And sometimes it is. When we communicate with others, the words we use are only a small part of the exchange. As we talk, others who are listening are focused on our body language, our tone and the pace of our speech. We may spend a great deal of time getting the message “right” only to find that our well-rehearsed speech is falling on deaf ears, because our body language is telling the listener something different!
Think about a discussion you may have had with a boss, a significant other or a teenager. You are speaking, they are reacting and you may either say, or be thinking, “But ALL I said was….”Unfortunately for us, sometimes “all” we say isn’t all!
We all have our preferred behavioral style and natural approach to communication. Some people react more quickly – they think fast, and respond fast. They “get it” and they are ready to move on the next idea. Others would prefer to ponder. They want to be more thoughtful about something, and have a chance to digest or consider it before they give a reaction. The quick-to-act person might ended up verbally stomping on the slower, more thoughtful one in their haste to get something said and done!
Some people are verbal; they “talk to think.” They need to make a phone call, or visit a cubicle or “hash it out” with someone in order to get an issue resolved or understood. They want to question, and to comment and engage verbally with others. In contrast, some people are much less willing and able to open up and talk about everything. They don’t want to jump in and have a commentary anytime they can. They would prefer to hang back and listen and watch what’s going on. They may find the talker “too much” and the talker might find this style “too uninvolved” or uninterested.
Pace is an important communication factor, also. Some people are more rapid fire, with words that run together because they are speaking so quickly. They may speak with a lot of affect and wave their arms around, or jump around with excitement when speaking. Others are much more reserved. They are more non-emotional and may be put off by such displays of enthusiasm or anger. The nonemotional person may tell the other one to “calm down” and the other may yell back at them, “I AM CALM!”
There are also people who, when they communicate, may look “persnickety” or may come across as critical and unyielding in their approach. These are typically the “rules-oriented” folks who are certain that there is a right way and a wrong way, and are happy to point out which is which! In communication, their strength is in identifying what’s wrong and what needs to be fixed or changed. To some, it can come across as though they are only focused on the negative. Other people are “big picture thinkers” – they like ideas that are out of the box, and their communication style may wander and meander as they consider alternatives and options. For a rules-person, to hear the word “alternatives” could raise their anxiety level. For those who believe there is always another way, to hear that there are “rules” can be off-putting.
So, who is right and who is wrong? No one and everyone. The more we understand that style impacts what we say, and how it is heard, the more chances we have to modify for success. If we can understand another person’s tone, pace and style, we can deliver our message in a way they can relate to. The next time you realize you just aren’t getting through, or you feel yourself being misunderstood or you begin to react somehow to what another person is saying, consider whether style is at the root of the disconnect.