Whereas pace of work, level of formality, and leadership style are easier to recognize and adapt to, communication preferences are tougher to figure out. And, it's a big issue.
According to a Holmes (a voice of the global PR industry) report, the cost of poor communication has hit an overwhelming $37 billion. Also, 400 surveyed corporations (with 100,000 plus employees in the U.S. and U.K.) estimated that communication barriers cost the average organization $62.4 million per year in lost productivity.
On the flip side, this same report found that companies with leaders who possess effective communication skills produced a 47 percent higher return to shareholders over a five-year period.
No matter how you slice it, effective communication is key to team and organizational success.
I witnessed the impact of poor communication and the friction it can cause first hand. To make a long story short, let's just say that a former manager and I had different work-styles. I fit into the extrovert category, and they fit the stereotypical definition of an introvert.
However, work-style differences are much more complicated than the simple contrast between outgoing and introspective demeanors. Work preferences are driven by underlying desires and hidden motives that manifest themselves into surface level behavioral tendencies. If you don't look beyond the superficial to understand the person's needs, then you could make wrongful, unfounded assumptions.
For example, as a result of their more introverted style, I assumed that my manager didn't value my opinion, think I was a valuable member of the team, or trust me. In reality, they just needed room for introspection, time to trust and delegate, and preferred to work independently.
On the flip side, my manager interpreted my more extroverted style as needy, high maintenance, and superficial. Really, I just needed opportunities to connect with others, a chance to influence, and collaboration.
It seems minuscule, but in reality, work-style differences can cause big disconnects.
Luckily, we had access to a work-style diagnostic tool called the Predictive Index (PI). To summarize, the PI helped us understand that the breakdowns in communication weren't intentional. I was just being me, and they were just being them. Through exploration of each other's work-style and some self-reflection, we learned how to communicate effectively.
Here are a couple of quick thoughts to help extroverts and introverts adjust their styles and bridge the communication gap.
Speak the other person's language.
There's a time and a place to discuss your "weekend." For introverts, it's not while at work. Starting a conversation with small talk could drive an introspective employee to tune you out.
Instead, extroverts should focus on getting down to business, minimizing the "fluff," and staying on task. Stress facts and pros vs. cons. Show that you've considered the logic and made decisions rationally. Generally speaking, introverts are more task focused and will appreciate an approach that is more formal and brief. They'll want to know how the information impacts them directly and the specific details of next steps.
However, some small talk is important. For extroverts, being relatable is a critical component to building trust. When communicating with an extrovert, introverts should stress collaboration, not be afraid to use informal language, and encourage extroverted employees to voice their thoughts and feelings. Also, you should focus on the positive implications of information and the future opportunities that they will bring. Extroverts appreciate an enthusiastic/optimistic style of expression.
Choose the right vehicle for communication.
If you pay attention, then you'll be able to figure out your employee's or your manager's preferred communication vehicle. If they're introverted, you may see calls go to voicemail with an email follow up, the office door shut, or signs of annoyance when you pop by their desk unannounced.
Introverted employees tend to prefer more structured and formal forms of communication, i.e., emails. Emails are brief, details can be easily found, and most of all, it allows them to stay on task. When writing an email to an introvert, provide details, present information logically, and stick to the facts. Follow the same rules if you're planning a call or meeting.
For extroverts, you'll see random office "drive-bys," meeting requests without agendas, and unplanned phone calls.
Extroverts tend to prefer more informal forms of communication where they can think conceptually and bounce ideas off of others. As a fellow extrovert, I love quick meetings, coffee chats, FaceTime calls, and (if I have to type) text messages.
Most communication breakdowns are a result of work-style differences. Learn to understand and appreciate other's preferences, and you'll make significant strides in boosting productivity and reducing the cost of poor communication.