Challenge our perceptions
Of course, we all know that what’s on the inside is crucial to a happy and fulfilling life. Our values, our beliefs, our background, and our feelings all determine how we perceive the world and how we make connections with others. But when it comes to communicating effectively and productively with those around us, the huge mess we have inside, and our assumptions about the inside of others, can act as more of a hindrance than a help. For true interpersonal versatility is it always what’s on the inside that counts?
It is very important, in order to form genuine and deep connections with people, that we look deeper inside a person. However, sometimes our objective is simply to create more productive relationships with our colleagues and clients. This can be particularly difficult with those who are different from ourselves.
Sometimes we need to take a step back and look objectively at their outside – their observable behaviour patterns – because this can tell us an awful lot about how a person likes to communicate and it can help us form strategies for improving the outcome of each interaction.
Identify Communication Style Differences
By observing and listening to these behaviour patterns, we can identify a person’s Communication Style, discover what exactly they need from us, and slightly adapt our own communicative behaviour to meet these concerns and expectations.
This skill of Interpersonal Versatility is the single most important skill for success in our interactions with others and enables us to develop more productive relationships and build more successful teams.
Four Premises of Interpersonal Versatility
These four premises underly interpersonal versatility and highlight the importance of understanding and responding to people’s different communication styles:
1. We are creatures of habit
We have all developed a fixed way of communicating which is comfortable and easy for us. We can do it automatically without much effort or thought and, as it seems to work for us, we stick to it in most situations and with most people.
When we communicate in a way that is different from this it can feel uncomfortable, difficult, or strange.
The problem with habits, as we all know, is that we get stuck in them, they are hard to change, and they may not be appropriate for the situation or the person we are interacting with.
2. Nobody is the same
Each of us is different in many ways but for productive communication it helps to focus only on the differences in our communication habits. Our own ‘comfortable’ way of behaving and communicating is only about 25% likely to be the same as that of the person we’re interacting with.
3. We judge others
The judgements we make about others can be either positive or negative depending on whether the person’s interpersonal behaviour fits with our own ideas and expectations of ‘good communication’. We naturally perceive our own behaviour positively and use this as a benchmark to measure others around us.
However, we tend to make these judgements very quickly and are, not surprisingly, often wrong. As Stephen Covey said, “we judge ourselves by our intentions … and others by their actions”. Our judgements about people affect how we behave towards them. If our behaviour is based on false assumptions, this can lead to disastrous consequences.
We judge ourselves by our intentions … and others by their actions
Without making inferences, we can only really know a limited number of things about a person that are objective and can be measured:
- facial expression
- body language
Everything else – thoughts, feelings, ideas, opinions, background, beliefs, personality, character, and values – is all on the inside. To discuss these characteristics, we usually have to make guesses, judgements, and inferences.
4. Focusing only on behaviour helps us avoid assumptions
Prolific judging is entrenched in our workplaces and is often a cause of tension and miscommunication. We see the world through our own eyes and we regularly think we know what is happening underneath the surface of others. We interpret their behaviour to mean the same as it would if we were behaving in that way and so we respond accordingly.
We may judge someone as being unfriendly and cold because they are speaking loudly and directly to us with no apparent concern for our feelings, because when we are angry, this is how we behave.
However, this may simply be the way they prefer to communicate when focused on a particular task. They are not angry with us at all. When we respond by retreating, getting defensive, attacking, or staying out of their way, it could be the opposite of what they actually expect or need from us.
If we can force ourselves to stop making inferences about what other people’s behaviour means and start only observing and listening to their actual collection of behaviours on the ‘outside’, we will be able to start paying attention and responding to their interpersonal concerns and expectations to create highly productive relationships, no matter the differences in communication styles or personalities.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Louise Francis is our programme manager and a facilitator at Growing Organisations.
For more information on how you can develop interpersonal versatility in your company to create cohesive and highly productive teams, contact the Growing Organisations team.