Focus on the Fundamentals of Effective Communication within an Organization, Part Three

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 12, Issue No. 6
September, 2013

By Dan Coughlin



(Author’s note: This is Part Three. Part One focused on ineffective communication approaches that waste time, talent, and energy. Part Two focused on effective communication approaches that optimize time, talent, and energy. This article focuses on the specific communication needs that individuals have and the importance of working to meet those needs.)

Meet the Communication Needs of the Other Person

Great coaches in sports and great managers in business understand that players and employees need to be communicated with in different ways. One size definitely does not fit all when you are communicating with people.

If you want to build an effective working relationship with a co-worker, employee, supplier, customer, or prospect, first work to understand the other person’s communication needs and then work to meet his or her needs. Before you get to the business topic, it’s important to meet the other person’s communication needs. As you can see in Figure 1, if you try to skip this stage, you will likely run into problems. The person will not want to work with you and it will make the process of getting things done effectively and efficiently much more difficult.

Five Communication Needs that People Have

In this article, we’re going to focus on five communication needs that people have. They are:

  1. How the person wants to make decisions.
  2. How the person wants to learn.
  3. How the person wants to receive communication from you.
  4. How often the person wants to communicate with you.
  5. The most important things to that person in a work relationship.

Four Types of Decision-Makers

There have been many volumes written on this topic. The DiSC® Assessment is one of the best- known approaches. Over the years I’ve heard ideas on how people make decisions explained in many different formats. Here is a summary of how I explain the different ways that people make decisions.

  1. Quick Decision-Maker (speed, “Did I make a decision?”)
  2. Emotional Decision-Maker (fun, “Did I enjoy working with the other person?”)
  3. Logical Decision-Maker (logic, “Does this decision really make sense?”) 
  4. Conscientious Decision-Maker (clear conscience, “Did I do the right thing?”)

Quick Decision-Maker (the most important factor for this person is speed, “Did I make a decision?”)

Characteristics of this type of decision-maker:
Very direct and straightforward. Strongly opinionated, decisive, and forceful. Do not want to see a lot of paperwork or take part in a lot of small talk about the weather and what movie you saw. Want to consider a few options and then make a decision quickly and get on to the next thing.

How to meet the personality needs of a quick decision-maker:
Listen more than talk. Be direct and to the point. Expect abruptness. Provide the person with three options and ask which one he or she thinks would be most appropriate. Often the quick decision-maker will choose one of the options, but then make a few changes to it. As long as the changes fit within the parameters of what you were hoping for, go along with the changes. Limit socializing and avoid small talk. Be brief, emphasize real results, and follow-up with bullet point summaries.

Emotional Decision-Maker (the most important factor for this person is fun, “Did I enjoy working with this person?”)

Characteristics of this type of decision-maker:
Like small talk about non-business issues. Very people-oriented and really enjoy getting to know you as a person: what makes you tick, where you grew up, who your family members are, and what your favorite hobbies are. They very much want the business relationship to feel right. They want to get excited about working with you. They are not into paperwork.

How to meet the needs of an emotional decision-maker:
Be casual and friendly. Start off with small talk. If you avoid the small talk, this person is going to feel you are just using him or her to achieve better business results and that you don’t really care about him or her as an individual. Use the person’s name often. Relax, smile, and engage in a fun conversation. After you’ve given a reasonable amount of time to small talk, find a way to shift the conversation to business. Emphasize the importance this person brings to the project. Use handwritten note cards to follow-up with them.

Logical Decision-Maker (the most important factor for this person is logic, “Does this decision really make sense?”)

Characteristics of this type of decision-maker:
Logical decision-makers want to move from point A to point B in very logical steps. They want to see how all of the pieces fit together before they make a decision. They listen more than they talk. They do not like quick changes. They do not want to engage in small talk. They want to analyze facts and data before they make a decision. They want to know why you are doing what you are doing. They enjoy going through paperwork.

How to meet the needs of a logical decision-maker:
Keep your emotions in check. Explain step-by-step how together you will move from point A to point B. You could use a flowchart or a giant puzzle to show how all of the different components fit together. Have your explanation typed up with copies for each of you and visually walk the person through the process. Be methodical and patient. Follow-up with a clear, step-by-step summary of the discussion.

Conscientious Decision-Maker (the most important factor for this person is a clear conscience, “Did I make the right decision?”)

Characteristics of this type of decision-maker:
This person wants to be absolutely certain that the decision is the right thing to do. He or she wants to follow the rules. This person likes to look at information for a long period of time by himself or herself. Several days or weeks later they will come back and present their decision.

How to meet the needs of a conscientious decision-maker:
Keep your emotions in check. Have phone numbers and email addresses available so the other person can validate the information. Provide hard facts backed up by statistical reports. Expect the other person to want the information to be perfect. Be ready to provide this person with key information on any questions he or she has. Do not wing it. If you don’t know the answer, don’t make one up. This person will likely check up on your input. Be very patient with this person as he or she develops the decision. Give the person plenty of time to examine the information without you being present. Be sure your follow-up is accurate and backed up with facts.

