Why Great Leaders Adapt Their Communication Style to Their Audience
Great leaders use communications as a tool to motivate and inspire, gain alignment behind a vision or strategy, persuade others to join them in a new cause, convey critical thoughts and ideas, and to maximize their own impact.
As discussed in 10 Things the Best Leaders Do, great leaders also tailor their communications style (tone, pace, energy) and message based on who they are speaking with and the format and medium of the conversations.
During our Results through Relationships Course, we coach participants to communicate in a style based on the preferences of the person or people with whom they are communicating. Each of us views the world through the lens of our own values, beliefs, and experiences. It is therefore critical to tailor communications to reflect the differences of the people with whom we are communicating; colleagues, direct reports, superiors, strategic partners, customers, and members of our communities in general.
Learning to adapt your communications style to the audience offers a number of benefits:
1. Shows That You Care: Taking the time to adjust the words, the structure, and approach in communicating with individuals and teams shows that you care. That you care enough to pay attention to individual differences in their perspectives, values, experiences, and strengths. That you care enough to deviate from your natural communication style to ensure you are meeting your teammates where they are and matching their own communication preferences. For example, if you know that a specific team member is analytical and methodical, take the time to offer the data that led to your decision and not just focus on the conclusion and the path forward. On the other hand, with staff members who value inclusiveness in decision making, make sure to take time to ask each person for their perspective on the topic at hand. Not to build consensus, but to ensure that each person has a chance to be heard and feels included.
2. Allow You to Practicing Listening: The ability to adjust your style on the fly starts by “active listening” in all forms. Listening to what a person says or doesn't say, how they say it, their body language, and what information they share about their preferences, values, and experiences. Of course, you can short cut the process by implementing an assessment such as the Strengths Deployment Inventory across your team and organization. Either way, listening is critical to learning about their style so that you can adjust yours accordingly. Becoming adept at listening for clues about an individual’s style and preferences will also help you listen more effectively during coaching conversations that will improve your ability to develop your team members.
3. Helps You to Practice Behavioral Agility: Adapting your communication style also provides practice at becoming behaviorally agile. The ability to switch modes between listening, input gathering, coaching, directing, and advising is a skill that is developed over time. Practicing communication agility will start to build the mental muscles needed for becoming nimble in other contexts.
4. Leading by Example is Contagious: As a leader, the spotlight is always on you. Team members observe your actions and behaviors and what you do and say establishes the norms, values, and behaviors for the team and organization. Taking the time to adapt your style to that of your audience will provide a valuable example that will be followed by your team. To help reinforce this to the team, you can include flags in your statements such as “Because I know your preference is to take quick action, I might suggest” or “With our team, I know it’s important to take time to get to know each other, so let’s set aside time to…” Doing so will point out when you are adapting your communications style to the needs of the group so that it can be adopted by others.
5. Maximizes the Impact: Ultimately, the payoff of tailoring your communication style is to maximize the impact of your communications. Communications via phone calls, one-on-one interactions, group meetings, emails, texts, direct messaging, and any other medium used to communicate with your team and organization. Communicating in a style that connects with the other person or people will lower barriers to “hearing” what you have to say, prevent conflict, and improve “deliverability” of your message.
Success as a leader is greatly impacted by the ability to communicate both efficiently and effectively. Start to look for opportunities to adjust your style based on the audience and situation and you will experience break-through conversations with people you previously found difficult. At the same time, you will become aware of how different styles impact you both positively and negatively. Doing so will create greater self-awareness, flag areas that could lead to conflict, and ultimately improve your ability to communicate and elevate as a leader.