Take a Fresh Perspective to Push Past Your Communication Boundaries

This article first appeared on Alpha Efficiency Magazine: Issue 2: Communicating, subscribe and buy here

There’s a lot of value to be had from taking time out to consider exactly how you go about communicating, and why you do it the way you do. Many of your communication preferences will be determined by your Communication Type and where you sit on the Introvert-Extrovert Spectrum.

If you look for a stereotypical “geek” – someone who’s into their technology, who obsesses over the little stuff and who likes to experiment with things – it’s more than likely they have an “introvert” communication type.

Don’t get this confused with the broader definition of “introvert” – I’m not talking about reclusive, stuttering shy individuals who would go out of their way to avoid a social interaction.  When I talk about “introvert” I’m referring to the Myers-Briggs type definition, which looks at how you prefer to give (and receive) information.

Introvert types prefer to process information internally.  They are naturally reflective, thinking about things and taking time to process their thoughts before sharing them.

Extrovert types, on the other hand, do much of their thinking externally.  That is, they like to “bounce around ideas” or “think out loud.” These types benefit greatly from externalizing thought processes through conversation and debate.

Both communication types are equally valid; they both have their benefits and downsides. What’s more, effective teams generally tend to have a mixture of both types.

Sometimes though it can help you as an individual to consider your natural style and tendencies and to think about how you can emulate the other style to become more effective in your communication.

Communicating Like an Extrovert

Perhaps unusually for “geeky” types, Bojan and I are both extroverts by nature. Bojan channels his natural European directness and his marketing background, whilst I draw on my childhood experiences in performing on stage (no jokes, please) and a career spent doing presentations, facilitating workshops and wrangling with tricky stakeholders.

So how do we – and other extroverts – communicate?

Speak early. Your opinions are as valid as any other, and they don’t have to be perfectly crafted or completed to be worthy of discussion.  Extroverts will let you know what’s on their mind and let you help them work the thought through to its natural conclusion.

Make declarative statements. Extroverts aren’t afraid to say “I think…” Or “In my opinion..” Statements of opinion or fact are useful to establish a starting point in a discussion or to let others know what is important to you.

Establish rapport. Extroverts know the value of making personal connections with others, so they spend time and effort establishing rapport by making small talk, jokes, defusing tense situations etc.  They recognize the need to put others at ease and to invest in what others might be perceived as “a waste of time” or “going off-topic.”

Communicating Like an Introvert

Over the years, I’ve worked with many introverts and much of my own self-development has been aimed at trying to make my own communications more balanced by adopting “introvert” styles.

So what makes introverts good communicators?

Solicit information from others. Introverts tend to be better listeners, and can often identify gaps in information or understanding that need to be filled. Asking clarification questions such as “why do we need to do that?” Or “how would we go about achieving that?” can result in collective understanding improving significantly without having offered an opinion of your own.

Think about the value of your contribution. Where extroverts tend to blurt out whatever’s on their mind, introverts make a much more considered approach before sharing their thoughts.  This has two effects: it reduces the “noise” that occurs when multiple people are trying to articulate their thoughts, and it also makes people more attentive to you when you *do* speak, as you establish a reputation for quality thinking.

– Act as the glue for other streams of thought. Introverts are adept at pulling multiple strands of thought from various sources together in a way that extroverts struggle to achieve.  By taking the time to focus on the *overall* conversations, and less time worrying about their own contribution, introverts spot connections and themes more easily.  In many cases, it is the introvert who will join several ideas together and then add their own thought to bring it to successful conclusion.

Be True to Your Natural Style

Whichever end of the introvert/extrovert spectrum you naturally lean towards, you should embrace the strengths that your type offers, rather than seeing it as something to be “fixed”.  You will never be as good at the other type of communicating as those to whom it comes naturally, but you can use an understanding of how they operate to enhance your own natural preferences.

If you seek to *augment* rather than *replace*, and think about the timing of when it’s appropriate to try alternative approaches versus utilising your natural strengths, you’ll be a more effective communicator for your efforts.