A Shot in the Dark
You have to listen carefully to the
other side of the conversation to understand what’s
really being said.
Nothing is quite like business communication because
it’s not just about business. It’s about
relationships and the communication preferences of the person
on the other side of the conversation.
Preferences are personal and sometimes even quirky. Taking a
shot in the dark and going to a meeting with the communication
style you prefer may cause you to miss the mark completely,
potentially ending a relationship before it begins.
In a perfect world, the other person would turn on the light
and let you know up front what their unique bulls-eye looks
like, including what works and what doesn’t in terms of
communication. This rarely happens, particularly if the person
is a prospect or someone you’ve just met. In these cases,
you may even find them actively trying to hide the sweet
If you’re in the dark, how do you avoid the
“I’ll take a shot at it” approach? Take a
look at the following common indicators of communication styles
and increase the odds that you’ll hit the target every
First Things First. Maybe
it’s a client or a prospect or a co-worker. They open a
conversation with stories about their kids, a recent trip or
the upcoming holiday. They may ask, “How’s it
going?” and actually want a sincere response. Time
considerations appear not to be on their radar, but, in fact,
they are making good use of their (and your) time by making a
personal connection that sets the stage for a positive business
Don’t feel compelled to hurry your socially oriented
colleagues toward the business purpose of a meeting. Not only
might they perceive you as unfriendly, even worse, they could
conclude you aren’t interested in getting to know them
better. You’ll have missed the mark before the
conversation even starts. Instead of focusing on your goals,
focus on theirs, join the friendly banter (prepare for this if
it doesn’t come naturally) and let them take the lead.
Once they feel comfortable, rest assured the conversation will
turn to business.
Just the Facts. Some people
feel that the social warm-up is a waste of time. They want to
cut to the chase almost immediately. You’ll find your
attempts at icebreakers and small talk are met with one-word
answers or even completely ignored as the other person moves
quickly to start the “real” conversation.
To avoid missing this target, let the other person define
the agenda. If you’re a social type, don’t get your
feelings hurt or keep trying to make a personal connection.
This will only frustrate the fact-focused and may even give
them the perception that you’re not to be taken
seriously. Come prepared to meetings so, if the person is
focused on just the facts, you’re ready. Interestingly,
if the meeting goes well, the fact-finder will often engage in
social conversation and relationship building after the work is
done. Some folks need to get the business out of the way before
they invest in a relationship.
Catch Me If You Can. Beating
around the bush is the hallmark of this type, and communicating
with them is like trying to hit a moving target. Unlike the
person who prefers a social warm-up and then gets down to
business, this person never makes the transition, or they skip
around from topic to topic without making headway in any
specific direction. There are many reasons why someone might
play an unending game of cat and mouse. Possibly they’re
just not interested in what you have to say or sell. Not much
you can do in that situation. But assuming this is not the
case, try to focus the conversation by asking a series of
questions designed to elicit the information you’re
seeking, make sure to ask for his opinion, frequently check for
understanding, and quickly steer wandering conversation back on
In It to Win It. This type
comes to a meeting with their mind already made up. Listening
to what you have to say is merely a formality. Their number one
job is to convince you that their position is correct, and your
attempts at collaboration will just make them more determined
to get their way. Don’t despair. Frequently, this type
will respond very positively if you give them room to
articulate their position or decision, so hunker down and focus
on listening. Then accurately summarize what was said.
Frequently, you’ll find at that point there’s room
for you to present your thoughts, ideas and solutions—as
long as theirs were heard first.
There are as many communication styles as there are people,
and we can’t expect to know how to handle all of them.
But, whatever the type, there are always indicators. If you
take the time to look for them, you will shed light on the
situation and potentially turn your shot in the dark into a
Kramer is The Council’s senior vice president, Office
of the President.