Most of us don't intentionally cause conflict at work. After all, we want our day to go smoothly, and we have a vested interest in maintaining a good working relationship with our colleagues. Many of us use several different communication styles depending on who we are talking to and what we are trying to achieve. No one communication style fits every situation, but when we're under stress, we tend to default to one of four common communication styles that we have honed over many years. And that's when we can get ourselves into trouble.
The positive and negative traits of four common communication archetypes.
By increasing your awareness of these four common communication archetypes, you will be in a better position to see when you or someone on your team has fallen back on an old familiar favorite and is no longer consciously choosing how they communicate. By identifying the pattern in yourself and others, you will navigate the conversation more effectively and reduce or mitigate any conflict that arises. Here are four communication archetypes that lead to conflict in the workplace:
People who fit the authority archetype are often driven and goal-oriented. They are used to taking charge of a situation and forcing their opinions on others. They are not always aware that their authoritative style keeps other people from speaking up, nor do they realize that they don't always listen -- to their team, their colleagues, or their clients. Forceful communicators are usually extremely productive, but they may come across as threatening to or dismissive of their colleagues. If you have a forceful communication style, it's important that you understand that your team may be hesitant to speak up and share their ideas or point out a potential problem because they fear your reaction. If that's the case, try to listen to others to understand what they are saying instead of creating an action plan in your head before they finish talking. Shift your focus to listening rather than doing.
Those who fit the reactionary archetype are strongly committed to their work and tend to be quick decision makers. They are passionate and opinionated but frequently get angry or upset with little provocation. Reactionaries usually half-listen and react before they fully understand a situation. This behavior can be frustrating for their team, colleagues, and clients. Unfortunately, reactionaries are not always aware that their style creates unnecessary drama and makes others feel like they have to walk on eggshells. If you tend to react quickly and strongly, know that you might unintentionally intimidate others or make them nervous about approaching you. Make a conscious effort to slow down and take a breath so you can choose how you respond. Also, try to be more aware of your reactivity and its impact.
The Avoider (a.k.a People-Pleaser).
The people-pleaser archetype encompasses individuals who are very tuned in to other people's emotional states. They are often quite popular and connected to the members of their team, but they are desperately afraid of conflict and thus do everything in their power to avoid it. By avoiding conflict, they can inadvertently turn a small challenge into a huge problem, frustrating their team, colleagues, and clients. If you tend to be an avoider, it's important that you understand that your desire to avoid conflict can lead to a failure to communicate what you, the organization, or your team needs. If a known problem lingers, your failure to address it can be seen as a sign of weakness and an indicator that your team cannot count on you. If your need to avoid conflict is always top of mind, then it's time to step out of the shadows and become a more confident communicator. Think of how much energy and brainpower you waste planning your workaround, pleasing everyone, and avoiding potential and perceived conflicts. Instead, plan for your interactions, even unimportant ones, to slowly build up your confidence.
Like the authority, people who fit the fixer archetype are driven, goal-oriented, and used to taking charge of a situation. Their intention is always to be helpful, but fixers can take away another person's agency and make them feel inept or undermined. They are not always aware that their need to jump in and fix things without being asked to do so can make their team, colleagues, and clients feel like they are not listening. If you are a fixer, it's important to ask if people want your help before you dive in. Also keep in mind that your need to fix things allows you to maintain an external focus, meaning that you pay more attention to others rather than to yourself. Fixers commonly take on too much and experience burnout. Don't let that be you. Listen more, especially to yourself, and fix less.
Do any of these archetypes align with your way of communicating? Think about how others respond to you, especially when your team is working under a tight deadline. What does that tell you about your communication style? How about the people you work with? Do any of these seem familiar? Which patterns stand out to you?
Notice that each of these communication styles can be appropriate in certain circumstances. They become harmful when the style no longer matches the circumstances. When we turn away from the other person in an interaction, we stop thinking about their needs and perspective on the problem at hand. Instead, we focus on our own agenda, discomfort, and desire to avoid or resolve the problem. While our intentions may be good, this shift in focus harms our relationship with the other person and starts to erode the trust between us.
Take some time to reflect on your communication style. The more you bring your attention and awareness to this issue, the more you will be able to respond in a way that is more appropriate for the situation at hand and help your team do the same.
It takes time to change a deeply ingrained pattern of communication. But if you are committed to doing so, it can happen.