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Changing communication style – is it really about changing perception style?

August 17, 2011

When you want to communicate in a better way people might tell you how to straighten your posture, keep good eye contact or pay attention to your tone of voice, but how much of this do you actually implement in your life? The Internet makes it extremely easy for people today to find quick solutions for any problem imaginable. Myriads of useful reminders of how to improve business communication are available via a quick Google search. However, searching for how to improve communication might instantly lead you down the wrong path when you should actually be focusing on changing your perception style.

Needless to say, good communication is central to organizational practice. It’s even central to maintaining healthy relationships. That’s why people love to read “how-to” lists and hire communication experts to guide them, but in the end, a lot of communication ‘guidance’ can make people appear more unnatural and out of touch with themselves. For instance, ‘forcing’ a naturally soft-spoken introvert to speak with huge gestures might be counter-effective.

Lasting changes usually happen through shifts in perception. By “perception” I don’t simply mean listening more. It goes way deeper than that. Communication is not just about the behavior you exhibit – it’s about being in touch with others. That’s something that goes beyond simple body language or how you phrase sentences. Consider these reasons for how perception supports communication:

  • Emotions significantly affect behaviors (incl. verbal behavior). For example, people who think their meetings are an utter waste of time are likely to be passive (-aggressive) or let their negative feelings guide their communication.  People sense and respond to your negative emotional state, even if you don’t utter a word.
  • A sincere interest in others can make you go that extra mile in trying to understand your audience. Communication exists so that we can make others understand what we think, but it takes effort to make a message relevant and meaningful to the receiver. If there is no interest in learning about the other’s way of thinking, your message might not be understood they way you want it understood.
  • Being passionate makes people more influential communicators. This doesn’t happen as a result of being constantly aware of body language or speech style. A positive and more confident body language becomes a natural part of you when you feel good about what you’re doing.
  • Empathy makes people more willing to be open with you. You’re probably not going to tell your boss about a slip-up if you think he wouldn’t understand your reasons for why things went wrong. In fact, why would you even want to confront him with anything if all you will get is the cold shoulder?
  • Challenging your own perspective can help you understand others. You need to take the perspective of the other person in order to understand where he/she is coming from. The less you put yourself in the other’s shoes, the less nuanced is your understanding of the other person – making it harder for you to tailor your message for that person.

So there you go – it’s important to recognize that the people you talk to have icebergs of things inside that drive the way they understand and speak. Instead of focusing on your own abilities to communicate (i.e. by reading yet another ‘how-to’ article on communication style), it could be far more beneficial to also consider why others communicate the way they do. When you start being able to see through people’s e.g. passiveness or non-sympathetic verbal behaviors, you will be in a better position to judge how you can more effectively get through to others. It’s more than just listening – it’s about relating to others. How do you try to get better at communicating?

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Priacta permalink
    October 18, 2011 11:23 pm

    Great Stuff Emily! It is so refreshing to read about communication from the audience’s perspective, speaking in not your style but a style that listener’s understand. Just like it requires interest and aptitude to excel in any field of work, you need skill and interest to do well in putting your point across. Keep Sharing.

    • October 18, 2011 11:34 pm

      Thanks so much for your comment Priacta! Glad you enjoyed the post. By the way, we’ve moved this blog to a new home at See you there!

      • Oxana Wiebe permalink
        June 6, 2013 6:45 pm

        Hi, i’m doing some research on communication and the different styles like non-assertive, directly aggressive or assertive… and i was reading your article on communication which is very interesting. Just wondering what examples would you think off in adjusting communication styles and methods to suit the individual characteristics of of the person you are communicating with?

      • June 6, 2013 7:10 pm

        Hi Oxana,

        Thanks for your comment, and for finding this blog post. Our intention in writing this article was to move beyond thinking about what communication style to use, and instead feeling into what the other person is experiencing and how they are responding to what you say. For too long, we have been approaching communication as a logic-driven or linear activity i.e. if a person displays or says X, then apply Y communication style. This is definitely useful, but only up to a point. Many conversations are not so cut and dried, and usually the most effective way to communicate is to tap into the feelings and emotions behind what a person is saying and find a way to acknowledge what they might be feeling in the moment before you respond. As an extreme example, if a boss is about to fire an employee and wants to be assertive about it, but then notices that the employee is in deep and intense shock from the news, continuing with the assertive style will help the boss get the job done, but it will make matters worse for the employee, and probably leave the employee with a damaging impression of that episode. There is no good way to fire someone, but there are ways of communicating it that make the experience less traumatic and maintain the relationship over the longer term.

        Hope this helps! If you want more information about how to communicate effectively, and be a more influential leader, please join our mailing list at our new website Look forward to seeing you there!


      • Oxana Wiebe permalink
        June 6, 2013 8:35 pm

        Thanks Maya, that was helpful!

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