You just got a big promotion thanks to the power of your technical expertise. But as you've likely discovered, the expert's role is a tricky one. The knowledge, skills and hard facts that make you valuable to your team can also create distance between you and your colleagues. Those skills can even make you appear superior, sarcastic or dismissive.
If this describes you, you might need to make some changes to how you communicate.
My research firm Leadership IQ has been conducting an online test for the past 18 months posing a series of questions to help determine what sorts of communication styles are most common across a variety of different industries. (Test your own communication style with the quiz "What's Your Communication Style?")
In the process of reviewing more than 180,000 responses, we learned that many technically gifted people prefer a certain type of communication. These workers, ones my firm has dubbed Analytical Relators, are partial to data-packed communications that demonstrate expertise through hard facts, numbers and lots of specific supporting evidence.
When talking to other Analytical people, you can feel free to dig deep into specific data. But know that not everyone responds well to that communication style. To connect with and bring value to others without putting them on the defensive, you'll need to make a few changes to fit their communication style and what they expect.
There are three other main styles of communicators you will encounter:
Style #1: The Personal Communicator
These people prefer relationship-building communications that are supportive, warm, informal and conflict free. They like small talk and words that describe their feelings (e.g. mad, sad, angry, glad). They're also likely to ask questions about others, such as: "Who else will be involved?" Personal communicators will be your biggest challenge as they like the kind of exchanges technical people often try their hardest to avoid. Practice and patience will help you master these conversations.
Style #2: The Intuitive Communicator
These people prefer to skip the small talk and jump right to the bottom line. A clue that you're talking to an Intuitive is if the person appears rushed or pressed for time. It's best to give technological recommendations to Intuitives up front, before you go through reams of data. This will help gain their buy-in so you can then present your other points.
Style #3: The Functional Communicator
These individuals prefer communications that follow a detailed "A through Z" approach. These are process people and you'll recognize them by the questions they ask including "What happens next?" Keeping your communications logical, disciplined and organized is the best way to reach Functional communicators.
If you don't know what style someone is, just ask: "What can I share with you today?" or "What would be of greatest value to you?" or "What would you like to hear?" Then listen for the verbal indicators in their response.
For example, you might hear "Where's the data from?" from your fellow Analyticals, "What's the bottom line?" from the Intuitives, "What's the process?" from the Functionals and "Who else is involved?" from the Personals.
Asking "What seems to be the problem?" may seem like an innocuous question, but even the singular word "problem" can close off communication with some people. Instead, ask questions that invite open communication, such as: "What issues can I help you with today?"
Don't risk paraphrasing. If you need more information, or if you need to disagree, do it gently. Consider saying:
• I'm not sure I'm fully getting this…Can I share what I hear you saying?
• I appreciate you sharing…I actually see things a bit differently…Can I share what I'm seeing?
• Could you help me understand how you've come to this conclusion?
• It sounds like there are some areas where we have some commonalities and some where we have some differences. Why don't we start with the commonalities?
Outlining the steps you plan to take will help you keep communication channels open and win your colleagues' trust. Following this script will keep you in good stead:
My job is to listen to you, gather some information and then help you with _____(diagnosis, fix the problem, etc.) Let's talk for a few minutes about _____. Then we'll see if there's anything else you'd like to share, and then we'll _____ (do test, move on, review, etc.) Does that sound ok?
Dialing back your communications helps the less technical feel served while you still maintain control. A few communication tweaks is all it takes to open the flow of communication with bosses, peers, coworkers and customers so you get full credit for your brain talent.
Mark Murphy is a New York Times bestselling author, weekly contributor to Forbes, ranked as a Top 30 Leadership Guru and the founder of Leadership IQ.
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