You've spent hours, days, and weeks making sure that you have all of the data, facts and statistics exactly right for your big presentation to the boss, and two minutes into your remarks, she says, "Let's skip to the end. What's the bottom line here?"

You're in a meeting where your colleague is animatedly sharing his bold new approach for winning more business from clients, and you notice that one of your colleagues seems to be stone-faced. You're not sure what's bothering him, but something is.

Your cubicle-mate asks, "How was your weekend?" on Monday mornings, and doesn't demonstrate any additional interest in you personally beyond that.

Relate to any of the these situations?

Every single one of us has our own pace (fast, moderate, or slow) and priority (focus on people, feelings and relationships, or focused on tasks and outcomes), and there are multiple combinations of how those show up in the people we work with. In order to be a more effective communicator, we need to recognize our own inclinations, and the preferences of others. Furthermore, we need a wide range of styles on our teams in order to get the work done well.

But for now, let's make it simple so you can get started on adapting your communication style, including content and delivery, to the needs of your audience. And you do this by asking yourself this question:

Is your listener a "What", a "Who", a "How" or a "Why"?

What

Your listener may be a "what" if:

  • They are focused on what needs to get done, and getting immediate results.
  • They tend to make quick decisions, and want others to do the same.
  • They are direct, get to the point quickly, and want you to as well.

If that's the case, make sure that your communications and presentations start with the main takeaway and what results you can expect in the short-term, and then back it up with the details, but not too many. 

Who

Your listener may be a "who" if:

  • They are focused on who is around the table, and how to generate enthusiasm.
  • They tend to be talkative, sociable, persuasive and friendly.
  • They are more big-picture than detail focused.

If that's the case, make sure that your communications and presentations are personable, friendly, engaging, and share the big picture before delving into the details.

How

Your listener may be a "how" if: 

  • They are focused on how decisions get made, and how other people feel about those decisions 
  • They prefer stable, harmonious work environments with minimal conflict, and are known for their cooperative spirit.
  • They perform in a consistent, predictable manner, and prefer maintenance of the status quo.

If this is the case, make sure that your communications and presentations include opportunities for your listener to safely express any concerns about how the process is going or will go, and reinforce key messages about your proposal being good for the team and the work environment. Also make sure to address what won't change, and where the status quo can be maintained.

Why

Your listener may be a why if:

  • They are focused on why actions are taken and decisions are made, and on taking the time needed to do things the right way.
  • They are detail-oriented, precise, and analytical, and value quality and accuracy.
  • They are reserved, diplomatic, and manage conflict indirectly or with subtlety.

If that's the case, make sure that your communications and presentations are detailed, accurate, measured, and clearly make an evidence-based case for why this approach is the right one.

And what if your audience is a mixed bunch of whats, whos, hows and whys? Then focus first on the preferences of your key decision maker, and then make sure you have a variety of approaches in the rest of your presentation. Yes, that will be a lot of work and, when you get the final "great job!" or signoff on your proposal, it will be worth it.