An office is a tiny bubble of blended personalities and ideas, working together for a common purpose. The only problem? Everyone has a different set of ideas and a different way to communicate them. You’ve got a quiet, level-headed pragmatist who likes bullet points and clear instructions trying to get on the same page with an outgoing dreamer who never gets mired in the nitty-gritty details.
Communication barriers are some of the biggest sources of workplace conflict, according to Claire Steichen, an NYC-based executive and career management coach, who teaches executive presence, leadership development and corporate communication. “Difficult relationships at work are one of the many factors leading to stress, and people don’t realize they can reduce that unhealthy stress by learning to deal with different behavioral styles,” she explains.
Hitting a wall with your co-workers? Here are the underlying problems you may be facing, as well as how you can see eye-to-eye when your styles feel worlds apart.
A boss is very vocal when unhappy, a colleague is only vocal in major crisis
The Problem: We’ve all had a boss who blows up when a project is blown off course. According to Steichen, a soft-spoken introvert might become irked when she yells or makes a fuss. “As an introvert, that person would only express that much anger when it’s a real emergency,” she explains. “As a result, a boss’s tantrums leave her totally depleted.”
The Fix: If you take emotional outpourings personally, it’s important to realize that others may not—and you don’t have to “go down the path” of anger or frustration yourself if it’s sucking the life out of you. “Acknowledge the boss’s frustration without buying into the worst-case scenarios,” says Steichen. “From there, you could deal more rationally with the issue at hand and skip the emotional exhaustion.” She’ll calm down as soon as she vents, so take a step back and let her before diving into problem-solving.
One colleague takes charge, the other hangs back
The Problem: Steichen says that every office has that one assertive, take-charge man or woman who will commandeer a project—and maybe skip over some of the smaller voices. “This person is very assertive and direct,” she explains. “They’ll say, ‘Does everyone agree with this?’ So are we good?’” According to Steichen, a thoughtful introvert may feel pressured to agree on the spot, question the direction later on, and begin taking the project in another direction—much to the frustration of the assertive leader who thought everything was squared away.
The Fix: If your projects’ directions keep getting thrown off track, try thinking of how other people on your team might like to consume strategy. “The shy person should realize that butting up against a colleague may bother them, but it won’t bother the more assertive person,” Streichen says. “They should not be afraid to speak up. The assertive person should slow down in meetings, and not worry less about the deadline. Assume quiet people on your team have something to say, give them time to speak up—and don’t cut down their ideas.” Be respectful and constructive; avoid harsh words.
One colleague asks questions, the other hoards information until final
The Problem: Some colleagues or team leaders like updates from their collaborators to know that the project is moving along as it should be. But Steichen says that there are always quiet, studious (and very thorough) academic types out there, who hoard information until they come up with firm conclusions—and often forget to tell others what’s going on, much to the dismay of their teammates.
The Fix: If you can tell you’re dealing with a tentative colleague, be clear they’re looking for an update or a progress report, not something that’s set in stone. Steichen says if you are the cautious type, don’t be too afraid of making mistakes. “If you’re more comfortable, frame the response like, ‘This may change, but I’m likely to recommend X,’” she says. “Just give an estimate and be clear it’s an estimate.”
A boss comes to meetings to brainstorm, some colleagues come for conclusions
The Problem: Meetings have tons of functions. Some social collaborators (especially bosses) may show up to “think out loud” and brainstorm, whereas efficient, independent workers simply want instructions and a clear direction, says Steichen. “I’ve known some bosses to specifically not prepare for meetings, so they can talk through ideas, which can be hard for people who prepare for meetings and prefer to conclude things there,” she explains. “The ‘think out loud’ type seems to be changing his mind constantly.”
The Fix: If you’re a point person who likes to write down answers in permanent marker post-meeting, start jotting down things down in pen. “Don’t freak out if your boss changes his mind,” Steichen says, explaining that these introverted types should ask for clarification at meeting’s end about final conclusions. Bosses? “Take a moment to think about your ultimate purpose for the meeting, and what needs to be accomplished,” Steichen explains. That way you can go down 12 different paths if you want, but still reach a destination for those who want to walk out of the boardroom with an objective for their future work.
One colleague talks about the vision, another talks about the process
The Problem: Some team members like to talk end goals, whereas others work best in layers of execution. “An inspired, ‘ideas person’ can go from zero to 60 on their vision fast, but doesn’t understand why the planner, ‘detail people’ can’t get there,” Steichen says. This leaves one the visionaries forgetting important steps, and the careful co-workers muddled about direction.
The Fix: Steichen recalls coaching a team through this communication barrier. “We worked on breaking down vision into interim goals and getting buy-in from colleagues in the process,” she says. “That helped everyone feel more ownership in their part of the vision, and understand goals so they didn’t feel like they were disappointing their boss.” If visionaries can appreciate what the detail-oriented worker bees bring to the table, and explain roles and mini-goals along the way, the whole project will benefit.
What your communication style? Think you can use these tips outside of work, too? Join the conversation below!
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.