Reading the Room

smiling businesswoman engages team of diverse people around meeting table
Contributing Writer

3 minutes

Effective communication is essential to leadership, requiring those in charge to take a more flexible approach when it comes to delivering their message.

Several years ago, Deedee Myers, Ph.D.—CEO of CUESolutions Silver provider DDJ Myers Ltd., a Phoenix-based firm providing executive search/recruitment, strategic organization and leadership consulting services—looked at her company’s placement data. She discovered that candidates with outstanding adaptive communication skills generally earned more than those with the most desirable degrees but whose communication skills were “subpar.”

When you consider how essential communication is to leadership, this outcome isn’t surprising. And integral to this skill is the ability to adapt, or flex, the communication to the audience or situation.

“The effective leader is consistently reading the room and the mood and being open to what communication style will work,” says Myers. “It’s the leader’s responsibility to engage in such a way that he or she is heard by the listener.

“A tough learning lesson is to assume that you’re the leader and that everyone had to adapt to you,” she adds. “Imagine a line of cars driving down the road and the lead car is driving so fast that those in the cars behind her are eating her dust and can no longer find the way.”

The Right Style for the Right Situation

There are four basic communication styles, says Myers. These are how we respond to:

  • Issues, challenges and opportunities. “For example, a decisive and determined leader must be self-aware of how she engages with others to meet a goal,” says Myers. “She might have all the right answers, but if she treats others with a lack of regard, the goal is at risk and so are the relationships.”
  • The need to influence others. “Some of us are more internally reflective and others are more externally convincing,” Myers explains. “Understand what the situation requires and adapt.”
  • The pace of the environment. Some people want a consistent and predictable pace and will become uncomfortable when asked to function in a high-pressure environment. Others thrive in that fast-paced work climate, which is more prevalent today, says Myers. “The consistency of what was is no longer, and we need to shift to leverage our strengths in the current pressure situation,” she says. “Yet, we may not feel self-empowered to speak our voice about the impact of that change.”
  • Rules, guidelines and procedures set by others. “Procedures and processes that historically worked need to be reevaluated, which requires being open-minded in our communication—to hear other perceptions,” she explains.

Myers offers a personal account of how flexing communication to fit the audience, individual or situation can be an effective leadership tool, facilitating connection without compromising authenticity. With nine children—including a set of twins and a set of quadruplets—adapting communication to each of their preferences is essential. For example, one of the twins does well with a direct and engaging approach, while the other prefers chatting and simple yes or no answers to her questions. A similar dynamic is in play with the quadruplets, which each demonstrating decided differences in the style of communication they respond to.

“These six kids and I are a team,” says Myers. “It is up to me to adapt my communication in the one-on-one conversations and to use a blend in group conversations so each one feels connected. At the end of the day, I am an authentic mother/leader because my kids/team feels loved and connected.”

Pamela Mills-Senn is a writer based in Long Beach, California.

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