Transforming Talk at Work | April 2016


Dear Reader,

Jinny was beside herself. Frustrated. Devastated. Embarrassed.

She’d just left her boss’s office in tears.

Claire, her boss, was fair and she didn’t play favorites. Jinny trusted and respected her. So she went to Claire for help. Jinny was at her wits’ end. Overworked and over committed, she needed help prioritizing her projects. She prided herself in being a team player but sometimes she just couldn’t get it all done. This was one of those times.

Jinny went into great detail describing her predicament and associated stress level to Claire. As she went on, she could feel Claire’s impatience creeping into the conversation. Claire kept asking what the issue was, even when Jinny felt she was in the middle of describing the issue.

Claire’s interruption with a request to “cut straight to the heart of the matter” was the last straw for Jinny.

The tears erupted despite Jinny’s struggle to maintain her poise. Humiliated for losing her composure in her boss’s office, she darted out.

Claire was baffled. Jinny was one of her best employees. Claire had always prided herself in being a no-nonsense manager. She had an open door policy and she meant it. Anyone could talk to her about anything and she would listen. For a few minutes, at least.

Claire had been trying to help Jinny solve the problem, or so she thought. Her cut-to-the-chase style did not resonate with Jinny. In fact, it did quite the opposite. Jinny felt that Claire was being cold, aloof and impatient. What Jinny needed was tenderness and understanding.

My advice to Jinny: Get that from someone else.

My advice to Claire: Learn to adapt to the styles of others.

Claire’s communication style is that of the Director: Straightforward, unequivocal and right to the point. The Director’s “get-er-done” attitude does not naturally recognize the softer needs that some colleagues require. That’s not to say that Claire can’t address those needs. Absolutely she can. It’s just not her default style.

Sharing the problem with Claire in the most straightforward way possible would yield better results for Jinny. That’s not to diminish Jinny’s need to get emotional support from someone around her over-commitment and stress. That’s real and she needs to get support from someone who can freely give it. Once she gets that emotional support from someone else, Jinny could have a productive, problem-solving conversation with Claire that would, indeed, “cut straight to the heart of the matter.”

The next time you are working with someone who is the “Director” style, use the following steps to reverse engineer your communication and adapt to their preferences.

(If you’re not sure, consult this high-level diagram of communication styles and associated characteristics.


Reverse Engineer: Communicating with a Director

1. Prepare in advance. Directors are straight to the point and expect you to do the same. Don’t attempt to sort out something half-baked while in conversation with a Director. They want a clear, crisp issue brought to them. They know how to respond to that.

2. Focus on the issues. Issues and tasks are paramount for Directors. They take significant pride in getting things done and directing the work of others. The emotional side of work may not come naturally to them. If there is way to connect your feelings to a relevant issue, do so and be explicit about it. They may not see what feels obvious to you.

3. Keep up the pace. Directors think quickly and they speak quickly. To get the best results from them, meet them where they are and match their speed as best you can.

4. Avoid small talk. Directors cut right to the point and have little patience for chit chat. As one Director once told me, “When people ask me what I did on the weekend, I usually just say ‘Not much’ to avoid small talk.”


Digest This: Communicating with Directors

Two-Thirds of Managers Are Uncomfortable Communicating with Employees (Harvard Business Review)
If you’ve ever felt you were alone in thinking that it is difficult to give direct feedback to someone who might take it personally, this article will make it perfectly clear that you are NOT alone in feeling that way. Despite our discomfort, it’s important to give feedback early and often and the author give tips on how to do just that.

10 Communication Secrets of Exceptional Leaders (Forbes)
A quick review of these ten items will demonstrate the importance of knowing what your strengths and idiosyncrasies are and how to best adapt your communication to meet the needs of your audience.

3 Steps to Radically Improve Your Communication Style (Inc.)
Ready to develop your style and hone it to have the impact you most want to have? Review the author’s three steps for having your message, supported by your communication style, land every time.


My Treat

Difficult Discussions in 9 minutes flat

Recently, I was in the line-up at a speaker’s showcase – a day-long event in where a small group of speakers “showcase” a few minutes of their best material for an audience of meeting planners and event organizers.

Let my 9 minutes on difficult discussions help you find the courage to say what needs to be said.


In the May and June issues of Transforming Talk, we will dive into the other two communication styles. And if you missed the March issue on the Motivator style, you can find it here.

Until next time,

Janel Anderson, PhD
Workplace Communication Expert and CEO of Working Conversations

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