Want to adapt to your boss's communication style? Here's how.
Understanding how to adapt to your boss’s communication style is an important business communication skill to hone. Start by assessing your own communication style. Our previous post provides some great tips on how to go about this. Having a clear sense of the way you listen, learn, and respond to others is key when attempting to adapt to the communication style of others.
In a nutshell, here are the key decision-making styles many of us fall into, according to Harvard Business Review:
Decisive: values speed, action, and once a plan is in place they stick to it.
Flexible: also values speed but adaptability is first and foremost.
Hierarchic: does not rush, analyzes a great deal of information, decisions last long-term.
Integrative: broadly frames solutions that consist of multiple courses of action.
As their article correctly notes, people do not “fall neatly into boxes”. It’s possible that two (or more) of the styles above apply to you. And to your boss.
Identifying your boss’s communication style
Step 1: Pick an upcoming meeting where project strategy or a business decision is up for discussion. Take stock of how much time your boss allocates for the meeting and note at the start of the meeting how they frame the topic.
Step 2: Note whether your boss invites you or others to offer their opinion before sharing their own. This is a good indicator whether your boss falls into the hierarchic or integrative categories.
Step 3: Observe throughout the discussion how much your boss processes their own thoughts and feelings aloud vs. analyzing the ideas of others with the group as a whole.
Step 4: Note whether at the close of the meeting how decisions were reached and how your boss prefers action items be handled. Do they want you to move forward independently? Or does each action item require group buy-in?
Adapting to your boss’s communication style
Now it’s time to identify the major differences between the two of you. And decide what your deal-breakers are. By deal-breakers I mean what are aspects of your boss’s communication style can incorporate into your own without compromising your work product or professional integrity.
If your boss is “decisive” and implementing the characteristics of this decision-making style into your own invites professional negligence or risks members of your team feeling obsolete then, there’s your line. However, if the only thing compromised is your comfort level when engaging in a different approach to solving a problem, it’s worth finding comfort in the discomfort.
A little change can go a long way
Take care to implement changing your style slowly and in a measured way. This will help you avoid feeling like a fake and coming off as disingenuous to your colleagues. Once you’ve decided what aspects of your boss’s communication style you feel comfortable integrating into your own it’s time to practice.
Select an upcoming decision that needs to be made and tease out how you would come to the decision vs. your boss. Actually practice both versions out loud (grab a friend, colleague, partner and have them play your boss if possible). Modeling how you anticipate your boss will act is the best way to prepare for how you’ll respond in the moment to them.