When communicating, our job as the “sender” is to get our message across and this can sometimes be frustrating. Awareness of our personality preferences can increase our patience when communicating with those who have different preferences, or styles. The more we observe the differences between us, the better we can adapt our methods to increase our effectiveness.
Let’s review some approaches that work in different situations, with different personality preferences.
Introverts and Extroverts
Introverts and extroverts are perhaps the two most recognized personality dimensions. Unlike their reputation, introverts are not shy, they don’t dislike people or get togethers, and they aren’t necessarily afraid to speak up. Instead, we (I am one) are more measured in our use of words. People who know me may question that, but I assure you after writing or talking a lot in a day, I crave the quiet to recharge. How much quiet an introvert needs varies; some need a few minutes of time away from communication, where others may need a few hours of quiet time.
Before speaking, introverts typically want to plan what we are going to say. Delivering presentations or topics we are well versed in is easier because our thoughts are well formed on those subjects. In meetings, where information is new, or where brainstorming is happening, introverts may appear to be disengaged. In actuality, we are likely listening and internally processing what is being discussed. Our silence can be frustrating for meeting facilitators looking for participation and input from attendees.
Extroverts, on the other hand, process verbally. They like to talk it out and are energized by using words and engaging with others. Their energy can be drained when they have large spans of asynchronous work. Their ability to answer questions on the fly, or “think on their feet,” may be attributed their tendency to talk as they are thinking. When they are excited about a subject they may be prone to interrupt others. This may also lead to them transition to tangent topics. These behaviors can be off putting and confusing to others.
Facilitating Discussion between the Introvert and Extrovert
Minimizing frustration and miscommunication between people with these two communication preferences comes down to recognizing their differences and using techniques to allow each party to be heard. The US population is basically split between introverts and extroverts (based on various surveys), and accounting professionals tend toward introversion, according to The Myers-Briggs Company. Therefore, learning to facilitate effective communication between these two personality preferences is a powerful skill to develop. Here are some facilitation ideas:
1. Send an agenda prior to one-on-one or group meetings and establish expectations for participation. Doing this gives introverts time to pull their thoughts together before they meet with a group to discuss them. This also communicates your expectations that they will speak up during the meeting
2. Pause for reflection when posing a question to the group, or an individual. Not all agenda items can be predefined in advance. When the topic emerges, ask everyone to reflect to themselves and write down a few thoughts in 30 seconds (or a couple minutes depending on the depth of the topic). Then ask everyone to contribute what they wrote down.
Encourage extroverts that tend to interrupt others to write down their thoughts while others are speaking. This way, they don’t risk losing their ideas when they wait their turn to chime in.
3. Ask those who tend to speak up first to hold back until others speak up sometimes. This may cause discomfort for them initially. Encourage them to use the writing technique above while waiting their turn. They may find others will share what they wrote down, so they can cross it off or offer input in support of the comment.
4. At the end of a meeting, go around the group and ask if there is anything anyone wants to add. This way, if there was a topic someone wanted to add to, but the group moved to the next subject before they spoke up, you invite them to still chime in. Leave time at the end for this; otherwise, people tend to stay silent to ensure the meeting ends on time.
Introverts and extroverts can both be misinterpreted in negative ways for their participation in meetings when they actually are fully engaged.
Detail Oriented and Big Picture Communicators
Another personality difference that impacts the quality of our communication is the preference on the level of detail desired to take in information.
Some people are comforted by collecting lots of data; the more the better. Many individuals drawn to the accounting profession tend to have this preference.
There are others that prefer to talk big picture and are more interested in what’s possible, not so much what’s real and concrete right now. When these type of people are presented with a lot of detail, they can get stressed and disengage from the conversation; whereas, those that like details can get stressed hearing only about the big picture and future possibilities without benchmarks, statistics or other concrete facts.
Identifying which method someone prefers may be harder than the introvert/extrovert preference. It takes listening and observing how someone communicates verbally and in writing. Taking notice of the types of questions a person asks is also a good indicator. By taking the time to observe this preference, we can design a more engaging message for each individual.
Effectively Communicating with Both Types
Most of our communications are not one to one, nor do we have the time to customize messages for every person. In these cases, we want to design our communication to appeal to various personality preferences.
In written communication start with the end. Start emails with the objective or purpose of the communication, the key points you need the reader to know, and any action requested of the reader. Below that share the supporting details for those that want, or need, it to feel informed and prepared to decide.
When communicating orally, follow a similar technique, but a little more balanced. Share the overall concept and objective up front. Review an outline of the supporting details, but don’t feel compelled to cover each point. For those that desire to see all the data, offer supplemental detail after you have concluded. When sharing the information afterward, make sure you communicate your plans to do so during the discussion, so expectations are properly set on what will be covered in the discussion and what they will have access to afterward.
An optional question and answer session could be held at the end of the session as well. Those that feel complete are welcome to leave, but anyone who wants to dive in deeper has time and the access to do so. This way, those that get stressed by too many details can leave, while those that want more have the space to ask their questions. When using this option ensure time is reserved in the agenda to do this within the established timeframe of the session.
Communication skills are one of the most valued in talent today. Effective communication is not just about our oral and written skills, but understanding our audience and adapting, sometimes on the fly, to engage them. Listening, observing, and modifying our approach are foundational to our success.
All the best,
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