Communication is key, but quality (not quantity) is what really counts.
Good communication has nothing to do with quantity. A lot of us have been told to “over communicate” as of late and the result is a lot of “zoomed out” people stressed by the overwhelming amount of internal talking that’s happening.
You’ll notice I said talking, not communicating.
Communication is thoughtful, intentional, and purposeful. What we’re seeing a lot of right now is talking for talking’s sake, which as I’m sure you know, is freakin’ exhausting.
Remember, communication is a two-way street. We often think of communication as something we do “to” others. “Well, I clearly communicated TO them that xyz.”
Let’s be clear, you communicate “with” someone, not “to” someone. It’s equally, if not more important, to listen than it is to speak/email/video conference. And really listen, not just to words, but to actions, body language, tone of voice.
The way I see it is we’re communicating with our teams in 2 ways:
- through what we do
- by what we say
The former being about 3 thousand times more important than the latter, but the latter is important nonetheless. Congruence between the two is essential. You want to do what you say, and say what you do. It builds trust and a stronger team.
You have to understand what makes your team ‘tick’
We’re going to focus on how to make life easier for the different types of people that make up your team. But before getting into that, first, you need to know the different types of people that make up your team.
I must confess that as a former rebel and nonconformist, I have an inherent distrust of labels, but they can often be super-helpful, like when trying to generally describe yourself in a single word in an article you’ve written.
Loosely, there are communication preferences and working styles that people prefer. To communicate intentionally, it’s helpful to know the preferences of those you will be communicating with.
There are many ways to go about learning these preferences, one of which is the F4S free assessment. Another way is to ask and observe. Either way, find out what gives your team energy and what zaps it.
Now that you know that, let’s use it. F4S did a 20 year study on teams that gives language and insight into the 'attitudes' or 'motivations' you’ll discover. I’ll also share some easy, practical ways to apply that to remote work in a high-stress, global pandemic, mega-uncertain world sort of way.
Fostering good communication on your team might require some sacrifice
But first, as a good leader, you’re going to have to sacrifice some of what you want for the good of your team. You might have communication preferences that are the polar opposite of your team’s, but your job as leader is to adapt to them. I know that sucks sometimes. You can let them know that you’re trying to adapt (that builds trust!) and ask them to chip in by managing up and make it a collaborative effort.
The key as a leader is to work on increasing your own tolerance. Start allowing different internal teams or team members to essentially follow different rules and schedules that work best for them and learn how to balance those needs with the overall needs of the team.
Times are tough right now and if you continue to grow and work on your communication you’ll transform into a real leader, not just a manager.
Four key pillars that make up a team’s communication style:
We’re going to focus on these four categories of preferences and what you can do for folks that sit on either side of the spectrum:
- Group Environment vs. Solo Environment
- Affective vs. Neutral Communicators
- Convincer Inputs (Seeing, Hearing, Reading, Doing)
- Scope (Breadth vs Depth)
For each category we’ll go through what they are, how to spot it in yourself and in others and what you can do to make life easier for folks that sit on either end of the spectrum.
1 - Group vs. Solo Environment
This looks at where we’re most productive. Are you more productive as a part of a group, or more productive on our own? Are you a combination? What works for you?
- Need to have people around that engage with them to be productive.
- They love to get and give answers on the spot (happy to interrupt others or be interrupted).
- They can be very draining and disruptive to solo environmentalists.
- Need to have space without auditory or visual distraction to get stuff done.
- Once in the zone, they can find it takes a very long time to get back if their attention has been diverted.
- Can appear to group environmentalists to be reclusive and distant at work.
Personally, I’m much more productive on my own and prefer to work with headphones on and use a pomodoro timer for focused work periods with my phone on airplane mode. But, during my breaks I go to social media to talk to people.
If I have a day with too many meetings, I’m exhausted and can’t get anything done. But, if no one is around I can’t focus either because I spend the whole day trying to find people to chat with. I’m a solo environmentalist that needs a little bit of group activity.
Very few of us will be 100 percent one way all the time, the same goes for the following 3 categories.
Finding variable solutions that folks can opt in/out of is ideal.
One way to do this is to only ask people to be at meetings if they really need to be there and throughout the week have optional meetings or hangouts that folks can pop in and out of. Think virtual water cooler.
You can create a dedicated virtual room or channel that folks can pop in to when they want to chat, run ideas past others or just check in. The group environmental-ists might want to hang out there all day chatting and getting energized by people as they stop in and the solo environmental-ists can hop over whenever they need some group time or you can use something like Donut in Slack.
The key point here is to make it a choice the team members can make. It shows that you care about and trust them.
2 - Affective vs. Neutral Communicators
This comes down to whether or not we pay attention to or show emotions at work, and virtually, how do they show up? Emojis?
- Draw energy and give it to others with their full body, face, voice and gestures.
- Can be animated when excited or frustrated.
- They’re easy to read when stressed out or not happy.
- Because they are always ‘reading’ others body language and tone, they can easily take offence.
