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A free E-zine from Communication Excellence Institute, dedicated to improving communication in the professional workplace.

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Abraham Maslow, the eminent psychologist, is well known for this famous quotation: "If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail." In our experience, far too many people have only one approach to handling life's communication challenges, which severely limits their personal effectiveness. So in this issue, we'll study how to…

“Be Multi-Stylistic!”
Vol. 5, No. 1

I love tools. At home, I have an upstairs toolbox and a downstairs toolbox. I have a full toolbox at the office and a toolkit in each of my cars. I will often buy another set of screwdrivers or another set of pliers just to get a type I haven't seen before. I have tools I've bought 20 years or more ago. I also keep a huge number of screws, nails, bolts, straps, hooks, and a myriad of other pieces whose origin and use I have long forgotten. Jan used to ask me why I hang on to so many of these tools. My standard answer has been "that funny looking tool may sit in my toolkit for 15 years, but when I need it, it will be the exact tool I'll need for the job." And she's seen that happen time and time again. (Am I sounding like Andy Rooney? Please excuse. That's one style I'll forgo!)

Both of us have taken the expression "the right tool for the job" and applied it metaphorically to our communication consulting work. We have found that a majority of our clients, indeed the majority of the people we meet every day, have one approach to handling almost all communication situations. We once heard a great expression: "The way you do anything is the way you do everything." Some people project sweetness all the time. They're sweet and kind to everyone (not necessarily a bad thing). Where they run into problems is when they meet someone who isn't so nice and frankly needs to be put in his place. No workplace bully or exploder is going to respond very well to a touchy-feely approach when firmness is called for.

We all find approaches to life and to others that "work" for us. The psychologically dependent person gets plenty of secondary gain through his helplessness, and by definition, his enabler does, too. The problem-solver gets results. The insensitive problem-solver gets results, too, but often at the expense of a relationship. And a zealous compromiser brings much harmony to the workplace until she's faced with something that can't be compromised, such as ethical standards or quality.

Jan and I are often asked by our clients, "What style is best for me?" We answer, "The one that works best in the given situation." People who ask that question often have only one major style. Take Susan, the soft-spoken young professional. In the quieter companies where Susan has worked, this style has made her right at home. But what happens to her when she finds herself in a fast-moving entrepreneurial organization? Suddenly, she's not heard at the conference table, and her good ideas go unnoticed amid the lively boisterous repartee among fast-moving young executives. Susan has never learned to truly speak up, and will be lost in the shuffle until she does.

What's the answer? Every one of us is confronted with a variety of different situations in the course of a day, a week, or a month. Some call for decisive action. Some require compassion. Others demand firmness and discipline. Still others need insight. We often need to be able to communicate in any of these situations, moving sometimes quickly from one style to another. In short, we need to be "multi-stylistic."

We once worked with a friend who was in an abusive work relationship with a colleague. He was quite mild-mannered, and we knew the only way he could resolve his situation was to "lay it on the line" with his colleague. We put it to him this way. We asked, "Could you summon up a stronger, more direct style?" After a moment of hesitation and insight, he answered, "Yes." Then we said, "Then, just do it!" Not only does our friend need to be more decisive in his communication, but we had to be quite direct in ours!

So how do you become multi-stylistic? Here are some ideas.

1. Take a good look at yourself. Do you see yourself reacting only one way to most situations? Are you a long-suffering doormat? A fearsome exploder? An approval-seeking accommodator? A monosyllabic marriage partner? If you have one overriding style, people may say about you, "Oh that's just the way he is." Beware. You're probably only seeing one way of handling other people. You're mono-stylistic.

Also, think about getting some personality testing. The Myers-Briggs is the most famous, and probably the most helpful for this. You'll learn your favorite styles, but also those of others and how to build rapport with people of types different from yours. There are tons more. Just call us at CEI if you want to learn about other tools like this.

2. Observe other people in their interactions. What do others do when confronted with people like you? Do they shy away from you? Warm up to you quickly? Tell you their life stories at the first meeting? (Remember, sometimes holding your cards to your vest is a good idea.) How do others around you interact with one another? You'll no doubt observe these patterns and many others, some that seem to work and some that obviously don't.

3. Experiment with some of the new approaches you've observed. If you've always been stand-offish in social gatherings, try approaching and blending in with small groups and listen for an entry point in the conversation. If you've been seen as a dry boring presenter, try spicing up your next presentation with some relevant anecdotes or props to make your points. If you're the "life of the party," try hanging back for a change and give others the stage. It'll be a great opportunity to exercise your listening skills (a mostly forgotten mode of communication in our clamorous self-indulgent society).

4. Learn to "approximate" others' styles, while retaining your own. The best example of this I can think of involves how loudly you speak in the presence of other people. Many people will speak quite softly when in the presence of highly vocal people. In this situation, if they want to build better rapport, they need to project more—not as loudly as the others, but enough to convey high energy and commitment to their message and their more vociferous colleagues. If you think this might be you, enlist a confederate to monitor your volume level in presentations—and yes, also around the conference table and one-on-one with others in normal conversation. Again, experiment. If you've spoken too softly most of your life, try doubling your volume artificially for a while and watch the results. They will be impressive, and you will enhance your personal credibility in the eyes of others. If you've been a conflict avoider, try using more definitive language and accentuation when in a verbal joust with someone who likes a good debate. You'll likely prevail in the issue at hand and build a great relationship with your opponent.

4. Secure formal communication training. Most people operate under a misconception that goes like this: "I speak a human language; therefore, I can communicate." Don't leave good communication to chance. We say in our customer service seminars, "Customer service is never instinctive; it is always trained." The same is pretty much true in communication in general. A good class or coaching session can give you a valuable insight into how you come across that might never occur to you on your own.

The biggest payoff for being multi-stylistic is that you'll increase your effectiveness with many more people and build terrific rapport with them. You'll also do your part in making this a little more understanding and friendlier world.

Yours in good communication,

Neal & Janet Palmer

And that's our People Skills for Skilled People for today!

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