To paraphrase Lewis Carroll, you should say what you mean, and mean what you say. But it’s not always that easy! Too often, we fall into a rabbit hole of miscommunication. What we “mean” is conveyed via our communication styles, and what we hear is often interpreted through an imperfect lense of perception . In this particular situation, it led to two people speaking the same language in drastically different ways. Could they learn to adjust to different communication styles and arrive at mutual understanding?
Communication is one of the most vital skills in any workplace, and it was completely toxic between these two people, who worked in parallel positions:
- Casey* is soft-spoken and averse to confrontation.
- Jamie* is louder and assertive.
*Names have been changed from the original situation.
Each person misinterprets the other’s intention because their preferred communication styles are, in many ways, diametrically opposed. Casey, the soft-spoken individual, perceives Jamie as confrontational, harassing, rude, and aggressive. On the other hand, the assertive Jamie sees Casey’s communications as patronizing and scolding – even paternalistic.
The continual misunderstanding and miscommunication leads to conflict and prevents them from working together effectively and open hostility by Jamie.
Casey and Jamie agree to try mediation. As the conversation progresses, the quieter Casey finally starts to get angry and more assertive. The mediator notices the raised voice, shaper tones, hand gestures, body language, posture, and that Casey was facing – and confronting – Jamie. He takes the opportunity to point out: “This is how Jamie likes to be spoken to..”
Casey is shocked and asks the more assertive co-worker if that is really the case. This opens a conversation, one they had never had – or thought to have – about communication styles. It breaks down the barriers they had been experiencing by changing their perceptions of the other and of themselves.
How could they turn one conversation into a game-changer in the workplace? They develop an agreement about how communications will be handled, reducing the risk of conflict and further misunderstandings. The soft-spoken Casey and the assertive Jamie are able to compromise easily now because they understand each other’s perspective and true intentions.
Poor communication is the low-hanging fruit of conflict in most workplaces, and, in fact, in any relationship. If there is conflict or frequent misunderstandings, strengthening these skills is often the key to resolution. A third-party mediator can facilitate the conversation – and help people adjust to different communication styles so they can continue it on their own.