There’s no doubt that our ability to communicate well is a key factor in our ability to lead well. In fact, it’s the first growth lane we address in C.L.E.A.R. by Maxwell Leadership®—our digital, interactive guide for developing your personal growth and leadership skills. But poor communication is still one of the top complaints people cite for the core issues they experience—not just in their workplace, but also in their personal lives. Improving our effective communication skills is often a daunting task, especially if we don’t feel like communicating well is a skill we naturally possess.
Fortunately, there are lots of resources out there to help us, and we’re sharing one of those below, as well as shedding some light on the cost of poor communication in both our professional development as leaders and in our personal lives.
Your communication style has a major impact—positive or negative—on your ability to be heard and make a difference in the lives of others.
We’ve all experienced the results of ineffective communication styles, but sometimes it’s hard to quantify or—ironically—put into words. Before we get into a discussion on different styles and how to best interact with them, let’s take a look at some of the consequences of not prioritizing our communication abilities as part of our leadership development and personal growth journeys.
THE COST OF POOR COMMUNICATION
In a survey of 400 companies with 100,000 employees, each company reported an average annual loss of $62.4 million due to “inadequate communication to and between employees.” In another study, smaller companies with an average of 100 employees cited that miscommunication and the time taken to clarify communication cost them an average of $420,000 per year. (Source) That’s a lot of money. But a failure to communicate effectively affects more than just the bottom line. For leaders, it impacts foundational elements in their leadership development and capabilities, like trust, confidence, and an ability to inspire people to execute on a shared vision.
While poor communication in our personal lives and relationships might be harder to tie directly to a monetary cost, we can all point to areas in our lives that have suffered due to poor communication—from minor misunderstandings to broken relationships. The bottom line here is that communication is an area we can’t afford to neglect in our personal growth. So where do we begin?
UNDERSTANDING YOUR COMMUNICATION STYLE
Any quick online search will produce a variety of resources and philosophies around personality and communication styles. At Maxwell Leadership, one of the resources we use is The Maxwell DISC Method, based on the DiSC profile. If you’re not familiar with DiSC, it is a personality assessment focused on workplace interactions that categorizes individuals into one of four categories labeled with colors: Green, Red, Blue, and Yellow.
- Green represents Dominance (D). People with D personalities tend to be confident and place an emphasis on accomplishing results.
- Red represents Influence (I). People with I personalities tend to be more open and place an emphasis on relationships and influencing or persuading others.
- Blue represents Steadiness (S). People with S personalities tend to be dependable and place the emphasis on cooperation and sincerity.
- Yellow represents Conscientiousness (C). People with C personalities tend to place the emphasis on quality, accuracy, expertise, and competency.
The idea behind The Maxwell DISC Method is not to place people in stereotypical buckets, but rather create a common language on your team. By better understanding yourself and your primary communication style, you can better adapt your behavior to connect with others more effectively. It can also help you improve your relationships and be a better leader by recognizing the communication needs of others and understanding their priorities.
APPLYING DISC TO YOUR COMMUNICATION
Even if you don’t know your DISC profile, you can probably get a good idea of what your primary style is based on the descriptions above and below. We’ve outlined some practical tips on what you should do (and avoid) to ensure that your communication is working for you and not against you based on how your style best interacts with others.*
If you have a D personality, you are more out-going, task-focused, and want those you work with to have an immediate result, so they are aligned more closely with you. You’re great at motivating and being decisive, but you have to be careful not to intimidate or overpower others. When communicating with…
- Other D Personalities: Demonstrate that you understand their expertise and authority and communicate with mutual respect to minimize conflict – you’ll get great results!
- I Personalities: Lighten up, make your interactions enjoyable, and be ready to allow more flexibility when discussing goals, commitments, etc.
- S Personalities: Take a more relaxed approach and avoid being confrontational. Recognize their contributions and use a conversational, friendly tone.
- C Personalities: Provide facts and details and expect questions without assuming they are challenging you. Allow them time to process thoughts before responding.
If you have an I personality, you are more outgoing, people-focused, and have a natural ability to relate. You’re great at initiating relationships and inspiring people to action, but you have to make sure you don’t get distracted, forget about the details, or drop the ball on follow-through. When communicating with…
- D Personalities: Be straightforward and get to the point quickly. Avoid over-promising and make sure you’re following through on your commitments.
- Other I Personalities: Be your friendly self and acknowledge each other’s accomplishments. Be sure to listen and follow up on the details.
- S Personalities: Be easygoing, friendly, and show appreciation for them as a person. Respect their strengths of organization and systems and allow them time to plan.
- C Personalities: In a conversation, stay on topic and pause to give them time to provide a reflective answer or make a decision. Be prepared with accurate facts. Expect questions and get back to them with answers when necessary.
If you have an S personality, you are more reserved, people-focused, and a skilled mediator. You’re great at making people feel comfortable, listening, and finding middle ground, but you have to be careful to not take things personally or withdraw when faced with change or conflict. When communicating with…
- D Personalities: Be more straightforward and assertive than you want to be. Focus on facts more than feelings and use your natural ability to systematize to deliver results.
- I Personalities: Be friendly and complimentary and listen to their ideas. Recognize their accomplishments and share in their excitement.
- Other S Personalities: Foster the mutual trust, appreciation, and collaborative approach you both enjoy, especially when planning systems and technology to create efficiencies.
- C Personalities: Approach conversations with logic so your feelings don’t get hurt. Communicate on one topic at a time and be prepared with facts. Expect them to ask questions so they can gather more information and provide them time to evaluate data before deciding.
If you have a C personality, you are more reserved, task-focused, and creative. You’re great at creating order and analytical problem-solving, but you have to make sure your perfectionist tendencies don’t prevent you from executing, focusing on progress, and being flexible. When communicating with…
- D Personalities: Be direct and brief, focusing on results. Communicate in bullet points and respect their need to work fast while ensuring the work is done right.
- I Personalities: Interact in a friendly and complementary way. Start conversations with a personal topic before getting down to business and keep discussions short and focused. It’s better to have four 10-minute discussions on four different topics than one 40-minute discussion on all four topics.
- S Personalities: Focus on relationship and appreciation first, then tasks second. It’s important to establish a relationship before expecting trust. Allow their people focus to complement your task focus to create balance within the team.
- Other C Personalities: Enjoy trading facts and gathering additional information. Appreciate and ask for their input and collaborate to solve challenging problems that require analysis. You may need to practice agreeing to disagree in some areas where you each have valid arguments.
Improving how we communicate isn’t always easy. But if we know what our style is and how to adapt it and our message to the style of others, we’ll not only be more likely to get the results we want, but we’ll also make others feel heard and valued. And when people feel valued and heard, you have the foundation for healthy, productive interactions that lead to powerful, positive change.
*Summaries adapted from The Maxwell DISC Method.
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