I've been thinking a lot about communication lately. Perhaps it's because whenever I'm called to "solve" a business problem, it all really boils down to communication. These types of problems usually involve a person, or a group of people, who are working really hard to do a good job, but aren't feeling the love from the powers that be, whether that's a boss, another department, or their target audience. 9 times out of 10, it's not because their ideas are bad, it's because they don't know how to communicate them effectively.
If someone isn't receiving your information well or not giving you the feedback you require - perhaps you need to change the way you communicate with them.
Let's go back to school for a minute...
Any good teacher will tell you that each student takes in information differently. There are:
1. Visual Learners: those that need to see pictures and graphs to visualize.
2. Auditory Learners: those who need to hear the information.
3. Kinesthetic Learners: those who need to engage in an activity in order to grasp a concept.
These characteristics do not leave us when we graduate from school; they are present in every professional you work with.
So, let's examine some ways we can understand the different ways our co-workers learn, so that we can work with them better.
Approximately 65 percent of the population are visual learners, so it's likely you'll have several in your group. Visual learners are often called spatial learners and, unsurprisingly, learn and remember best through visual communication. This means that using a whiteboard, projecting maps and images, or showing photos of your ideas work best.
Visual learners have a great spacial sense, which makes them good with map reading and blessed with a strong sense of direction. They can easily visualize objects, so putting together a living room table from Ikea is simple for them when presented with a diagram of how the parts fit.
You can spot a visual learner easily as the one who thrives off of meeting room learning with a whiteboard. They may also be doodling on paper or scribbling notes. Visual learners tend to have good dress sense as well, and sometimes just looking at a color-coordinated colleague can give you a few clues into their learning style. Visual learners are often especially creative and get involved in design, photography, architecture, or professions that demand a good sense of orientation and planning.
How do you communicate best with a visual learner? By using visual aids. Don't hand them a 10,000-word whitepaper or lengthy instruction manual. Don't speak at the speed of light and expect them to follow your idea. Instead, use maps, images, pictures, diagrams and mind maps using colors and pictures in place of text, where possible. And remember, a visual learner isn't trying to disobey your orders or blow off your ideas. They may just be having a hard time getting the message to sink in if they fail to respond to words alone.
Around 30 percent of the population is made up of auditory learners, who learn best through hearing. While many of their classmates and coworkers struggle to get through a lengthy lecture, an auditory learner will soak up the information they hear and remember up to 75 percent of it. Be careful if you find yourself in a relationship with a person who learns through hearing, as they'll remember every last detail of your conversation in an argument!
The best way to stimulate learning and communication in an auditory learner is through discussion, group chat and in the lecture hall. Oral presentations and exams help this style of learner, or dication and reciting aloud what they have read or heard. Seeing as auditory learners won't be able to learn through visual means, they must repeat what they see. Remember that table from Ikea? You'd better give it to them with a full set of instructions, or better yet; read them aloud, as presenting them with a diagram won't work as well.
How do you communicate to an auditory learner? Well, simply, by speaking to them. But, if you're in a meeting or conference-type situation, try to vary your tone and pitch to keep your speech fluid and interesting. Also, you may want to emphasize key phrases and write them down if the pronunciation isn't obvious, to ensure they get the right takeaway.
You can spot an auditory learner easily. They'll be the one in your meeting asking a lot of questions! Auditory learners tend to like to discuss what they hear right away. Songs and audio recordings are a great way for them to learn, as is keeping presentations fairly short, since they can be easily distracted by outside noise. Auditory learners will likely be the ones giving you the most encouragement, often verbally expressing their interest and enthusiasm, and surprising you by following out directives without being reminded.
Kinesthetic learners are a complex bunch and make up just 5 percent of the population. They'll be the ones shuffling and fidgeting during your presentation, or antsy in lengthy meeting. People who have a kinesthetic learning style often struggle learning through traditional means and sedentary activities, like lectures and conferences. Their minds simply can't make the connection that they're doing something when listening or observing. They need to get up and get involved in the action for it to sink into their memory.
Beyond the fact that they find it hard to sit still, kinesthetic learners are often high energy folks who are engaged in sports, or those chirpy people around the watercooler in the morning. They're quick to react, so if you get into an emergency, it's good to have a kinesthetic learner around, with sharp reflexes and a penchant for getting involved. Kinesthetic learners love to experiment, so give them hands-on tasks and stimulate their learning that way.
What's the worst way to communicate with a kinesthetic learner? Make them sit through a lengthy presentation. Even if you use visual aids, they'll find it hard to stay engaged. If you want to work well with with the kinesthetic learners in your company, give them a challenge where they can get their hands dirty. If you know you've got a kinesthetic learner who needs to sit through a conference, try to allow for regular intervals. Give them tasks to carry out with teammates, like role playing and group work.
Understanding the different types of learners and making concessions for their learning styles will improve your communication and help prevent frustration or misunderstanding. You may think that a visual learner isn't interested in what you're saying, or that a kinesthetic learner is being rude or disruptive, by not being able to focus. Adjust the way you deliver your speech, structure your employees' workloads differently, or bond in an active group exercise and you'll soon see improved results.