Implementing Communication Styles for Effective Discussions

I came across this great article on titled ‘Communication styles – Working effectively as a team’, which is inspired by this tweet .  I recommend reading both sources but I offer a summary below.  Then I explain how to use this information to increase effectiveness of most discussions.

Communication Styles

The two styles of communications are competition and connection.

Competition style is about coming out on top.  The goal is to show that the speaker is superior to the others.  The speaker often downplay others’ input to achieve the goal.  The pace is faster in this style.  People who socialize with typical male traits tend to communicate with this style.

Connection style is about connecting to the others.  The goal is to create a shared understanding of the issue and deepening the social connection between parties.  The speaker often takes time to explain the reasoning behind.  The pace is slower in this style.  People who socialize with typical female traits tend to communicate with this style.

When exploring a solution to a problem or having any form of discussion, the following steps can facilitate good results:

  1. Use connection style communication to make sure everyone is on the same page regarding the problem.  The goal is to reach a consensus about the problem before moving forward.
  2. Use competition style communication to propose as many solutions as possible.  The goal is to split out as many potential solutions as possible before going into each one in detail.
  3. Use connection style communication to explore each solution in detail.  The goal is to reach a consensus regarding each solution’s pros and cons.  Some solutions may be generated or improved through combining the solutions proposed in step 2.
  4. Use competition style communication to name the best solution.  The goal is to clearly identify a solution that is superior than others.
  5. Use connection style communication to reach a consensus about having chosen the best solution.

All discussions should start and end with connection style.  Competition style should be used when generating solutions (step 2) and when you have to name a winner (step 4).  Problems arise when

  • People are using the wrong style together.  E.g., to reach consensus connection style is required but when everyone is competitive it is ineffective.
  • People are using different style in the same discussion.  E.g., some people may feel neglected by competitive speakers when they are trying to connect.

Knowing these are the root of the problem, what can we do to solve them?

Implementing Communication Phases

Inspired by the above information, I encourage everyone (especially the group leader) to do the following to increase the effectiveness of any discussion you participate in:

  • Clearly indicate the communication phase you are in.
    • In a connection phase: declare that the goal in this period is to reach a consensus.  Declare that we are going to take time to hear everyone out and reach understanding.  Pass ‘the mic’ around and make sure everyone has a chance to speak.  (An actual mic may help!)  This will tone down people who tend to compete, and give room to people who tend to connect.
    • In a competition phase: declare that the goal is to brainstorm solutions or rank solutions competitively.  Setting a healthy and competitive stage encourages healthy competition.  Make it clear that the competition is about the solutions, not people.  People who tend to connect will be more comfortable about being competitive.
  • Actively maintain the correct communication style.  Once a style has been declared, it should be easier to keep everyone on the same style.  But one should be conscious of the appropriate style at all times.
    • Staying in a connection phase:

      Disrupt a competitive speaker right away!  Don’t wait!  Well-placed humor and gentle ribbing produces bonus points and often disrupts the flow enough for you to take the mic back.  Put up your hand and slowly lower it, while saying the following: “I’m gonna stop you right there.”

      When being disrupted when trying to connect, raise your hand to gesture that you’re not finished, or just say “I’m not finish.” or “Wait.”

    • Staying in a competition phase 

      Useful phrases: “We will note that but we should move on.”, “Let’s go into the details later”, etc.

  • Put more emphasis on connecting.  Although the author of the above article thinks that neither communication style are good or bad, ultimately, the goal of communication is to connect.  When in doubt, make sure to take time to understand the speaker’s point of view.  Competition should only happen when it’s necessary.  A healthy team have members that are well connected to each other.  Do you agree?










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