Creative Leadership

How Well Do You Understand How People Communicate?

I love to talk about big picture issues like engaging today’s culture. But we sometimes forget that just getting your message understood by your boss, or your employees or team is critical to making the big picture happen. Two types of communicators you need to understand are people who think by talking, and people who think by doing. I’m a doer. Maybe it’s my A.D.D., but I’m really not interested in most details.

A former team member at our media production and strategy company Cooke Media Group was a detail guy. That’s a big reason I brought him on the team. He had a white board in his office with circles, arrows, buzzwords, and other stuff – it was just filled. He wanted to look under the hood of projects and rummage around in there. I just want to see the dashboard: tell me how fast we’re going, and if we have enough gas, and I’m fine.

Which communication style is your boss? Your clients? Your team? The people you communicate with?

When my team brings me detailed reports, or ramble on and on, I mentally check out. When overly detailed people schedule an appointment with me, my assistant tells them “When his eyes glaze over, the meeting is done.” If you want to get to me, it’s bullet points, not details. My wife Kathleen’s friends get together and it often sounds to me like a non-stop chat fest. I get together with a group of my friends and sometimes 5,10, or 15 minutes go by and we don’t say a word.

It’s guy thing.

The point is? We are constantly frustrated because we don’t take the time to learn how people communicate.  It’s not about “better or worse.”  Both styles work, but are very different – and you’ll never accomplish much if you don’t learn and respond to the ways different people communicate.

Know who you’re talking to, and make sure the message you transmit is the message that’s received.  Then see how your life changes…

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  1. Thanks Phil,
    There are also people who think (in their closet; at their desk) and want to do this first before they either talk or do. This is a third group who are uncomfortable with either of your other options.

  2. This is a great lesson I wish I’d learned much earlier in my career. I’m one of those detail-oriented folks and learned the hard way to have bullet points ready for those who want the 30,000-foot view.

    The challenge is when you meet with an executive who initially wants the high level but may get into the weeds when he questions your assumptions. Having bullet points plus the supporting documentation ready came in handy in those moments.

    Regardless, it’s wise to get to know those you’re communicating with and what style they prefer.

    1. That’s actually a great insight Deborah. I’m a big believer in “back up” because you’re right – if a leader likes what he hears, very often he or she will want to go deeper. And if you’re not prepared… oops…

  3. For me, details matter, but only if we know, understand, and agree on the big picture. I want people on my team that don’t need me to affirm every little detail. People who can grasp the bullet point big picture and manage the details according to that picture. I want to be able to give them the direction to go and the guard rails to stay within and let them make the decisions about the details.

    Whenever I feel a conversation with a team member is getting into the weeds, I try to bring it back to these parameters because either I haven’t laid out the direction and guard rails clearly enough, or they just need a little affirmation that I really want them to lead.

    If I devolve into making their decisions, then they will keep bringing lower level detail decisions to me which is counter to why they were hired…I want team members who grasp the big picture so they can effectively lead through the details… (

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