Personal Leadership Skills: Adaptive Communication

By Nicolien Dellensen · September 9, 2019 · Posted in: Collaboration, Communication, Leadership, Leadership Development

Communication skills help leaders express a vision, set clear boundaries, motivate others, engage people with new ideas, and a lot more besides. But they also go beyond information delivery to include many other techniques – listening, staying silent, asking the right questions, and tapping into the message behind the message, among others.

Adaptive Communication

Adaptive communication means switching between different communication styles based on contextual demands, drawing on a broad range of approaches to broaden and deepen your influence on others. It’s a multi-faceted skill that can be honed through personal leadership development, but it can just as easily be honed with everyday practice.

What is Adaptive Communication?

Everybody has different ways of communicating – some come more naturally to us than others, based on our personality and our preferences. For instance:

– Have you been described as assertive? Is it like you to steer conversations?
– Do you tend to take a back seat in group discussions? Prefer that others make the suggestions?
– Or, do you often build rapport with others when it’s time to collaborate? Or are you more often found guiding them back on track?

Leaders play multiple roles – they set boundaries, give freedom, coach, mentor, and inspire. So while we’ve all got communication preferences, strong leaders can recognize when they need to change their approach for greater influence. They cultivate a wide spectrum of influencing styles and draw on them when the situation calls for it, which helps them communicate more effectively.

What are Influencing Styles?

When we engage with others, we tend to display certain patterns of behavior. The effectiveness and impact of each depend not only on our conversation partners, but on our context, goals, and many other things.

For example:

An authoritative, decisive approach might get subordinates focused, but it could very easily seem rude to a client. At another point in the buyer journey, though, that same client may appreciate a no-nonsense, direct style of communication.

Here’s another example:

When we solve team problems, we might emphasize our common interests with others. When we’re trying to inspire change, however, we may not have time to discuss similarities – we might need to point out facts to drive a point home.

Influencing styles are thus the techniques we adopt to enhance our effectiveness and achieve particular goals. Generally, they fall into four broader categories: leading, following, emphasizing content, and emphasizing relationships.

– A leading style can include being proactive, instructing others, convincing those around you, or coaching them to better performance. It can be useful when time is tight, when setting boundaries, or when explaining the rationale for change.

– A following style may involve listening, agreeing, or stepping back so others can speak. Following may even entail staying silent, which can be valuable in gathering more information, or compromising to reach shared success.

– When we focus on facts, figures, and the matter at hand, we’re adopting a content-focused communication style. Emphasizing content – the details or heart of an issue – can invite similar task-focused behavior from others, helping us move things forward, flesh out specifics, or get to the crux of a matter.

– We can also influence others by taking a relationship-focused approach, which includes empathizing, helping, and finding common ground to build trust and commitment. In short, a relationship-focused style is when we try to get ahead by getting along.

So, how would you describe your preferred communication style?

Communication Skills for Leaders

The ability to communicate adaptively is important for most people, but it’s particularly critical for leaders.

Our experience is that leaders are often exceptional at many things. They may be finance whizzes, amazing strategists, great designers, or shrewd salespeople – and often they excel at more than one thing. With hard work, dedication, and experience, they rise to leadership positions – positions that bring many new challenges.

But, as our environments change, so must we. New responsibilities – like leadership – expose us to fresh challenges, whether that’s more direct reports, increased face time with customers, or one-on-ones with regulators. And all of these present new interpersonal dynamics that strong leaders must learn to navigate effectively. Without awareness of our communication styles, we can’t adapt along with the environment.

So, whether you’re a manager, team leader, or executive, it helps to be aware of all the influencing styles you can draw on to have a greater impact. If you’re a great collaborator, why not try convincing others of your perspective more often? Or if your a great instructor, why not practice listening quietly to your team members, encouraging them to speak? You may be surprised at the results!

Communication skills are one critical part of our Personal Leadership development programs, which are designed to help you become a stronger leader. Read more here or join our LinkedIn page to stay up to date with our weekly blog – or, ask our behavioral specialist herself!

Nicolien Dellensen, Senior Consultant and behavioral specialist, contributes to Time To Grow Globals organizational performance and coaching practice. She’s creator and owner of the ’Sphere of Influence’  a comprehensive concept and  (360) online tool about interactive dynamics. Join her and the rest of the team on our Time To Grow Global LinkedIn.

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