Read the Room

Elisa LlodraFeatured News

By Molly Pereira, Interim Executive Director
From the Winter 2023 Journal of the Colorado Dental Association

We’ve all heard the phrase, “it’s not what you say, but how you say it.” I believe that and preach it, but the other way to say this is, “it’s not what you say, but what they hear.”

We all communicate with people each day, whether that’s a spouse, child, co-worker, patient or random caller. All people have different personalities, giving them tendencies toward different communication styles and, for the most part, we accept that as how the person is. With that knowledge or observation, however, have you given thought to communicating with someone in the same way they communicate? If you did this, would they not only hear you but listen to you more effectively?

A few years ago, I went to a seminar with speaker Stevie Dawn. She talked about this very topic, the “Communication Compass,” and the importance of understanding what type of communicator you are as well as appreciating the communication styles of others. This makes you both self-aware and a more effective communicator with colleagues and patients.

Figuring out how you naturally communicate when you’re just being yourself is the first step. What is your factory reset default method of communication? Are you direct? Are you a storyteller? Are you a motivator? Are you a question asker?

Consider this question, for example. How would you answer it?

How was your day?

  1. Good, thanks.
  2. It was good. I got everything on my list done today, which doesn’t happen often. I remember two summers ago when my computer crashed, and I lost my calendar appointments. After I panicked for about an hour, I felt so at peace to start fresh.
  3. Can’t complain, thanks for asking. I can’t believe this weather. How is it 70 degrees in January? I leave the house with a jacket but never have to wear it home. I even went on a walk today at lunch. You should join me tomorrow.
  4. I’m good. Are you asking because I just got back from vacation or because I’m running late?

You might think that your answer is “E, all of the above,” but to really figure out your dominant communication style, your factory reset, you must think about which answer is most comfortable or your tendency when you’re under pressure. If you have a lot going on in your mind, no matter who you’re talking to, you probably tend toward one of these communication styles more than the others. That is your natural and dominant communication style, which is most likely complemented with another style.

Some people are direct communicators and speak in statements; they’re not here for the watercooler conversation. They speak to get things accomplished, without extra words and fluff. In several cases, this type of communicator may speak before they think or speak while they think, so they definitely carry a little more potential for “foot in mouth” occurrences. These people speak with action words and can sometimes come across without consideration of their tone. These people are great with an action list or bulleted tasks. Communicate with them efficiently and concisely.

Some people are storytellers and often associate their words with additional information. They are friendly and always have an experience to share. They can be long winded and take a few minutes to get to the point (or land the plane, as I like to say) but are also good listeners. They are likeable, enjoy people and can bring a group together. These people really benefit from hearing examples and anecdotes when getting direction. They love having support and encouragement from others. Take some extra time when communicating with them and make sure they’re comfortable.

Some people are optimistic motivators. They are big picture people. They have the vision and love to brainstorm out loud. They use a lot of words, catch phrases and cliches. These people love back and forth conversation and including others. They don’t worry about the “little picture” or necessarily the steps it takes to achieve the “big picture.” They are focused on dreaming big ideas with positivity. These people do well if they know the big end goal and are motivated by good attitudes and optimistic delivery.

Lastly, some people are questioners. These are the “what if” people who have questions even if the answer is obvious. They love details and confirming the details once they have them. They want to be sure they have all facts and thrive with data. They don’t do well with spontaneous actions or unanticipated change. They are reliable and loyal, so long as they have clear direction. They work well with others but will constantly ask questions, which can affect their popularity. These people need to know the facts and do best with a specific plan or timeline for a project. If plans change, it’s best not to “spring” that information on them, rather justify the concern or reason and then suggest the change.

Think about different people you know who fit each of these descriptions. You probably know more people who are a combination of two descriptions but lean heavier toward one. Now apply that to your team or next week’s schedule of patients. How can you change your approach when communicating with another person? The information conveyed will stay the same but the delivery will be customized to the recipient.

How people communicate is often how they listen. If you’re a storyteller and your scheduler is a direct communicator, you might need to adjust how you deliver your calendar changes to the scheduler, so she doesn’t tune out your main message. If you’re a visionary motivator but your next patient is a questioner, think about how you could deliver your follow-up care message to someone who needs black and white facts, exact dates and likely expectations.

This article isn’t to suggest that you change yourself or morph into something that you’re not but as a leader in your business and as a trusted healthcare expert, it’s important to know your audience so you can be more effective delivering message and motivating others.