The Key to Understanding Individual Communication Preferences

Quick! You have an important question for a co-worker that requires a timely response. You may ask yourself, “Do I have enough time to wait on a response from an email? Is it appropriate to text them? Maybe I should just call them or walk over to their desk.”

Imagine you run into this scenario on a daily basis at work. We all do. We are blessed (and cursed) with a surplus of communication options within the modern workplace, but determining how and when to use each on an individual basis is sometimes very tricky.

Naturally, communication is essential in the workplace. It goes hand-and-hand with productivity and the quality of workplace relationships. Modern workplaces are also becoming increasingly diverse. This is a positive in many ways, but it can also bring about unique challenges internally.

As you surely already know, different people have different preferences when it comes to communication. What you may not be aware of is that some individuals’ preferences are hard-wired, rather than a reflection of conscious choice. Managing communication for a diverse workforce calls for knowledge of differences and flexibility in delivering and receiving information.

Good communication skills require a high level of self-awareness, but to really improve you must recognize others’ preferences, adapting to their style and methods of communicating.

Here are five ways to better understand individual communication preferences at work:

  1. Listen. The truth is, people are inherently terrible listeners. Instead of truly listening to what a person is saying, we interrupt, prepare our response, or think we already know what the speaker is going to say. It’s impossible to understand what someone wants or needs if we aren’t open to giving them our undivided attention. Tip: Start making a conscious effort to really listen to your co-workers.
  2. Pay attention to body language. Body language can actually tell you more than what someone is actually saying if you know how to read it. Picking up on a co-worker’s unique body language cues can help uncover opinions or insights that someone may not be verbally articulating. Tip: Don’t ignore body language; use it to your advantage.
  3. Consider communication preferences. Not everyone likes to communicate the same way. Email is a favorite for some, but others would rather text, pick up the phone, or engage face-to-face. Respecting the person you are trying to contact by actively using their preferred method could be the difference between a perceived interruption and an efficient and successful exchange of necessary information. Tip: If you have a company profile, consider adding employees’ preferences to their profile so this information can be referenced by all within the organization.
  4. Get a little personal. We all have lives outside of work that are just as important, if not more, as what is going on inside the walls of your organization. By engaging fellow co-workers in conversation outside of work-related topics, you build a level of trust and camaraderie. Tip: Make a genuine effort to learn more about your “work family.” It may just improve communication and relationships simultaneously.
  5. Restate what you hear. How often do you get introduced to someone and forget their name within ten seconds? Try repeating that person’s name as you are introduced. This can be applied to interoffice communication as well. Repeating important points shows you are listening and understand what you have been told. This also gives both parties an opportunity to clarify any areas of confusion while helping the recipient remember better. Tip: Again, “Repeating important points shows you are listening and understand what you have been told.” Did that work?

Like many other areas of business, there is no single solution to improve communication. Only in a comprehensive and adaptive mix of efforts do you achieve ongoing success. The most important thing to remember about communication is that style differences are real and many times fundamentally rooted. Refusing to accept someone else’s preferences or expecting everyone to interact in your preferred style seldom leads to positive outcomes within an organization. Successful workplaces tend to have a foundation of highly effective communicators that have learned to recognize and adapt to different communication styles.

Written by Matt Simanski, Enterprise Employee Communications Consultant. Feel free to drop him a note or reach out on LinkedIn.