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Jan 3, 2015

Two Tips For 2015

If someone approached you and offered you a large sum of cash in exchange for two, practical, yet simple techniques to improve their communication skills at work, what would you offer?

This same question came up on the back of a conversation I had with a colleague recently. So with that in mind, here are my two suggestions.

♯1 - Identify how the people you work with prefer to process information.

♯2 - Identify what drives and motivates people - both personally and professionally.

These may not sound like simple tasks at first but once you grasp the concepts behind the two ideas it literally becomes a ‘question’ of listening.

Let’s take a look at the first task. Identifying how the people you work with prefer to process information. This simply involves asking open questions so you can listen to the language the person uses to describe how they feel, who they are and what they do. This will give you an idea of how they prefer to think about and communicate information and ideas.

Researchers including H Gardner (Multiple Intelligence theory) Kolb (Learning styles) and D Fleming (VARK) have presented theories that suggest people’s preferences for a particular communication style is reflected in their speech.

While this first idea is not new, and has in fact been around for about 30 years, I am constantly amazed by how few people really know about it. However this will be very familiar to anyone who has studied NLP.

But - Just because we know and understand something intellectually, until it becomes a behavioural habit it’s next to useless.

Even though you may have heard of the following idea before it’s worth reminding yourself of this concept as very few of us have mastered the ability to remain conscious of this particular aspect of communication all the time.

When communicating we all tend to use a combination of three primary systems to process and communicate information.

  • Visual – Seeing information. This would be a preference for learning through visuals like charts, graphs and infographics.
  • Auditory – Hearing information. The person’s primary focus would be on the use of spoken language and talking through ideas.
  • Kinaesthetic – Physical engagment with information. This represents a preference for a tactile, ‘hands on’, experiential approach to learning and processing information. These three systems are known as VAK for short.

While we actually use all three systems (and more-including smell and taste) research suggests that some of us tend to favour just one or two as our primary style.

Approximately 60% of people are visual processers and prefer communicating through visuals such as pictures, charts and diagrams, video and written instructions. So, you can identify someone with a predominantly visual preference as they tend to say things like: “I ‘see’ what you mean, show me more.” or “That ‘looks’ good to me.”

Around 30% of people prefer auditory processing and like to hear someone speak to them. Therefore someone with an auditory preference might say: “I ‘hear’ what you’re saying. That rings a bell.” and “ That ‘sounds’ great!”.

Kinaesthetic processors amount to about 10% of the population and they are more likely to use phrases like: “That ‘feels’ like a good fit to me” or “ I’m ‘grasping’ to get a ‘handle’ on what you mean.”

For instance you might say to a colleague: “I’d like to see some of your ideas and show you mine so we can look at putting together a vision for the team.” and they might say: “ Yes, I am looking forward to hear your ideas and also to tell you more about mine so we can chat about how it might sound to the team.”

Clearly we have one person with a visual style and the other processsing through their auditory system. This meeting could possibly become challenging at some point merely because of this mismatch.

However by simply listening out for someone’s language we can tailor our communication style to suit their preference. Thinking about the example above you might say: “ Great, I like the sound of that. We’ll talk through our options and hopefully once they hear the ideas everyone will be harmonious on this.” Simple enough but this will need a fair bit of focus and some practice. However it will definitely be worth the effort.

The second task is to identify what motivates a person so you can shape your message to include words that connect with their personal and professional drives.

Research by Paul Lawrence and Nitin Nohria, published in their book Driven (2002) supports the idea that every person operates in service of four innate drives. In order to have a satisfying and fulfilling work life we must do things that allow them to engage and satisfy these drives. People especially need an opportunity to satisfy the following four drives in the workplace:

  • To Acquire
  • To Learn
  • To Bond
  • To Defend

The theory has it’s roots in biological sciences and seems to offer a useful model of human needs and motivations to add to the existing literature. Lets take a brief look at each one.

Aquire – Some people like to aquire money, status, material things and experiences, so this drive can be very powerful. Aquire and achive is an evolution of the natural survival drive. A transference from the need to aquire items necessary for our survival, to a desire to acquire consumer goods. People expressing this drive can be motivated by the idea of gaining ‘more’ money, power or influence.

Learn – Having the ability to learn and remember things about ourselves and our environment has been a key element behind the successful evolution of the human species. As a result the drive to learn and grow can have a lot of energy behind it which may become destructive when human beings become bored and unchallenged. Communicating opportunities for personal and professional development are useful when trying to get someone expressing this drive to be motivated about something.

Bond - Relationships are vital to human survival and solid team work is at the heart of great businesses. People expressing this drive like to belong, bond with others and become part of a team. They like to know they are valued as a member of the ‘tribe’ and expect lotality based on strong relationships. They may refer to their team as a family so communicating using the language of inclusivity and partnerships will help here.

Defend – Human beings are both possessive and territorial by nature. The drive to defend our property, family and reputations is a strong motivator. This can also extend to protecting our values, ideas and beliefs. If we are under threat because we have neither the support nor the resources to defend our acquisitions, our knowledge and our relationships we may become defensive and resistant. When communicating with someone expressing this drive it is useful to use language that will make them feel more secure.

Of course we are driven by all of the above at different times and in the various situations we find ourselves in, but it is helpful to identify a persons primary drives in order to communicate more effectively at work.Here is an outline of how you might prepare to communicate using the ideas presented above.

Before going into conversation, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is the purpose of the conversation?
  2. What are my expected, desired and ideal outcomes?
  3. How will this conversation be of benefit to the other person?
  4. What is the preferred cognitive style (VAK) of the person I am communicating with?
  5. Which of the four drives motivates them most?
  6. How can my message be communicated in a way that aligns with their communication style and personal drives?

To help deepen your understanding of a person you are communicating with, try to put aside what you think you know about them already and learn as much as possible by listening (with fresh ears) to the language they use to describe who they are, what they do and how they feel. Even though you might believe your message is clear and important never assume people will always understand or care what you’re trying to communicate.

Why not start the new year by giving these two tips a try? It won't cost you anything but time and it'll be worth the effort.