Clash of the Communication Styles

I agree with Maya Angelou when she said that “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  I’ll never forget how I felt coming out of so many one-on-ones in my early days with a former boss. All too often, they were uncomfortable for me. If I had to describe how I felt after most of them in a single word, the word would be crushed.

I used to dread Thursday mornings because that’s when those terrible meetings were scheduled. Early too – 7 AM. We could meet that early because we both used to arrive at the office by 6 AM every day. I’d learned that habit from him. I used to pray that he would take a Thursday off so I could get out of it, but almost every week, we carried out the same painful ritual.  

He would say things like “You waste time on things you don’t need to worry about, and you ignore things you should care about!” You see, my boss had a direct communication style, so there was no small talk or bonding. He liked to get right to the point, and when he was unhappy with something I did, he got to it immediately. I have an initiating communication style, so I tend to like things sociable, upbeat, and fun! Those meetings were anything but.  At first, I would be so hurt and offended when I would leave his office. His secretary is still a good friend of mine, and we would try to laugh about it. If she was at her workstation when I closed his door behind me as I left his office, I would tilt my glasses, so they landed in a lopsided position on my face and stagger away to her great amusement. She knew exactly how he was.   She also knew how I was.

Then I attended a conference that completely changed my perspective on criticism. It made me realize that people don’t have to bother criticizing you – in fact, it is easier for them to say nothing and allow you to keep doing what you’re doing.  When someone goes to the trouble of giving you candid, difficult feedback, they might be trying to work things out with you. I realized that, although I didn’t care for his delivery, I was being given a valuable gift. I just needed to become less sensitive.

He certainly wasn’t going to change his communication style, so I had to work on my acceptance of his messages. It’s one thing to accept intellectually that his harsh messages were gifts, but it still didn’t feel that way at first.  I learned to use visualization to get me through. When he would be at his negative Nancy worst, I would imagine that the sky had opened up and that gold coins were raining down on me.

Pretty soon I found myself saying, “Tell me more!”  I realized that if he felt that way, other people probably did too. He just cared enough to tell me! I began to really dive in and embrace his criticisms. I stopped feeling like I was under attack and needed to defend myself.  As a result, I began to grow and develop professionally.  I worked on controlling the way I sound. I learned techniques to better control the pitch and tenor of my voice that I used when I was under pressure.  I got better at prioritizing and determining what was important from what was just noise. I also gained a deep appreciation for his direct style.

I didn’t change my own communication style but I learned to adapt to his, and the results were amazing. My career took off. I still like things upbeat and social, but I am so thankful for that man with his blunt, straightforward manner. His direct communication style helped me mature professionally and personally. It changed me forever and I am so glad.

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