We've all suffered through it. That moment you put your foot in your mouth big time and cringe inside. Hopefully it was among close friends, but what do you do if it wasn't? Maybe it was in a meeting at work, or an offhand comment among co-workers, and you can't stop kicking yourself for making such a professional blunder. Whatever the cringe-worthy situation, you know you need to prevent it from happening again. The solution? Clear communication.
A smooth interface with your boss and coworkers is key to a happy, successful work life. This is never more obvious than when communication breaks down—always, it seems, at the most crucial times. So, how can you keep communication flowing when the stakes are high?
It helps to be mindful of your own mode of communication, and others' as well. The way you interact with coworkers with different communication styles can make all the difference. Read on and you'll be communicating like a pro in no time.
What's Your Style?
It's important to strike the right tone, and that begins with an awareness of how people communicate. The five basic styles, according to psychologist Claire Newton, are assertive, aggressive, passive aggressive, submissive, and manipulative. And once you identify the different communication styles and where you fall, you can learn how best to deal with them.
A person with a manipulative style may sound like they are angling for something. If you find yourself complaining excessively, you may feel you have good reason. But this behavior, paired with affirmation seeking, may cause others to see you as whiny, envious, and—yes, manipulative.
If you notice these habits in someone else, it's best to be frank, and not engage too deeply. A good response to a coworker's wheedling, “I do that all the time and get no recognition," could be, “Keep doing exactly what you're doing. People will notice." And try really, really hard not to sound sarcastic—lest you cross over into passive aggressiveness.
Some folks can go from super sweet to bitingly sarcastic in the time it takes to say “resentment and procrastination." These are just some hallmarks of the passive aggressive person, who tends not to feel valued. Sound familiar? Everyone sometimes feels overworked and underappreciated, but if you let these feelings color your actions, your communication is bound to suffer.
If it's a passive aggressive team member who is acting out behind the scenes, ask what they need. Offer them opportunities to take charge so resentments don't fester.
Those with a more aggressive style have no problem feeling power, or expressing it. If you pride yourself on saying what you mean in a no-nonsense tone, be sure to notice your peers' reactions. Is that tone all business—or bluster? Are people physically shrinking back from you, or shutting down? If so, it may be time to tone it down. Step back, soften your brow, uncross and unclench. Leave wait time before you respond, creating space for your coworker and also for you—to breathe, briefly reflect, and formulate a relaxed yet confident response.
Do the same if you're the one fending off an aggressive workmate. Remember, this bullying behavior is a communication style, developed over time, and is not about you. So don't counter with a raised voice, or frown back in a battle of the brows. Maintain an open expression, and be self-assured in your response.
If you react to an aggressor by behaving submissively, you'll see team spirit quickly deteriorate. Keep it alive by exercising your assertive communications skills. You only contribute to the problem when you stand back and blame your aggressive, manipulative, or passive aggressive coworkers for the group's lack of harmony. If your style is more submissive, you tend to avoid decision making as well as confrontation, and may feel victimized. You can take back your power by stepping forward and accepting some responsibility for a potentially toxic climate, before it poisons a project or workplace.
It's time to go public with your ideas for improvement. You've been quietly observing long enough to know what solution or social event would bring everyone together. If you interact with someone who seems a bit beaten down by the strong opinions and mannerisms of others, try modulating your gestures and tone until your submissive colleague seems receptive. If you are typically more aggressive, everyone else will appreciate the adjustment, too.
Looking for the assertive communicators? Observe the no-nonsense team members who expect productive conversation, not immediate compliance. These folks are assertive without being aggressive, and this reasoned, accepting, goal-oriented communication style typically works best.
Be a Smooth Operator
Once you've identified your own communication style and the styles of those around you, it's time to perfect your communication strategy.
Keep in mind that you can't always change how other people communicate, but you can control your reaction and how you respond. Communication styles are often pretty ingrained, so remember to cut people some slack. We all have our own communication shortcomings.
Continually evaluate your own communication style and strive to be assertive while being mindful that each communication personality may need to be handled differently.
Don't Stop the Dance
In fact, the closer everyone moves toward assertive communication, the healthier your work environment will be. Ideally, your team would waltz in with perfectly-paired communication styles, but as we all know, that's not usually the case.
You can, however, learn some new moves:
Don't get too close and personal. Leave space, but don't shrink away. What feels like an attack may just be the way your coworker deals with the world. And when you are the one disagreeing, avoid personal statements, sticking with the facts and focusing on results.
Take a cue from actual ballroom dancers, who try to get a feel for both leading and following, no matter their typical role. Whatever side of assertive you fall on, spend a day crossing over. If you are typically more aggressive, chill out and ask a submissive colleague for input. If you tend toward passivity, volunteer a bold idea out of the blue.
Listen to the music. Try to find the rhythm of the conversation and get in step with your officemates, no matter their style. When you lead, lead gently, and when you follow, follow boldly.
Now that you know the five styles of communication, you can leave your feet out of your mouth and on the ground. And that's where you'll need them to keep up with the communication dance!
Photo of co-workers talking courtesy of Musketeer/Getty Images.
Jennifer Magliano spends most of her days helping younger writers to find their voices and experiment with new genres. She has explored a few as well, and may just pioneer a new one: travel food nature writing with amateur sunset photos. Jennifer has written for a travel site, authored a blog, created and performed wedding ceremonies, and published poetry. Recently, her work appeared in *Grabbing the Apple, An Anthology of New York Woman Poets*.More from this Author
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