Improving Internal Communication from the Ground Up
Identifying and catering to individual and team learning styles
In my last article, I talked about the challenge in finding real-life, practical information to help us improve as service managers. We also introduced three “big rocks” in the path of most service managers: communication, teamwork, and self-improvement. In this and future articles, I’ll dig into each topic individually.
Remember, the goal of these articles is to discuss what I’ve experienced through 30 years of personal interaction with companies of various sizes and complexities in different geographical areas and varying markets. It’s my aim to share what successful service managers have in common.
So, how can we take such a broad topic as communication and narrow it down to some useable concepts a service manager can apply today? Let’s start at the beginning. The service department is a group of people working together to achieve a common goal. A typical department is made up of teams based on how they support the goal, such as a field team, sales team, and administrative/support team. These teams are made up of individuals performing their jobs.
Take that list and think of communication from the bottom up. Each person on each team is an individual first and a teammate second. As individuals, each of us has unique personality traits and tendencies that shape our communication styles, thought processes, actions, and lives. Each team is usually made up of individuals with similar personality traits and tendencies that make them good at their respective jobs. That doesn’t mean technicians will all be the same, and all sales folks will be the same, but it does mean their personality traits and communication styles will likely be similar.
Going one step further, people communicate and relate experiences through visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles. Everyone uses all three styles to some degree, but each of us usually has one style we rely on more than the others. ... It’s how we’re wired.
Visual folks learn and communicate with pictures, graphs, diagrams, or drawings and might talk in terms of what something “looks” like.
Auditory folks learn and communicate in words, noises, and sounds and might describe what something “sounds” like.
Kinesthetic folks learn and communicate through experience, touches, or actions and might describe situations as what they “feel” like.
Great, so what does this all mean and how do I use it?
Every effective service manager I’ve worked with understands each person and team they communicate with will interpret the message based on their personality traits and learning styles. These managers have learned to adapt their communication to their audience, whether they’re dealing with an individual or a group.
So, how would you use this information to improve communication with your teams? Here are some ideas that should help.
As individuals, these people tend to be introverted, organized, process oriented, structured, and reserved; they see the world as black and white, yes or no, things work or they don’t; they may feel isolated from the company since they work alone much of the time; and they use all three learning/communication styles fairly equally as their job requires visual, auditory, and kinesthetic, or “hands on” work.
When communicating with these individuals: be focused and to the point; use facts instead of opinions; get to the point fairly quickly and limit small talk; use simple graphs and charts when discussing numbers, financials, or results; use quotes (facts versus opinions) when discussing customer or other employee feedback; and involve them when creating a new strategy by helping design a document, check list, or procedure.
When communicating with a group of field team members: Break them out of their natural tendency to sit quietly and not participate by asking open-ended questions that require an answer, not just a head nod; show them the company goals and explain how and where they fit in; get them involved helping create new processes or procedures; use hands-on exercises or demonstrations when possible; get to the point and move on; keep it moving; and always end the meeting with a specific message or direction to keep them focused.
As individuals, these people tend to be extroverted, competitive, optimistic, enthusiastic, goal-oriented, and in need of recognition; they see the world in colors, options, and possibilities; they may want to be the center of attention; and they use all three learning/communication styles, usually relying on visual.
When communicating with these individuals: Reduce the facts and figures talk; focus on progress to their personal goals; use pictures, charts, and graphs instead of reports to show team progress to goals; if they’re doing a good job, pat them on the back, and, if they’re not, challenge them to improve. Tie everything back to winning the game.
When communicating with sales team members, relate to their natural enthusiasm and optimism by sharing success stories. Remind them they want to play for a “winning” team; keep the conversation lively but don’t lose control of the discussion; play to their natural competitiveness by showing individual and team results or progress to goals; show the positive things happening now and plans for the future; and talk about and make a big deal of their wins.
As individuals, these people tend to be detail-oriented, organized, relaxed, process-driven, extroverted, or introverted. They may not feel part of the team; tend to see things more black and white, but are flexible to changing conditions; and aren’t necessarily predisposed to any particular learning/communication style.
When communicating with these individuals, use a blend of what works with technicians and what works with the sales team; be direct and to the point with facts, and also allow a certain amount of creativity in the discussion; use charts and reports when sharing results; ask for their help when discussing what’s working or not working; and let them be engaged in creating new processes or procedures.
When communicating with administrative team members, ensure they feel part of the overall team by showing where they fit in; make the meeting a bit relaxed and de-stressed; show where the company is compared to current goals with charts and graphs; talk about the good things going on and how their work ties in; get the team involved in an improvement process that allows them creativity instead of just being the ones following orders all the time; and remind them how important they are to the team’s success.
Let’s tie this back to reality. How many times have you walked out of a meeting feeling everything went great and later found everyone has a different understanding of what you said? Or, maybe you walked out of a meeting feeling the message just didn’t go over as well as you’d hoped. If the answer is yes, it’s very likely you have an opportunity to improve your communication skills.
Take some time this week and think about how you communicate with individuals and teams in your department. Think about the personality traits, learning and communication styles of the individuals as shown above, and ask yourself some questions. Can you pick out the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic communicators? Could you ask for some feedback from a few individuals on your style? Is there opportunity for improvement, and are you willing to improve your communication style for the betterment of the team? It takes work and that’s okay, the main thing is you start and remember it’s all about self-improvement and being better today than you were yesterday.
Try using some of these ideas during your next one-on-one or group meeting. Send me an email and let me know if this makes sense and how you’re doing.
Publication date: 10/19/2015