Today, I am going to grab a question out of the Flowers Consulting Group mailbag. This one is from Mitchell, an information technician:
Enjoyed your presentation today! You mentioned how important it is that we understand who we are when relating to others, but wouldn’t it be important to understand others, too? Is there a way we can size them up to communicate better?
Mitchell, what a brilliant question! It IS a lot easier to build relationships and rapport with peers, bosses, and customers when you can align your approach with their preference for receiving and digesting information.
First, let me give this disclaimer. I would urge caution before you start labeling or stereotyping people based on one conversation. People are really complex and may show different traits at different times, so it is difficult to assign them to tidy, neat boxes from a personality standpoint.
That being said, there are some clues that can help you understand the traits you hear in conversation. I tend to listen for subtle bits of information that the other person may say. Sometimes I am wrong, sometimes I am right, but here’s the cool thing. Just listening for these cues will improve your communication with people. More on that at the end of the post, but for now let’s get started.
The best way to demonstrate these clues is to show you in a real conversation that I recently witnessed in a text exchange between a mother and her son. I have removed the names because I want to remain friends with these people. It is not Christy.
Quick setting: The son is sick. Texting mom for advice. I will provide the actual texts and perhaps some commentary along the way to point out the clues. Here we go.
Notice lack of details. You will soon notice that he is not like his mother.
Oh … she’s not through yet, I just had to cut the text down so you wouldn’t click off this blog and shoot yourself. She continues…
So let’s pause here for one moment. You probably have guessed by now that Mom is fond of details. And in case you STILL need proof, here is the last part of that text.
The son already had a fever, but I bet Mom’s text broke him out in an even colder sweat! He is about to have to tell Mom that he is a non-reader of labels. After a few minutes, he sends this gem back.
He quickly follows up with a serious response, in an effort to further defer his mother’s coming wrath.
Mom sees right through this pathetic plea for mercy. She challenges his observation on the drainage.
And the answer…
So how can this mother-son exchange help us? Well, see if you can decipher the four clues from the conversation that give us insight into how the mom and son think.
On the mom side…
#1. Did you hear details? Before Mom can give advice, she has to understand what’s going on from start to finish. She needs to hear the signs and symptoms, how he has treated so far, and the body’s response to the sickness.
#2. Did you hear the logic/critique? She laid out the “if this symptom, then this medicine” plan. Mom doubted the phlegm color. Get the facts straight, kid, otherwise you are wasting my time! She threw in the term “bronchioles” so the son would be impressed with her knowledge.
It is pretty clear that Mom is a left-brain thinker. Now let’s check out the son.
#3. Did you hear the relational over the rational? “…don’t know ingredients. Some guy gave me a cup with red stuff…” The Mom probably cringed when she read that. What was in the cup? Was it clean? What about your bronchioles? The son trusted his friend over the facts.
#4. Did you hear the big picture and humor? “Sick. Fever, sore throat.” A summary of the situation from a minimalist. Son was letting the mom fill in the gaps (which he knew she would.) And then the humor in response to his mom’s treatise on upper respiratory phlegm production … “I don’t know, I’ll check next time.”
The son trends toward right brain thinking. The difference in language is striking isn’t it? But here’s what you need to see. Notice where they get their information and how they communicate it. Mom assembles facts to align with recommendations for medicine. Son seeks the help of friends with red stuff in a cup.
How can this help you? When you listen with an ear for what other people need, you greatly increase your understanding of them. And that builds trust–the foundation of all relationships for leaders.