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Communication for success

Ever notice how it seems easier to have conversations with certain people, while other’s eyes glaze over when you are presenting an idea? This article looks at some possible reasons for this, and gives you some ways to improve your conversation and presentation skills. 

Preferences

The basic idea is that we all have a preference in the way that we take in information. Some people prefer to use the 5 senses (touch, taste, hear, feel and smell), while others prefer to use their intuition- also called the sixth sense.

The Myers Briggs Type Indicator is one instrument that helps users define their personality preferences. The result of the instrument is a four-letter “personality type.” Many of us have taken the Myers Briggs in school or at work, so this may be familiar. The second letter of the four-letter type is either S or N. In the language of the Myers Briggs, these letters indicate Sensing (S) and Intuition (N) as they relate to preferences in taking in information.

Sensing (S) types prefer to let the eyes tell the mind what is happening. They are most comfortable in the world of facts, the here and now, and the details. They like to be practical, and apply the facts to the situation at hand. Sergeant Friday displayed this style many years ago when he said: “Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.”

Intuiting (N) types are more at home in the world of ideas. They prefer to let the mind tell the eyes what is happening. Often, they start with the big picture, and fill in the blanks with their insights, rather than work through the details. They are generally known as the idea people.

The world and the workplace need both types- we all have something to add. My point is that knowing your own preference and others’ preferences can help you communicate more effectively.

An example

So, how might this look at the office? Let’s say that you are an idea type, an Intuitive (N). You might be excited about something that popped into your mind- a new way to do something, or a great idea for a future project. In casual conversation, or in a presentation, you are talking about this idea- it seems so wonderful. Chances are it is a good idea, but when your audience is people who prefer Sensing, they will not follow along with the same enthusiasm. They just don’t have the facts, the practical details that they prefer.

When you are aware of your style and your audience’s style, you can adjust your conversation or presentation to find the best fit: ideas or facts. You don’t have to change who you are, just be aware of the similarities or differences in your style and theirs. Be prepared for questions that are based on how they see things. It’s not an attack on you, or on the idea.

Decision-making preferences

Looking again at the Myers-Briggs terms, the third letter of the four-letter type indicates our preferences in acting on information, by Thinking (T) or Feeling (F). Once we have taken in information, we tend to act on it in one of these two ways:

People who prefer Thinking (T) tend to be analytical and impersonal in their decisions. They look for the logical cause and effect explanations of the situation, and the underlying truth.

Feeling (F) types are more concerned with the impact of their decisions on others, with being tactful and looking for harmony. They want to ensure that others’ feelings are taken into account.

Again, neither way is good or bad, just different. But these styles are readily visible when you look for them in others and you are aware of your own preference.

If you need someone to make a decision and you are aware of their preferences both in taking in information and acting on it, you will be ahead of the game if you present the information in their preferred way. Experience shows that people will respond more quickly, and sometimes more favorably, when what is in front of them is in their preferred style.

It’s not all one way

The preferences listed above are meant to be general guides – none of us is absolutely one way or the other. We all have the capacity to function in our less preferred way- but we tend to be less happy and less productive when doing so.

Teams and preferences

One of the best uses of preferences is in forming teams. For a team to function successfully, you need a balance of Sensing (S) and Intuition (N), Thinking (T) and Feeling (F). People combine these preferences in 4 ways: ST, SF, NT and NF. So when you are putting a team together, look for the best mix for the task. A brainstorming session is more likely to be successful with Intuitive (N) types, with one or two S types to report out. A task force might need more S types, with some input from Intuitive types. Teams can get stuck when all of the members are of the same type- you can have a flurry of ideas without decisions, or nothing to decide without the facts.

Summary

Each of us has a preferred way of perceiving and acting on information. Being aware of these preferences in others and ourselves can improve workplace communication and productivity. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a useful tool for assessing personality preferences, and aids in both individual communications and team formation.