As a leader, every conversation has an immediate impact on those around you. It can cause energy, excitement and focus or it can cause chaos, frustration and confusion. These positive conversations have the potential to accelerate business and personal performance and are crucial to managing time and efforts. We have all been in meetings and conversations where we wonder what the benefit was to us. In this blog we will take a look at the different communication styles that I believe have a big impact on accelerating the effectiveness of your conversations.
To start with ask yourself the following questions in preparation for a conversation:
- What is the purpose of this conversation for me?
- What is the purpose of the conversation for them?
- What message do I want to give or receive?
- What is my state going into this conversation? (how do I feel?)
- What physical/virtual environment do I need to create to have the best conversation?
- What challenges or questions might the other person have?
In the situational leadership model there are four different communication styles of leadership (coaching, mentoring, delegating and directing). These leadership communication styles can also be used to enhance our everyday conversations at work. I believe that the best leaders not only have awareness of these styles, they choose to potentially use a blend of these approaches during every single conversation. That isn’t to say every conversation needs all four styles, it’s about the leader choosing to flex between these styles as the conversation or situation requires.
Conversations where the leader doesn’t have awareness of the communication style they are adopting or is not actively choosing their style, equates to lowered self-awareness. The result can be that we are not necessarily able to maximise our impact. This leads to issues around time management, as we often need even more conversations to help the other person become clearer!
I notice in the leadership coaching programmes I work on, that this simple technique of being aware of the communication style you are adopting as well as blending the different styles, has totally transformed their conversations into quicker, more honest and effective conversations.
One client recently told me, that by having greater clarity about their conversations, it has had a dramatic impact on the relationship with their team, leading to greater clarity in the direction they are heading.
What are the different styles you can use?
You encourage the person to find solutions and ideas for themselves. “What would be best for us to focus on in the time we have today?”
You impart your wisdom and knowledge, having walked in the shoes of the person in front of you. “Based on my experience I recommend considering . . . .”
You tell the other person what to do and provide instructions and information. “I would like to you to call the Sales Director and tell them the news and then tomorrow bring this to the leadership team.”
You hand over the work to the other person to achieve this.
Often we think of these as stand alone approaches to leadership and we adopt them in isolation. Imagine for example, a conversation with a direct report at the start of the year where you explain the vision and strategy for the year ahead that has been set for the business. You would likely adopt a directing style at this moment in the conversation, as this would be the most useful way to impart the information. You may then shift to a more coaching approach to the conversation by helping the person to brainstorm potential ideas they have to achieve their part of the vision. In addition there may be moments in the conversation where you adopt a mentor approach, i.e. where you share your own wisdom based on your experiences. And finally, you may notice yourself delegating aspects of the work to them.
You can see how important it is to be flexible with your communication style, even in just that one conversation, using the wrong style could lead to confusion. Imagine adopting a coaching style with a direct report about the vision, when it has already been set! This leads to the person feeling confused.
I liken it to the colour of the sky – most of us would say the sky is blue, i.e. the answer is obvious. I would therefore adopt a directing style with a person, saying “the sky is blue”. Imagine if I used a coaching approach in this conversation “What do you think the colour of the sky is? What options do you have relating to the colour of the sky?” This would lead to a very odd conversation, as the person in front of you knows you know the answer and would rather you just said “the sky is blue!” Just like in the work environment, our team look to us for certain answers and then look to us for space to help us do our own thinking too.
I encourage you to consider the conversations you have over the coming weeks and start to notice your role in them using the questions above. Reflect on your communication style, it will give you a sense of your natural position – i.e. are you more inclined to tell, direct or mentor? Use the following to help:
Conversations checklist using Prepare – Consider – Flex – Reflect:
- Prepare in advance using the questions above.
- Consider the different communication styles that may be needed.
- Flex the approach during the conversation based on the needs.
- Reflect afterwards about your effectiveness to build your leadership skills for the next conversations.
I also encourage you to develop three really useful skills alongside these approaches to further develop your conversations:
This is about being fully present to the person in front of you and putting any judgments that arise aside. Sounds simple, but it takes a lot of practice to do effectively.
Tune in to what you are noticing about you and others in conversations – from body language, tone of voice to energy levels, these give you clues as to what is needed.
Ask others what they need and provide feedback about what you are noticing in any given conversation. This deepens relationships and avoids you both leaving the room with key items unsaid.
If you would like to experience the benefits of coaching, we work with lots of new and emerging leaders who want to quickly make an impact. One way to create impact is to consciously work on your leadership approach during conversations. Visit our leadership development pages to understand more and please do get in touch if you have any questions for me or if you would like to arrange a no obligation consultation.