with him, outlining all details and info John might appreciate. Debrief after having done so to see if this is helpful to him. Then, have John try your style with the same topic, identifying the main point in a sentence and its present or potential impact. He will then sit back for questions. Again, debrief.
As you meet together, continue to try each other’s styles as you communicate. Ask each other how it is working, and what could go better. Make sure that you don’t treat this as a test, but as experimenting to find the right way for both.
The next time you become frustrated with a colleague’s communication style, ask yourself what would work for you, instead. Then have the conversation with that person and ask them about their experience with you. Do they also need something different, in order to communicate more smoothly? Suggest experimenting such as is outlined above, and see if this doesn’t improve your working relationship and your ability to get things done together.
*Mark Murphy’s 4 Communication Styles, Leadership IQ
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Patti Cotton helps executives optimize their effectiveness in leading self, others, and the enterprise. Her areas of focus include confidence, leadership style, executive presence, effective communication, succession planning, and masterful execution. With over 25 years of leadership experience, both stateside and abroad, Patti works with individuals, teams, and organizations across industries, providing executive consulting, leadership development, succession planning, change management, and conflict resolution. She is also an experienced Fortune 500 speaker. For more information on how Patti Cotton can help you and your organization, click here.