In previous posts, we’ve explored ways to communicate and build strong relationships with people who seem to be very different from you. Today’s post is less about how you communicate and more about understanding how those around you communicate. After all, if you can find the key to unlock parts of their communications processes, you stand a far better chance of getting through.
Listening is critical, of course. Watching body language, letting silence work for you and using what I call verbal fluff (I wonder, I’m curious…) before asking a tricky question can help, as can matching the other person’s body language, tone, pace and even words. These are all tools you can use to improve communications, build trust and communicate effectively.
But there is more.
And we are going to call them “habits.”
We all have our own, highly refined belief systems through which we “see,” “hear,” and “sense” the world around us. They act as filters—what we hear and see is measured against these beliefs and that helps us determine what to make of our environment and the people and things in it.
We use these filters habitually—and quite naturally. They are there in the background, hardly even noticeable to us most of the time.
Most of us subscribe to at least one of these habitual filters. None are better than any of the others and, there is nothing that is very strict about them. While one system (habit) may be dominant in you, chances are good there are elements of some of the others in you, too. And they can be changed over time, as well, through awareness and hard work. (My point here is this: Don’t use them to judge!)
But do use them. Use your knowledge of these habits to your advantage—it can really help you connect with people on their terms.
In this post, we will look at four of eight habits people have in the world of personal communications. Our next post will highlight the remaining four. We’ll explain what they are, how you can recognize them in someone and how you can adapt your language to better communicate.
1. Procedure <—> Possibility
In communicating, the procedure-oriented person tends to follow a process very thoroughly. They will follow an action plan, use longer sentences and explain how they came to this conclusion. You will also find they tend to act. Why? Because it must and should be done.
Not satisfied with the status quo, a possibility-oriented person will be interested in exploring other options or innovative ways of doing things. They will use shorter sentences but will still explain why they came to a certain conclusion.
The easiest way to recognize where someone lies on this scale is to ask a question such as, “Why did you decide to explore this passion of yours?”
Procedure-oriented people will answer how they decided it by telling you a story with a beginning, middle and end. You will likely hear words such as “should” and “must.” The possibility-oriented person’s response will be about why they decided to do this—it will be very short and be all about options and choices.
How you adapt your language to them? Adapt to their type. Don’t ask a procedure-oriented person to break new ground. Instead, ask them what has already been done or ask them to describe the next steps in the process. The possibility-oriented person is exactly the opposite.
This is a very useful tool if you are building your team. Look to have both types and ensure you have them in the right position for the work you need to get done.
2. Proactive <—> Reflective
As you can imagine, the proactive type will be action-oriented. They will look toward the future, be direct and get right to the point. The language you will hear is “I am,” “I do,” “I go.” Their tone is variable and their sentences short.
The reflective type is the analyst in the group. Understanding and knowing before doing is important. This person will ask a lot of questions. Unlike a proactive person, a reflective person is more likely to say, “I wonder” and “I think.” Their tone is even and their sentences are longer.
When you speak to a proactive person, you can ask questions such as, “What would you do? Or, “How might you get this?” For a more reflective type, you can ask something like this for best results: “Take all the time you need and really think about this. When you are ready, in 30 seconds let me know.”
3. Moving toward <—> Moving away
Here, too, we have opposite ends of the scale. Let’s say you ask this question: “What will having this new position do for you?” The moving-forward person will answer what they want and what they expect. They will focus on what to do or what to have—they might even physically lean forward. A moving-away person will use the negative—I don’t want this, I will have less of that.
This is just a preferred focus, so if you need your objectives to be stated in the positive, it’s easy enough to ask this person to turn them around. Sometimes, knowing what you don’t want is easier to describe—and it’s a good start.
4. Internal <—> External
“How do you know that you’ve done an excellent job?” To that question, internal-oriented people will decide using their own standards to evaluate it whereas external-oriented people will reference external standards.
The internal type will say things like “I know”, “It feels right”. They will rely on their own judgement, beliefs, values. The external type will depend on others, saying things such as “they” and “them.” They will often rely on their significant other and place great emphasis on consensus.
Next time, in Part II of this short series, we will explore more habits people use when communicating with each other. In the meantime, have some fun and explore a little, see if you can recognize differences when you ask the questions.
Oh, and one more thing: Don’t judge! (Did I say that already?)
If you have any thoughts about this, I’d love to hear them, no matter what approach you take!