Words of Wisdom

Words of Wisdom

This article was published in 1998 by the SF Examiner… still relevant in 2019.

Talk may be cheap, but communication is no bargain. Ask the supervisor of any dolt who can’t follow “simple” instructions. Or the underlings of a dictatorial boss. Or anyone who has ever been divorced.

As far as Eric Douglas is concerned, good communication is a matter of style. The author of the recently published Straight Talk believes that people will do better in work and in life if they understand not only their own communication style but the style of associates.

He says being a good communicator isn’t the same as being articulate.

People who are articulate make their points well, but might not be good listeners.

“It’s the smart person’s trap,” he said in an interview. “I see everything clearly, so you can’t teach me. A conversation often becomes a matter of defending conclusions.”

You can use the book to create a shared awareness of the four universal styles.

Douglas, president of Leading Resources, Inc. in Sacramento, uses the book to outline what he sees as the four basic communication styles:

  • Directors: People who are always on the move, quick to make decisions and assign tasks. They like to set goals and get things done, but don’t have much time for small talk. Think of Gordon Gekko or Clint Eastwood.
  • Expressers: People who like to talk, using gestures and animated expressions to make their points. They’re creative and willing to take chances, and do a lot of thinking out loud. Think of Jim Carrey or Carol Burnett.
  • Thinkers: People who like to solve problems and have a strong sense of detail. They make lists and ask a lot of questions. Think of Jeff Goldblum’s character in “Jurassic Park.”
  • Harmonizers: People who speak warmly to others, who are steady and dependable rather than decisive or daring. Others turn to them in times of trouble. Think of Ingrid Bergman’s character in “Casablanca” or Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird.

Your specific style is like mixing lemon into tea: The concoction has a flavor all its own.

The book then breaks each style into four smaller groups, depending on secondary styles, for a total of 16 communication styles. Someone who is primarily a director and secondarily an Expresser, for example is called an Initiator.

Even if you don’t buy the book, you can find your style and its traits and suggestions for free through a quiz on Douglas’ Web site at GoStraightTalk.com.

Good communicators know their styles’ strengths/weaknesses.

In the book, Douglas recalls how he taught 12 MBA students, telling them that being conscious of their styles’ strengths and weaknesses could make them better managers. He compared it with math students who give a wrong answer, then learn from it for the future.

One student said he didn’t understand, and that Douglas was asking him to change his behavior.

“I asked him his style,” Douglas writes.

“’Initiator,’ he said.

“’What do you remember about Initiators?’

“’They leap to conclusions before they’ve gathered all the data,’ he said. ‘They need to be more open to understanding other points of view.’

“Then he paused.

“’Oh, I think I get it now.’”

Unlike personality types, we can choose our communication style.

In the interview, Douglas said “Straight Talk” is far different from the widely known Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, which helps people identify themselves as one of 16 personality types.

Communication styles are not innate,” he said. “We choose them and can choose when to change them.”

He said the most effective groups have people with a wide range of styles.

“If a workgroup has too many Directors or Thinkers – or whatever you choose – the culture of the organization is going to be the culture of that group.”

Douglas also said that although Directors like to take charge, that might not be in the best interests of the company.

“The most successful managers I’ve seen are not Directors. They tend to combine all four styles.”

Companies with too many people of one type can run into trouble. Douglas says that having too many Directors at the same level, for example, can lead to conflicts because they all want to be in charge.

“Thinkers are going to love calling a problem-solving meeting, even when that isn’t called for,” he added.

He said understanding other people’s styles helps you choose the most effective way to communicate with them.

And sometimes you can explain how their actions are hurting a group without making it seem like a personal attack.

“You’re taking an objective piece of data – their communication style – and showing how it might not be appropriate for the whole group.”

Douglas said that when one person is the stumbling block at a meeting – or is not participating – others need to ask themselves whether that person’s style is actually helping everyone else by making sure they don’t overlook something crucial, or if the person is simply being a problem.

When people cause problems, “Somebody needs to ask them what’s going on.”

Douglas said that question will often either lead the people to acknowledge that they’re the roadblock or explain why they think there’s a problem with the group or the meeting. Sometimes people get put off for legitimate reasons, he said, such as if the meetings are filled with too much conflict or have turned into a waste of time.

Once in a while, Douglas said, it’s more effective to ask others in the meeting how the dissenter is slowing them down. That, too, can help the meeting run more effectively.

Another common stumbling block is when people make assumptions based on inconclusive data, Douglas said.

One effective way to get a meeting back on course, he added, is to make sure people spell out what data they’re using and make sure everyone agrees it is valid.

If someone disagrees with you and your powers of persuasion aren’t working, Douglas suggests steering the conversation to one question:

“What kind of information would you have to have to change your mind?”

If you can come up with that information, you won’t be just talking; you’ll be communicating.

Quote of the Day

Leading Resources, Inc. is a Sacramento Management Consulting firm that develops leaders and leading organizations. Subscribe to our leadership development newsletter to download the PDF – “The 6 Trust-Building Habits of Leaders” to learn more about how to build trust with your team.

Eric Douglas

Eric Douglas is the senior partner and founder of Leading Resources Inc., a consulting firm that focuses on developing high-performing organizations. For more than 20 years, Eric has successfully helped a wide array of government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and corporations achieve breakthroughs in performance. His new book The Leadership Equation helps leaders achieve strategic clarity, manage change effectively, and build a leadership culture.

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