Lately, I’ve been thinking about what helps people communicate more effectively in the workplace. When I work with teams, they usually tell me that communication among team members is challenging.

They say things like, “No one is listening; instead, they talk over one another with really loud voices,” or “I can never work with Sally again. She doesn’t respect me!

Understanding Communication Challenges in the Workplace

One of the things I see over and over with teams is that the folks who have the hardest time communicating are those with different communication styles.

Each of us has a “style” of communicating that has been influenced by many factors, including:

  • Our values and beliefs
  • Our personality and self-concept
  • Culture
  • How and where we grew up
  • Family relationships
  • Emotional responses, and
  • Various experiences.

When we communicate with another person, we communicate through those lenses.

Communication is a two-way street. Two people, having a dialogue, trying to get each other to understand our point of view even though we may perceive each other’s message very differently. We may be talking about the same thing or trying to make the same point. We’re often using language and terminology so differently that the other person thinks we’re trying to say something totally opposite. How frustrating that can be!

The Influence of Communication Styles

To illustrate this point, I’ll tell you a story.

When I worked as an information technology business analyst in a corporate role, I often worked with another senior business analyst named Lane (not her real name). I worked with Lane on and off for nearly 14 years, and when we had to work on a project together, it was always a difficult experience.

Lane was always interrupting me and cutting me off. I wasn’t always comfortable speaking up in meetings. I listened, took many notes, and finally when I had something pertinent to the topic, I spoke up. Lane rarely let me finish my sentences. She often interrupted me by saying, “I know where you’re going with this and we’ve already considered that. Here’s why that won’t work.

Often, she did NOT know where I was going with it, and she took us down a path that was NOT what I was going to say! It was infuriating! It seemed to get worse and worse the longer we worked together.

Finally, one day, in a particularly frustrating meeting, I simply got up and walked out of the room. This was very uncharacteristic of me! Because of my normally cool and calm demeanor, I was often the one people came to when they needed help calming other people down.

A Revelation in the Breakroom

A few hours later, I was getting a cup of coffee in the breakroom and I saw Lane walking up to me. I grimaced a bit and was a bit embarrassed that I had let her get to me.

Lane said, “I figured it out!” “Figured what out?” I asked. She said, “I figured out why we have such a hard time talking to each other!

Lane then nailed it. She said, “I bet when you were growing up, your family didn’t debate or argue, did they?” I agreed that we did not debate or argue in normal conversation. In my family, the only time anyone raised their voice was when there was an argument and someone was really angry.

Lane said, “I grew up in New York, in The Bronx. In my family, we debated all the time. If we weren’t debating something, we weren’t engaged. But if there were loud voices, lots of interrupting, and much debate, we were all totally engaged and getting into the topic.”

Then she said, “Linda, when you finally decide to speak up, I know you have something important to say. And I listen. And if I’m interrupting you, it means that you’ve totally gotten my attention and I’ve recognized it is an important topic. I want to engage on the topic so we can work together to figure out whether it will work or how to implement it. If I’m NOT interrupting, I’m not engaged. But if I interrupt, it means I’m engaged! Being from New York, that’s what we do! It’s the only way I know how to communicate!

The AHA Moment

I was stunned! We had worked together for almost 14 years, and now Lane was getting ready to retire. We could have been working better together this entire time.

She wasn’t attacking my ideas; she was trying to collaborate with me to improve them! But I simply tended to shut down, which was very frustrating to her.

Building Stronger Workplace Relationships

Two very different communication styles! That story motivated me to learn more about how people with different styles and backgrounds communicate.

When I work with teams, we often begin by learning each other’s communication styles and how these styles influence our communication. We build on that knowledge by focusing on building stronger relationships with each other and connecting to our purpose for being on the team (connecting to both our personal purpose and the purpose of the organization or team).

The Importance of Psychological Safety

Workplace relationships, including how people view themselves and each other, are central to building psychological safety within a team. When people feel psychologically safe, they feel safe raising new ideas and speaking up without fear of judgment or rejection. They know they won’t be punished for speaking up with concerns or admitting and pointing out mistakes. They can trust that people won’t say one thing to their face and another behind their backs.

I want to work in an environment where people don’t feel they need to leave the room when they don’t feel heard or valued.

Practical Tips for Improving Communication

Here are some actionable strategies for more effective communication in the workplace:

  • Encourage open dialogue: Create a culture where everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas and feedback.
  • Understand communication styles: Use tools like DISC or MBTI to help team members understand their own and others’ communication preferences.
  • Foster active listening: Train team members to listen actively and empathetically, ensuring they fully understand before responding.
  • Create psychological safety: Establish team norms that promote trust and openness, making it safe for team members to speak up without fear of retribution.

Final Thoughts

How about you? Take some time to reflect on your communication style and consider how you can adapt to improve your interactions with your team members. By understanding and appreciating different communication styles, working together is much more rewarding.

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