Thursday, September 13, 2007

Learning Styles / Working Styles and The Communication Gap

Whether you are a system architect, a business analyst or a manager, part of your job description is communication with other team members. And, of course, the way you communicate will reflect your inherent Learning or Working Style.
If, for example, you are an auditory person, chances are, you’ll be reaching for a phone in order to communicate. But if you are a visual or tactile thinker, your first instinct will be to compose an email.

If you tend to think sequentially, you will start your communiqué at the beginning and include many pertinent details. If your approach is holistic, however, you will most likely start at the end with the goal or the objective, follow it with an overview or summary and not go into any details.

So far, so good. You are communicating in the way that is optimal for you, thus allowing you to express yourself best. The problem, however, comes when your phone call or email is received at the other end... because your team member’s Working Style (and thus their communication style) may not be compatible with yours.

All in all, there are close to 50 elements that make up your personal working style, and about half of them have a direct bearing on the way in which you communicate with others. We’ve already discussed the visual-auditory and the sequential-holistic disparities. Others include:
· Time of day (some people tend to think better first thing in the morning, others do not).
· Setting (formal or informal - they both mean different things to different people and can make them feel uneasy).
· Mobility (some people think better when literally on their feet).
· Light (the lighting in the room should vary according to the needs of the individuals. It really is a myth that brighter light is better. People who prefer dimmer lighting find bright fluorescent light stressful and bothersome.)
· Background noise (to some people, a silent environment is the only way to work, but others may feel energised by the friendly hum of a busy office or by quiet music.)
· Speed (is the person you’re speaking to somebody who likes to make quick decisions, or do they need time to reflect on what you’d said).
· Content (is humour going to be appreciated? Should you use a real-life example or an anecdote? Is a list a good idea? Bullet points? Graphs and pictures? Are you better off with a set of slides or one really good physical model of what you’re trying to convey?)

One Working Style is not better than another and that there is no optimal communication style. It’s not true that those who communicate in a sequential fashion communicate better than those who prefer the holistic way, for example. What’s true is that those who prefer communicating in a sequential fashion will communicate better in a sequential fashion than in a holistic one, and will respond better to somebody who can speak their sequential language.

To find out more about your working style, please click here.

So how does one turn Working Styles into a business outcome?
After responding to a series of statements about yourself, you will receive a report that identifies your particular strengths, flexibilities and non-preferences. This will help you recognise and control the elements that can enhance your productivity and fulfilment at work.
Some elements you’ll be able to change yourself (keep your desk tidy, get a desk lamp, invest in ear plugs), others will need your manager’s approval (scheduling of important meetings to a time that’s productive for most of the team, taking work home to think it over in the evening).
The most important advantage, however, will come from your self-awareness. If you realise that you prefer to communicate in points, and you’re trying to gather information that’s new to you, number your questions when you email them to your colleagues, and ask them to respond in point form.
Of course, if a colleague is seeking information from you, the polite (and smart) thing to do is to respond to him in the style that he or she prefers, be it email, face to face, bullet points or overviews.

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