Understanding Communication Styles for More Effective Client Relations

Joseph Tabers, CSP, President of Productive Training, Inc.

Joseph Tabers, CSP, President of Productive Training, Inc.

Editor’s note: This article is an adaptation of the live webinar delivered by Joseph Tabers in 2020. His comments have been edited for clarity and length.

You can read the summary article here as part of the 1st Qtr 2020 Retirement InSight and Trends Newsletter, worth 1.0 CE when read in its entirety (after passing the online quiz.)
You may also choose to take the full length course Understanding Communication Styles for More Effective Client Relations for 1.0 hour continuing education (CE) credit.

By Joseph Tabers, CSP, President of Productive Training, Inc.

Understanding communication styles for more effective client relations is simply better understanding and preparing to adapt to the variety of styles we encounter.

Our first objective when communicating is first to know our self before we attempt to understand another so we can establish mutual understanding. Knowing the strengths and limitations of our style, as well as those of the ones we encounter, will help us appreciate the differences in styles and help us better navigate those relationships. This will give you the ability to build more trust in a client relationship sooner and reduce any dynamics that may affect tension during a conversation or a one-on-one meeting.

Why it is Important to Understand Communication Styles

I had a chance to work with a national company which invested over a million dollars on a client survey to find out what customers wanted in order to continue or return doing business with them. The top four apply in almost any customer setting from restaurants to the financial field.

The first thing customers wanted in this survey was for the company to be understanding of them as a customer. If you don’t ask my needs, learn those needs. Be a professional from your service point of view. The second expectation was for the professional to have some knowledge. If it’s a restaurant setting, they want the waiter to know the menu and the items on that menu. Better yet to even have tasted or sampled items. Third, they wanted people to step up to the plate. If you don’t have the answer, get back to me, look it up, take my phone number. If the answers aren’t at your fingertips, do the research and then circle back. Finally, customers wanted to be shown concern or empathy. Put yourself in my shoes. Understand my reservations, frustrations, challenges.

So therein lies over a million dollars’ worth of research that you can put to use. We’re going to use this research as it applies to why we even bother adapting our communication style.

What is one current strength you have in dealing with clients right now regarding your temperament, your style? For some people, they might say that they are user-friendly, easy to talk to, easy to work with. Others might say that they’re very well prepared and researched, very methodical in their approach. What would yours be? In my case, I believe a strength of mine is that I want my clients to know I care and that I’m comfortable going outside of myself to make them feel comfortable.

What is one of the challenges you find in working with different personalities or client styles? For some people, it might be the strong silent type, trying to open them up. For others, it might be dealing with someone who is very blunt and direct. The challenge for me in the past has often been the stereotypical engineer who is very analytical and data-driven. As I worked with them more, I came to appreciate that that’s just the way they operate. Trying to change that isn’t going to work, so working with it, adapting to it, will work to my advantage. We will talk about ways that we can do that as well.

In the 1930s, Carl Young and William Marston wrote a book titled, “Emotions of Normal People.” Before that, the typical way of finding behavior was to study people in the insane asylums. Unfortunately, they didn’t learn a whole lot about studying deviant or abnormal behavior. Once they started looking at normal behavior, they found that there was a lot more to learn about practical ranges that could be replicated or duplicated. In the 1960s, assessment instruments were created to help us identify our dominant strengths and what characteristics are most like you or least like you.

In the 1970s, the military jumped on board and started using these assessments in both training and preparation of soldiers. It helped to identify who was ready for the more analytical jobs and who was prepared for more tactical and so on. Then business and government got on board. To date, over 40 million people have taken some type of online either personality test or style assessment. There is everything from Myers-Briggs, to the Keirsey temperament sorter, to the DiSC model, which is the one we’re going to refer to here. There are probably a hundred different tools. The good news is they all come out of very similar data that that is solid and well researched.

So How Do We Observe Communication Styles?

