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Better Versatility = Better Relationships

By Tom Roth

In conversations with clients about the impact of the current economic downturn, I keep hearing one concern everyone seems to share: “How can we help our people manage the strain of all the uncertainty, disruptions, cuts, and layoffs?

Employees are worried about their jobs even while adapting to major changes in their work environment and an unclear future—new reporting relationships, restructured work teams, working from home. Even when they understand the necessity for all the changes, the effects can be debilitating—communication gets more difficult, morale sags, productivity slows, and energy drains.

So what’s the answer? How can companies cope with these conditions and maintain productivity and efficiency? If you are a leader concerned about this question, you know you can’t control the external factors. You can, however, do everything possible to help your people cope. A simple place to start is to make sure communication breakdowns aren’t adding to everyone’s stress and getting in the way of trust, teamwork, and collaborative effort.

As people struggle to adjust to new realities at work, it’s normal for them to experience misunderstandings and increased relationship tension. By becoming more versatile in their interpersonal communications, employees, managers, and leaders can better understand differences in communication preferences and create more effective and productive relationships.

Versatility can be learned, practiced, and improved over time. It’s based on understanding your own and others’ Social Styles, defined in Wilson Learning’s model in terms of four categories—Analytical, Driver, Expressive, and Amiable. Each style is characterized by being either more or less “Tell” or “Ask” oriented and more or less “Task” vs. “People” oriented. People generally feel very comfortable communicating with others who share their style but can have problems with different styles. If you’ve ever felt impatient, intimidated, or frustrated in a conversation with a colleague, friend, or family member, there’s a likelihood that the root problem is a style difference neither of you recognizes.

To improve versatility, managers and employees need to:

  • Get feedback from others to understand their own social style. Knowing how you are perceived by others is critical. Study after study shows that most of us have no idea how we are coming across to others.
  • Learn to identify the social style of others (e.g., Analyticals, Drivers, Expressives, and Amiables)
  • Learn to adapt their own style of communicating to match the preferences of others, putting them at ease, building trust, and allowing both parties to work together to accomplish the tasks at hand.

Simply stated, “The more I know about you and the more I know about myself, the more I can take responsibility for managing the difference between us to increase the effectiveness of our communication and our level of trust.”

Have you experienced a communication problem at work caused by different social styles? What happened and what effect did it have on your work performance?

These are our thoughts . . . what do you think?

Tom Roth

Tom Roth is Chief Operating Officer of Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc. (U.S.) and President of Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc. (Japan). With more than 40 years of experience developing and implementing human performance improvement solutions, Mr. Roth is responsible for the strategic direction and business performance of Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc. operations. In addition, he leads the global marketing services and R&D solutions group, which is responsible for the research and development of all solutions and position papers. Mr. Roth assists global executive leadership teams with issues related to employee engagement, leadership development, strategy alignment, and business transformation. Before assuming his current role, he was President of the global R&D and solution development groups and also served as President of Wilson Learning Corporation.

Mr. Roth has extensive experience developing and implementing human performance improvement solutions. He is coauthor of the book Unplugged: How Organizations Lose Their Energy and How to Get It Back, coauthor of the book Creating the High-Performance Team, and is published in numerous business publications. Mr. Roth is a frequent speaker at national and international conferences and client events, presenting on a wide variety of issues including leadership, employee engagement, change, and strategy implementation.