Advancing Your Career Through Communication Styles

How “Flexing your Style” Helps You Become a Leader in Your Organization

Meet people where they are.”  That one phrase, that one small piece of advice, speaks volumes for people who want to become leaders in their organization.

Let’s break that down a little bit.  The phrase “meet people where they are,” might seem to be a bit vague at first glance, but with a closer look you can see that it is getting at a fundamental principle of successful relationships.  Simply put, we do not have control over how another person thinks or acts.  We do, however, have control over how we act towards another individual.

Accordingly, if you wish to communicate with influence – whether it is in the courtroom or the boardroom – you cannot just tell others how to behave, or what is right and wrong.  That is not the stuff of good leadership.  Rather, you need to influence others by shifting, or “flexing,” your behavior towards the style of the person with whom you are communicating.  That is what is meant by “meeting people where they are.”

So, how do you do that?  You begin by first understanding the various types of communication styles there are in the workplace.  As you know, there are some professionals who like to work by themselves, some who thrive on interacting in a group setting, some who like to know all the facts before making a decision, and others who like to make decisions based on intuition.  We have all seen those different types of attorneys and employees in our own lives.

Once you have a better understanding of the various communication styles – and which style you fall under – you can then hone the skill of flexing your style to better match, and therefore more effectively interact with, the style of others.  That is the essence of good leadership, and this article will help you down that path.

Step 1:  What Are the Different Communication Styles?

The first step in this journey is identifying the various communication styles.  There are many different lists, tools, and ways in which to describe the various communication styles in the world.  Yet, there is also a great deal of overlap among those different style descriptions.  To frame our discussion, we will use the four categories identified in the fairly popular Personal Interaction Style Profile© from PPS International Limited.  Indeed, if you take PPS’s assessment test, you will find that you fall into one of four categories.

  • Director. Directors are candid, clear, fast paced, and focused on getting the job done.  They often do not put much value on socializing or relationship building at work, but value accomplishing tasks.  Directors appreciate getting results.
  • Expresser. Expressers are open, honest, and as the title suggests, expressive.  They tend to be comfortable speaking their minds, happy to provide information and assistance, and have the ability to persuade people with their enthusiasm.  Expressers tend to be easy to read and need recognition for their efforts.
  • Analyzer. Analyzers emphasize the need for data and information.  The highest value for analyzers is having the proper information to make a decision.  Following step-by-step instructions and procedures, and working with clear parameters is where analyzers are most comfortable.
  • Relater. Relaters are team players.  They focus on relationships and the need for harmony, rather than emphasize data and facts.  They tend to be good listeners and avoid conflict.

By just reading the descriptions above, you may already be getting a sense of which style suits you the best.  That said, you can also take one of the many assessment tools out there to definitively know your communication style.

Also, based on your own work experience, you may already have realized that the adage “opposites attract” is not really true when it comes to communication styles at work.  Rather, those who share the same communication style, like two Expressers, tend to have the easiest time getting along.

Step 2:  Practicing Your Skills in Flexing to Different Communication Styles

Armed with the knowledge of the different communication styles, you now can begin to hone your skills in flexing to different styles.

For example, if you are meeting with a Relater, you would not begin with facts and figures.  Instead, you would ask how he is doing and ask about his family.  You would want to take a little time to listen to him about any concerns before getting right to business.  Then, if you need to communicate a decision to the Relater, you can do so by giving the full background regarding why a certain choice was made, or relate the fact that all opinions were considered before a decision was made.

By contrast, if you are meeting with an Analyzer, you would want to have all of the facts and figures ready to go.  You can feel free to minimize small talk because an Analyzer would rather focus on the data behind a particular decision.

Similarly, communicating with a Director might be most effective if you have a written agenda with a few items to cover.  You would be wise to start on time with a Director, and even give that person an idea of an end time.

Finally, communicating with an Expresser might demand some informality, some humor, and some words of appreciation for the work they do.

As you can see (and as you might have already intuitively learned by managing people in your firm or company), flexing your behavior to more closely match the style of the person with whom you are speaking will result in better connections, and in people being more receptive to your message.

Step 3:  Flex Your Style in Both Formal and Informal Settings

Remember that the goal here is to communicate with influence and in a way that shows your leadership potential.  That means understanding that organizations have both formal and informal communication channels.  While there may not be the proverbial “smoke-filled back rooms” of old where all the decisions were made, it is still true that decisions and company policies sometimes occur based on informal discussions rather than through formal procedures.

That means you should be just as skillful in your informal as well as formal communications.  Also, it means that you should be aware of whether you are privy to informal channels up, down, and around your organization.  If not, then using your power to “flex” to other styles will help you, carefully though subtly, become a part of those informal channels.

In sum, practicing the art of “meeting people where they are” in   the legal profession and organization will become a big advantage for your career and can help pave the way towards leadership positions down the road.  Ultimately, it is possible that “meeting people where they are” means that you eventually might be meeting with people in your own corner office.  Good luck!