The ultimate communicator

is someone who is versatile

After a random run-in by the daycare stairwell, I realized that the best investment I’ve made in my life is in communication.  I got better at work. I was able to get through any administrative burden pain-free. I could even manage my toddler’s tantrum without having my own.

I stumbled through self-help books, hard-core academic research, internet scrolling, and coaching in order to improve my communication skills. But it was only by practicing with my patients - and receiving feedback - that I began to experience real growth.

Shortly before taking this leap forward, I couldn’t even identify the problem. If I am doing a good job, wouldn’t that be enough? I paid a lot for that shortsightedness. What I said was not understood effectively enough to matter. And what I executed well was not done persuasively enough to matter.

Feeling more ineffective at work bled into my home life. I was unable to manage the kids or my relationships optimally. Work and life were no longer offsetting each other, but becoming a painful spiraling loop.

Just like discovering the newfound ability to stay up all night with a sick child and still go to work the next day, I adapted.

So what did I do differently? I adopted the tactics of salespeople, for whom communication is table stakes. Sure, I’m no salesperson or communication expert, but I could still use the following principles to transform nearly every aspect of my life:

Style

The first thing to consider in any interaction: style.

Even though I’m not trained to make sales,I still interact with a lot of people on a daily basis. What I have repeatedly experienced is that people have widely different, absurd communication styles.

Style is a function of tone and body language. When someone is in front of me, I might barely be able to process her words. But that’s okay because I am more interested in how she leans towards me, the volume of her voice, and the collision of our gazes.

Focus

After I have a sense of the style, I look for the speaker’s focus, not the actual content of their speech. Rather, I ask: what are the attributes of what they are saying?

Are they being concise and logical? Are they guilty of being vague? Are they somewhat informal?

Communicator types

There are different archetypes of communicators. Being able to recognize which category your intended audience falls under is one approach. There’s no limit on the archetypes out there.  The Harvard Business Review divides communicators into four archetypes: pioneers, integrators, drivers, and guardians:


There are several other frameworks - some more nuanced than others - that have a similar concept. They essentially divide communicators into archetypes with different styles and focus. I personally like Merill & Reid’s matrix, which can be seen below:



While it is reductive to label people, I think there are certain communication tendencies that the majority of people adopt in certain contexts. In healthcare, I think about how people approach their suffering. Sometimes a patient presents me with a lot of data, and I understand her to be an analytical communicator. Other times, she is having a hard time explaining her symptoms concretely, and I assume she can better be placed on the amiable spectrum.


Who is the best communicator?


The best communicator is the one who is versatile.


Versatility here means something more specific than just learning how to adapt. It is another dimension of operating. One where you are cognizant of how the other person’s communication pattern fits with your own in the setting of an obstacle.

I try to match my patient’s volume as much as possible. There is some correlation of voice to the archetype. An amiable person may come off quieter. An expressive person might have an animated, loud tone (like the mother I bumped into at the daycare dropoff while sick and unable to handle anymore stimuli).

Being versatile is about being more productive. I like the example of a global air fleet company and how they subjected their employees to hard-core communications training. They reported productivity gains of 56%.

I run into another daycare parent and am really excited to see her. We realize that we are both drivers who are constantly learning how to tone it down with our children.


A different take?

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