Your communication style and how you communicate with your team plays a critical role in how effective you are as a leader.
When thinking about how you communicate as a leader, it’s easy to focus on the basics. And indeed, there are many things you can do to improve your communication skills.
However, truly effective communication requires a more comprehensive approach than simply choosing your words carefully.
Your communication style can have a tremendous impact—positive or negative—on your ability to lead teams and organizations. Developing the ability to adapt your style to meet the needs of your team will help to create a positive workplace culture that motivates your team to work together for common goals.
Once you understand your own communication style, you can begin to assess—and help your team members assess—their communication styles.
This knowledge will help you—and your team—develop flexible communication techniques to improve how you communicate with your team and how your team communicates with each other.
Types of Communication Styles—and How to Work With Them
People are more complex than any typology or framework. While we can divide communication styles into four types, most people don’t fit 100 percent into one particular category.
Still, a framework can be a useful way to assess your own style, and it offers a useful tool to discuss communication tactics with your team.
Here’s an overview of the four different styles of communication, and what they mean for your workplace:
The direct (analytical or dominant) communicator prefers direct, no-frills communication, backed by hard facts. They are highly focused on the end result and are generally risk-tolerant.
What you should know: Direct communicators can be intense and very blunt. They lack subtlety and are uncomfortable with ambiguity. They are more likely to give commands than make polite requests. They struggle with small talk and emotional decision-making.
When working with a direct communicator: it’s most effective to be clear and concise, and avoid unnecessary details. While dominant communicators must continually work on patience and sensitivity, co-workers should try to avoid taking their bluntness and lack of subtlety as personal criticism.
The functional communicator (conscientious, sometimes also called analytical) likes process, precision, and details. They analyze a project or problem from multiple perspectives to ensure that every possible angle has been considered.
What you should know: Functional communicators enjoy learning and demonstrating new skills. They thrive in environments with clear expectations, firm deadlines, and the opportunity to work independently.
When working with a functional communicator: expect them to ask many questions before they feel comfortable moving forward. They may struggle with “big picture” thinking if they feel it’s not well thought-out. Like the direct communicator, they are uncomfortable with small talk and emotional decision-making.
Collaborative communicators are sometimes called harmonizers (also steady or intuitive). They are focused on people over end results. Their goal is to find solutions that work for everyone.
What you should know: Collaborative communicators work best in an environment that prioritizes cooperation, loyalty, and stability. They are great at thinking about the big picture, but can struggle with decision-making. They may not feel comfortable moving forward until everyone on the team has had a chance to provide input.
When working with a collaborative communicator: ensure that you listen before issuing directives; they will resist being told what to do if they feel their perspective has not been heard. Because they can, at times, struggle keeping track of small details, managers and co-workers should be prepared for multiple follow-up conversations throughout a project to help harmonizers make decisions and stay on track.
The classic “people person”, the influencer (personal or expressive communicator) believes that the emotional connections among team members bring success. They focus on building interpersonal relationships and are great collaborators.
What you should know: Influencers are more focused on “the why” than “the how”, and are excellent visionaries. They prefer informal discussions to formal meetings, and enjoy friendly small talk among team members. They are very comfortable expressing their feelings and navigating emotional decision-making.
When working with an influencer: enable them to collaborate to maximize their potential. They may need help developing practical solutions. Because they can struggle with details and follow-through, organizing projects with short timeframes can be helpful.
Not sure where you fit into this framework?
Online questionnaires such as the DiSCProfile or LeadershipIQ can help you with your self-assessment. And a group activity focused on communication styles can be a great team-building exercise.
Adopting Flexible Communication Styles
Wherever you fall in this framework, your goal should be to adapt your style of communication to meet the needs of your employees.
For example, many leaders are naturally direct communicators.
However, a direct communication style may be counterproductive when working with employees who lean toward a steady or influencer-style of communication. For an influencer, for example, an unwillingness to share weekend plans may be seen as lack of interest in their well-being. A direct, “tell-it-like-it-is” style of communication may be interpreted as overly critical to an employee who is sensitive to criticism, no matter how constructive.
How can you adopt a more flexible communication style?
Be honest with yourself about how you communicate. Honest self-assessment, as difficult as it can be, is always the first step to embracing necessary change.
Analyze past miscommunications to think about what went wrong. Again, be honest about the part your communication style might have played in that situation. Identify ways that you might have approached the situation differently to achieve a more constructive outcome.
Practice active listening. Active listening requires clearing your mind of potential responses so you can really hear the other side of the conversation. Repeating back what you heard (“what I hear you saying is…”) before you reply lets the other person know they were heard.
Improve your emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence involves self-awareness, self-control, and social awareness. If you can improve your own emotional intelligence, you’ll find yourself more capable of adapting your communication style to meet the needs of others.
Take a professional development program focused on communication. Program instructors can guide self-assessment, offer new communication techniques, and provide an outside perspective on how to become more flexible in how you communicate with your team.
Misunderstandings and miscommunications are an inevitable part of human interactions. However, by thinking about how you communicate—as well as what you communicate—you can create a team environment conducive to open, productive, professional conversations. And doing so will keep your team engaged and your organization on the road to success.