There are many ways to consider managing (human) differences in a work environment. There may be different goals, different knowledge levels, different levels of commitment to the team and to the business, and different abilities and talents. All are important to consider when leading a team.
Another way to consider managing differences is to manage to differing communication styles. This type of management can mean finding tailored ways to reach each employee and/or finding common, “universal” ways that reach a variety of employees. Think of the latter as finding a common language.
Whether you’re preparing for a meeting or developing a training program, use these tips to resonate with your audience and provide information in a way that will help them absorb the information:
Parsing Communication Styles
Some people appreciate bullets and high-level summaries. Address them at a predictable cadence so they know a high-level recap is coming. These people also tend to appreciate the opportunity to make decisions and are apt to speak up with questions. Providing scenarios that give them options to choose from will help these team members feel comfortable.
Others appreciate more graphics or visuals. Think about how you might paint a picture — figuratively, at least — of the point you are making or the concept you are trying to communicate in a way that will help these team members see what you are saying and how they will use it. These employees tend to be inclined to speak up but risk taking your presentation off on a tangent with their enthusiasm in sharing or asking questions.
Another group of employees feels best when they receive clear and detailed instructions about how to use the information you’re providing and then have time to process. These team members likely take longer to speak up in meetings and may not volunteer answers or questions unless they feel safe doing so. Make sure that all employees feel safe to speak up and know that you and the rest of the team honor the questions they ask. These team members may also need extra time and more detailed instructions to fully embrace the vision you are communicating.
Yet another group is analytical and logical. These team members are the ones who read the materials you send out ahead of time. They need time to process new concepts and are not likely to speak up right away. They value references to review in deeper detail and time to read and reflect on content. When you can cite your sources, you will earn trust from these people. To help them succeed, allow them time to read or to process information prior to calling on them to speak up. Sending an agenda ahead of a meeting is also a great way to encourage these team members to think about their input prior to the meeting.
What Resonates With Each or With All
The various groups described above are based on natural behavioral styles — that is, innate behaviors that people may not even know they resort to. You may have people who are naturally more reserved but have learned to speak up, and vice versa, but if you can create an environment that feels comfortable for all of these groups, you will be speaking to people in a way that resonates with their personalities.
As a leader, you can start to pick up on the style of the people you lead based on the questions they ask and the way they speak to you (or the way they don’t). Team members who are slow to volunteer and who seek more details are in the last two groups described. On the other hand, people who are quicker to speak up, process at a high level and are less interested in details, or who are moving too quickly to have processed the details you gave them, are in the first two groups. You can anticipate whether they need more detail and instruction or are looking for a summary or graphic.
The great news is that stories resonate with everyone. When you can use examples that tell stories, you can capture members of each group. Though each team member will take away something slightly different based on how he or she processes information, stories will engage the whole team.
Managing Differences in Real Time
A recent leadership meeting included people from the first two groups. The pace of the meeting was faster than previous executive meetings, and the leader provided a high-level overview of points and opened discussion. When the leader took a deeper dive into the material and was more detailed, the team energy drifted, and people in the room began looking at their devices. The leader then adjusted, included more real examples and even invited people to provide real-life scenarios.
The opportunity to look at real-world examples was welcome and energizing. No one felt on the spot, and the entire group contributed to solutions for the people who shared their stories. By adjusting the presentation to allow for more discussions and examples from participants, the leader engaged the team and generated better results from the meeting.
This approach required the leader to be willing to skip over some of the detailed slides and more granular data in order to serve the styles of the team members and help them get the most out of the discussion. As a result, both leader and team had better ideas and were more engaged about implementing them than in previous meetings.