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Leader's Edge A Shot in the Dark

You have to listen carefully to the other side of the conversation to understand what’s really being said.

By  Julia Kramer

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 spot.

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 time.

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 outcome.

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 track.

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 spot-on approach.

Kramer is The Council’s senior vice president, Office of the President.


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