As you work with another person, ask yourself what type of decision-maker the individual is. Keep adjusting your approach to meet that person’s decision-making needs. It’s not about you getting him or her to meet your needs. The effective business leader works to meet the needs of other people.

Four Ways People Learn to Do Something

Over the course of the past 28 years I’ve provided over 2,100 Executive Coaching sessions for executives and managers in over forty industries and prior to that I taught or coached more than 1,200 high school and college students. And I have two children, Sarah and Ben. It has become abundantly clear to me that people learn in different ways. Here are the four primary ways that people learn.

Reader – “Give me the information, I’ll read it over, and I’ll be ready.”
Doer – “I’ll just start doing it, and I’ll learn as I go along.”
Watcher – “I’ll watch how other people do it, and I’ll learn from them.”
Discusser – “I’ll discuss the work with other people and ask questions, and I’ll learn how to do it better.”

If you want to be effective in teaching an idea to another person, realize that not everyone learns the same way. Be willing to step back from what comes naturally for you and ask the other person how they want to learn the ideas. At the very least provide a variety of learning experiences for the person until you see what is best for him or her.

Even within each of these four ways to learn there are lots of subtleties that can make a difference. Some readers like to read text in words and paragraphs while others want visual cues to follow. Some discussers want one-on-one dialogues while other people prefer ten people collaborating simultaneously on a project. The more you understand the other person’s nuances when it comes to learning, the better your chances are of creating effective learning experiences for that individual.

How People Want to Receive Communication from You

Modern technology has expanded the ways we can deliver information and interact with other people. Some people will love one mode while others will hate that approach. Here are some of the ways you can communicate with another person: face-to-face, phone, Skype, voicemail, email, texts, spreadsheets, bullet points, written detailed attachments, faxes, and handwritten letters. Ask the person what he or she prefers, and watch how the person reacts to communications from you. Over time you will come to understand what is best for that person.

How Often People Want to Receive Communication from You

For some folks, a daily phone call is the expected behavior. For others, a monthly email recap is sufficient. It’s important to identify how often the other person wants to communicate with you. Communicate too little and you risk losing the relationship. Communicate too often and you risk overwhelming the person. Be on the alert to determine the right frequency for each individual, and then determine to what level you can meet that frequency.

Understand What is Most Important for that Person in a Work Relationship

Some people will tell you their whole life story in the first five minutes and other people are still guarded in their comments five years later. It doesn’t make one person better or worse than the other. It makes them human. The key is for you to figure out what the other person wants in a work relationship with you. Here are some of the things I’ve seen that people want: meaningful conversations on important life topics, a sense of camaraderie, having fun and laughing a lot, honesty, achieving remarkable results together, a sense of adventure, and a confidante. Nobody wants all of these things. Different people want different things from a professional relationship. The key is to figure out what each person wants, and then try to see if you can meet those needs.

Of course, you will have to decide if you can talk about what the other person wants to discuss. Sometimes you won’t be able to. I have had people tell me extremely private details about situations related to their sex lives that I really did not want to talk about, or hear for that matter. I quickly moved on in the conversation and didn’t look back. You have to decide where you will draw the line.

Key Points to Remember

There is no magic formula or silver bullet or psychological test that can tell you exactly how best to meet the other person’s communication needs in every situation. All you can do is try to figure out what is the most effective way to meet the person’s needs at that moment.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • People usually have a primary and a secondary decision-making approach, learning approach, favored way of communicating, desired frequency of communication, and sense of what is important in a work relationship. Rarely is anyone a pure logical doer or just a quick reader.
  • A person’s communication needs can change based on the situation he or she is in at that moment. Be aware of the context of the situation. Here are some questions for you to consider when you are communicating with another person related to context:
    1. Is it a time to be serious or laid-back?
    2. What’s the time frame for making a decision?
    3. What is happening in the other person’s life?
    4. What is happening in that person’s part of the business, in our industry, and in the world right now? 
    5. What other aspects of the situation are important to keep in mind?

How do you want to be communicated with?

Before you try to understand the communication needs of other people, start with yourself.

Based on everything in this article, and things I didn’t get into, how do you prefer to be communicated with? Try to describe your communication needs in detail. Here are some thought-starter questions:

  1. What is your primary and secondary decision-making personality?
  2. What is your primary and secondary approach to learning?
  3. Do you prefer email, texts, face-to-face, or phone conversations? When do you like each of them? How often do you want to be communicated with?
  4. What is most important to you in a work relationship?
  5. Do you like to make decisions quickly or do you prefer to study a lot of information and take longer to make a decision? When do you prefer one over the other?
  6. Do you like to get to the point quickly or do you prefer to engage in some small talk?
  7. How long do you prefer to plan before executing a project? Six months, six weeks, six days, six hours, or six minutes?

Now write a description of your communication needs. Don’t hesitate. Start writing it down now.

Describe How You Think Another Person Wants to be Communicated With

As you think about people you work with, select an individual and write down how you think this person wants to be communicated with. Observe how the person reacts to different approaches from you and from other people. Be on the alert to better understand that person’s communication needs and make adjustments in how you communicate with him or her.

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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