Become a Better Communicator by Breaking the Golden Rule

by Shana Montesol Johnson

We all know the Golden Rule – “do unto others as you would have done unto you.”  Isn’t this a surefire way to build strong relationships and ensure effective communication?  In a word: No.

If we want to become better communicators and strengthen our relationships with others, we’d be better off adhering to a different rule – “Do unto others as they would have done unto them.”

We all have different personalities, temperaments, and preferred styles of communicating. If I assume that everyone else wants to receive information in exactly the same way I do, I may very well bore, exhaust, frustrate, intimidate and/or confuse a good portion of the people with whom I attempt to communicate.  This is because most of the people I interact with are not just like me.

People who work in aid and development, and other international fields, know this well.  They do not insist on speaking exclusively in their own native tongue (how they would “have others do unto them”).  Rather, they learn some of the language of the people with whom they are trying to communicate.  While they may never become fluent, knowledge of at least a few key phrases in their counterparts’ language makes communication – and building rapport – that much more effective.

We all speak different “languages” when it comes to our communication style. Some people want to hear the bottom line first, and get impatient with the details or small talk.  Others would be offended if you walked into their office on a Monday morning and began discussing the status of a project without first asking about their weekend.  Some people respond best to a fast pace of speech, while others are overwhelmed by it.

If we want to have great communication with the people we work and live with, we need to figure out what “language” they speak.  We can then learn a few key phrases in “language,” and communicate with them in a way they will understand, feel comfortable with, and respond positively to.  But how do we figure that out?

One model that has been useful to me in figuring this out is based on the research of the psychologist William Marston.  It suggests that people fall into one of four preferred communication styles:

  • Direct – decisive, competitive, speaks quickly and directly, may be argumentative
  • Spirited – “people” persons, enthusiastic, persuasive, may be prone to exaggerate
  • Systematic – detail-oriented, precise, good at problem-solving, may be impersonal
  • Considerate – good listener, values relationships, good team player, may be conflict-averse

You may recognize your boss, colleagues, friends, or spouse in one of these categories.  If so, great – this insight can help you to communicate more effectively with him or her.

Each communication style has advantages and disadvantages.  There is no right or wrong style, or morally superior or inferior one.

This blog post is the first in a 3-part series that will take a closer look at each communication style – its strengths, its down-sides, how to recognize someone with this preferred style, and tips on how to communicate effectively with them.  Today’s post explores the Direct communication style.  The next two blog posts will focus on the remaining styles.

Direct Communication Style

Strengths: People who prefer a direct communication style are take-charge types who like to be in control – natural leaders.  They are direct communicators, telling it like it is without mincing words.  They are highly conscious of time, mission-oriented, and want to achieve results quickly.  They embrace change as a challenge.  They are decisive and willing to confront issues head-on.

Disadvantages: They may come across as intimidating, insensitive, or even rude. They may be impatient, argumentative, and unconcerned with others’ feelings.  They are typically not good listeners and may have workaholic tendencies.

Clues to a Direct Communication Style: When they talk, they get straight to the point without spending time on chit-chat.  They tend to tell as opposed to ask, and talk more than they listen.  They speak at a rapid pace and have a firm handshake.

Tips for Better Communication: If your preferred communication style is not the direct style, you may want to keep the following tips in mind when interacting with someone whose preferred style is direct.

  • Keep your communication brief and get to the point quickly
  • Focus on facts rather than feelings
  • Match their rapid speech by speeding yours up if necessary
  • Ask questions directly
  • Don’t waste their time with long explanations, too many details, or tangents

If you have had successful interactions with some people in your life who have a direct communication style, what tips would you share that have worked for you?  If you yourself identify with the direct style, what advice would you give others so that they may “do unto you” as you would prefer?  Please share in the Comments section below.  And stay tuned for next week’s post on understanding the Systematic communication style.

Photo by chickspirit

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