Dealing with Different Communication Styles

Different communication styles exist throughout the workplace and in various organizations. Communication style complexities are created by how we were raised, including our cultures and the level of socialization we received as children. Communication is key to working with people. To have a successful organization, it is important that individuals know how to communicate with one another in various styles and at various levels.

Effective Workplace Communication


Effective workplace communication begins with listening. Listening is the best way for people to determine which issues are important, what problems may exist, and how an individual's leadership skills can assist people. People often do not understand how to listen effectively. Listening requires effort, and many people simply are not willing to put out the amount of effort that is desired to have effective workplace communication. When this occurs, a variety of issues develop.
Listening Styles

There are a variety of different listening styles, and each person listens differently. Each culture also has a different style of listening, and people of different backgrounds listen differently to others because of this. In the United States, one of the major differences in listening styles is found between men and women.

A masculine style of listening is one that tends to be analytical and problem-solving. When men listen, they tend to interrupt and offer advice. However, when they do that, women see them as not listening to them completely.

Most women listen enthusiastically and show support for the speaker. Women agree by nodding their heads and listening to the entire situation before offering advice. Women also tend to use listening as a way to network with others.

Identifying Communication Challenges

There are several obstacles to effective communication and listening. To become a good listener, you have to understand these obstacles:

· Allowing your attitude about the person speaking to influence what you hear. This is often true when you are being affected by that person's background and you tend to anticipate what they are going to say, allowing yourself to make judgments before they are finished speaking.

· Letting your beliefs and attitude toward a topic interfere with what you hear.

· Getting emotionally upset over what is being said and allowing your feelings to affect what you hear negatively.

· Hearing what you expect to hear rather than listening to what is actually being said.

· Listening for literal meanings rather than hidden or underlying meanings.

· Focusing on the delivery and nonverbal communication of the speaker.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Diversity Training course?

· Listening only for facts. This can be dangerous because different cultures may analyze facts differently from you.

· Being so concerned about yourself that you miss what the person is saying.

· Letting the speaker do the work instead of actively listening.

This brings us to active listening. Active listening is a tool that helps you become a better listener, while at the same time understanding what others are saying. It means listening to understand the other person's thoughts and feelings. This means you should listen so that you can paraphrase and repeat what that person has just said, which requires you to listen without interruptions or comments.

Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal communication is everything that is between the words that a person speaks. These messages work hand in hand with the verbal messages to create or add to the meaning of what that person is saying. They also can create a meaning, which we then interpret into words.

Nonverbal messages can accent what words mean. They also can complement words by adding clarity or reinforcing a point. In some instances, the words we say contradict our nonverbal communication as well. Nonverbal messages also may act a substitute for words, such as a nod for yes or a smile of appreciation.

At the same time, nonverbal communication can create barriers because we can have unintentional or intentional meanings in our actions. Nonverbal messages are often misinterpreted by people of different cultures. For instance, in Thailand, you should never point your toes at the person you are sitting across from, as this is seen as an insult whether or not you mean it as one.

Many nonverbal communication messages are universal. For instance, a shrug of the shoulders means the same thing in practically every culture. However, some nonverbal messages are culture-specific. There are a wide variety of these and it is not possible to explain them all, but it goes back to not pointing your toes at someone in Thailand. These types of nonverbal messages exist all over the world.

Body Language

Body language is the best-known type of nonverbal communication. Your posture communicates your attentiveness. In Japan, a businessperson's bow has a very specific meaning in that culture. Body language can create barriers. For instance, an American finds it acceptable to stand with hands on hips, but Asian cultures find this to be an attempt at intimidation. Gestures and facial expressions all play similar roles in communicating with other cultures as well.

Touch is a person's first sensation and our first type of communication in life. Touch influences the way we grow up in our homes as well as how we are seen in the workplace. For instance, a firm business handshake in the United States shows that you are confident and have a sense of power. Women may even hug in the business community, which indicates they are warm and accepting. However, Scandinavians often are seen as cold to our culture because they rarely touch in a business setting; they simply do not touch each other in public. On the other hand, Southern European cultures tend to touch people frequently, which may come off as odd in the American workplace.

Smell is also a form of communication, though many do not realize it. Whether it is perfume or aftershave put on to create attraction, smell is a method that we communicate with, often unknowingly. In southern Asia, incense is burned to create a spiritual effect.

Everything we do in our lives communicates something about us and to the people we interact with. Whether it is the car we drive or the clothes we wear, we are communicating something about ourselves personally. Dressing for success, for instance, is a universal concept. However, in Japan, wearing expensive blazers or slacks may be considered bad form, while unmatched business attire is seen as too casual. In the U.S., we have become very casual in the workplace, but this actually shocks many international business people because they find it difficult to conduct business in such a casual setting.

Use of Space

We all understand the concept of a "personal bubble," but this is something that not all cultures utilize in their nonverbal communication. Many northern Europeans shy away from closeness, as do many Americans in a workplace setting. However, in Africa, the culture tends to hold conversations while practically touching the other person. Understanding a person's sense of space is important in preventing workplace issues.
Use of Time

Use of time is culturally based. Americans often feel as though they have to be doing something all of the time, hence multitasking. We also have the feeling that "time is money," and we find it rude when others are late. However, time is more elastic and relative in other cultures, and time spent on enjoyment and family is much more important to them.

Paralanguage is everything in between. It is the pauses between sentences, the pitch of your voice, as well as the rate of speed at which you talk. Monotone speaking tends to indicate disinterest, when that may not be the person's intent. Individuals who speak softly tend to feel overlooked in the United States, but that is simply how they speak. We put a lot of emphasis on how a person speaks and uses words.
Evaluations and Feedback

In order to ensure communication in the workplace, it is important for upper management to regularly evaluate employees and provide feedback. This is also an opportunity for employees to express any feelings they may have in regard to any diversity issues in the workplace. Evaluations and feedback provide the communication and attention that many employees believe they need to be successful in the workplace.

Immediate feedback helps a team move ahead and keeps them moving in the right direction. People must understand what they are doing and how they have been working together. When a team performs an evaluation, there should be no surprises, and the leader should inspire and encourage team members to give each other feedback.

Team members must learn to receive feedback. To do this, they need to be able to actively listen first. Once the feedback is heard, they can interpret it and gain a better perspective on the feedback they have received. Team members who are open to constructive criticism are able to find the best ways to work together in the future.

Feedback loops are also important in a team setting. These allow the team to discuss issues they deem pertinent, and it allows them to perform peer evaluations on each other. Feedback loops keep all members involved in communicating with one another. Regular team evaluations are an important aspect of keeping the team effective. A team leader is responsible for facilitating the group and ensuring constant improvement. Leaders should ask the following questions when evaluating their team:

· Are the team's values and norms still in place?

· Does the team's mission need to be redefined?

· Is the team fulfilling its mission?

The team and the team leader should review their recent outcomes and then determine why or why not they have been successful.