- Give energy and respect to others by carefully choosing the words in their communication and can be offended when affectors do not.
- They can be very hard to read when excited, happy or stressed.
I am such an affective communicator that I toil over every correspondence I get that doesn’t have an exclamation mark or happy face. Because I normally rely so heavily on how I read someone’s body language, emojis, GIFs and exclamation marks act as a written expression of that for me. A lot of folks I work with aren’t the same as me. When I correspond with them I dial down the !!!! and the :) I also switch my focus to delivering the pertinent information concisely.
If you’re neutral, try tossing in some superfluous emojis and GIFs to your more affective teammates. They’ll probably love it! Also, consider setting up calls, or video chats. It’s possible for affective communicators to be a lot more animated and emotional on calls and video and they could find text-only communication draining after a while.
Conversely, affective folk, try to be more to the point, schedule fewer calls and video chats if your team members have let you know they find them draining.
Consider grouping your messaging to these folks in blocks and send out one or two concise messages a day. This is a great opportunity to work on your writing, a skill that ain’t goin’ away.
3 - Convincer Inputs (Seeing, Hearing, Reading, Doing)
What is most effective to you and your teammates for communication, learning, and making decisions? You’ll probably be a mix, with one or two qualities that really stand out.
- Needs to see a person, graph, presentation, something visual to get motivated or convinced.
- Without a visual will not gain confidence or be able to get convinced.
- Needs to discuss with or listen to a trusted or respected person to get motivated or convinced.
- Without a discussion or hearing, something will not gain confidence or be able to get convinced.
- Needs to see it written down to get motivated or convinced.
- Without a report, document, email, text or review, will not gain confidence or be able to get convinced.
- Need to have a personal experience or to have tried something themselves to be motivated or convinced.
While everything is remote, things like Slack and Teams make it easy for folks that trend toward reading. Zoom and other video conferencing platforms are great for folks that lean toward seeing and hearing and doers will need to iterate quickly and test things out. They’re great during these times of change.
When you need to communicate something important to the whole team consider offering options, such as sending a detailed email and offering up a presentation as well. The email will appeal to the reading folks and they won’t get demotivated and exhausted from sitting through a presentation.
On the other hand, the seeing and hearing folks will be jazzed that they don’t need to read another email and can sit back and watch/listen to someone speak for a while.
Variety and options are key. Remember, it’s intentional communication. Really consider your team and what’s going to give them energy.
There’s so much uncertainty in the world today, and that is exhausting. The more you can do to ease the burden for the team, the better off they’ll be. They’ll appreciate it, talk about it and it’ll do wonders for your team’s productivity, but also for your employer brand.
4 - Scope (Breadth vs Depth)
How much detail do we need?
- Wants to focus on the big picture in projects and can see little use or eyes glaze over when getting into the details first.
- Can appear vague and not well thought out to those motivated for details. Moves quickly and does not need detail to understand. Can easily identify priorities.
- Wants to be concrete and get straight into the execution of the details or the steps.
- Can appear pedantic and can often get overwhelmed as not able to see the priorities and can get lost in the trees or irrelevant details.
See what I did there? In times of crisis it can be super helpful to provide more details than you typically would. Decision fatigue is a real thing and is ramped in a world that feels incredibly uncertain.
That being said, some folks execute and some create. There will be members on your team that need depth — tell them exactly what they need to know and they will do an excellent job and be energized by the detailed list of things they know need to get done.
Conversely, if it’s someone that prefers breadth, like moi, they might find your details insulting and micromanage-y and stifling of their creativity.
Whenever you need to share something with the whole team, provide both. Think CliffsNotes, with the option to read the whole book. Depth folks will often have a hard time starting if they can’t see the details of how to meet the end goal, and breadth people will be exhausted (read: gouging their eyes out) when forced to go through every single detail.
By providing both options you’re letting people decide how they get to take in information and they will appreciate it deeply.
Wrapping it up:
The Golden Rule is to treat others the way you want to be treated. Which, to be honest, is mediocre advice at best. The Platinum Rule, however, suggests we treat people the way they want to be treated.
To treat our team the way they want to be treated, we need to learn how they want to be treated, or in this case, what styles of communication give them energy and what styles quash it.
You can find out by asking, observing, or by measuring it through your team's F4S results. Once you know how your team members like to communicate, put in the extra work to communicate with them in that way. If you’re sending out an important message to the whole team, be sure to provide multiple channels for folks so they can engage with you and the information in a way that energizes them.
Times are tough right now and the more you can do to make the lives of your team easier, the better. You’ll be rewarded with higher output, a happier team, and the internal satisfaction of becoming the sort of leader every employee and every organization wants.
Measure your communication & work preferences in F4S for free.
Michaud Garneau is the founder of Weird Is Nrml, a modern training and development organization. The team at Weird Is Nrml acknowledge the feels that adults get when we learn (aka the weird and scaries) and build the capacity required to sit comfortably in that discomfort. Learn more at weirdisnrml.com.