With these assessments or any type of observational awareness, we see behavior in front of us. If you’re on the phone, you’ll have to listen for glimpses of behavior from people – the way they talk, the way they ask, the way they listen. Those behaviors are “observational awareness” indicators; they are the best indicators we have in real-time with clients and customers.

Dealing with Other's Actions is Never Exact

Sometimes we don’t know what a client or customer is thinking or feeling unless they choose to share it. We can sense someone’s feelings. We can ask about their feelings. We can ask what they’re thinking. Good consultants and salespeople do that, but people can be guarded in what they share and don’t share.

It gets more personal with values and beliefs. Some people will let you know what’s most important to them. With others, we have to take the discovery path and peel the onion. People are more comfortable sharing their values when they know our behaviors are consistent. Another aspect is what actions or behaviors have they taken versus not taken so far?

What is the Objective of Communication Style Assessments? 

It is important to identify your own communication style and preferences and to better understand how your self-perception affects others. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses will help you be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of other styles. This can help you with one-on-one counseling and the way that you help people, whether it’s guiding them to a conclusion or helping them be more comfortable with a decision they need to make. Another benefit of understanding your communication style is to help you be aware of your blind spots or things that might limit your effectiveness and help you make some adjustments in your next conversation on the phone or face-to-face.

Most profiles or assessments have these two axes. Left to right is how direct we are in our communication or how assertive we are with others.

Ways We Can Measure Behavior

Think about how direct or assertive you are and how open or responsive you are with people, and how they are in turn with you. Most of us can evaluate these communication styles within a minute or two on the phone with someone or face-to-face.

Put a tick mark where you think you are on the Directness axis. If you are very much a person who makes the first move verbally and introduces yourself, people see this as a pretty direct or assertive behavior on the extroverted side. However, being on the introverted side does not mean you are shy or bashful. What it simply means from an assessment point of view is that you’re more comfortable with silence; you’re comfortable processing information or ideas. I may be thinking it, but I may not say it. Ask yourself, are you more likely to reflect and to think about what someone said before you respond?

Think of someone you know and ask the same question: how direct or assertive are they regularly? Can you quickly identify if they are to the right or left of the center?

Where are you on the openness or responsiveness axis with your emotions? Do you show your emotions freely? Do people know your mood from 10-20 feet away? If they do, chances are you have more of that lower half, emotive open style. Can people see your emotions; do they respond that way often? The upper half is a better poker player, a little tougher to read. Think of the serious demeanor, hard to tell in their face if they’re in a good mood, bad mood, or just neutral because the face doesn’t change a lot. If you are speaking with someone on the phone, maybe you hear the same vocal inflection throughout the conversation, and they do not sound more or less committed or excited about anything.

For yourself, again, put a tick mark on where you think you are on the openness axis. Where those two intersect that gives you an idea if you have a communication style in the upper right quadrant, lower right quadrant, lower left quadrant, or upper-left.

The DISC Communication Styles Model

The D in the upper right direct is Directness, the lower right I is Influence, the lower-left S is Steadiness or Steady, and C upper-left is Conscientiousness. These are the four dynamics or traits that come up most often. Styles in the top half are often perceived as task-oriented. The bottom half are perceived often as more relationship-driven.

Let's Explore Benefits and Weaknesses

Once you know your tendencies, people would see more of these behaviors when they interact with you. If you have more of that task-driven behavior on the right chances are they see you as more competitive, more direct to the point, a more decisive problem-solving type. If you have more of the “I” quality, they’re going to you as more social, more conversational, or enthusiastic. In the lower left, they’re going to see someone who’s more relaxed and patient, a little slower paced, and low key. The top left is someone who’s more analytical, conscientious, more factual, more deliberate, and a little more calculated in their demeanor. From here, the next extension would be to look for communication styles in clients and find out where their natural “parking place” is because most all of us have a place where we hover most often.

What are Some of the Incentives for Adapting? 

The premise here is to know thyself, manage thyself. Know your strengths. Don’t overextend them because a good strength overextended in our personality or style could be perceived by a client as a liability or a weakness. We’re not saying to be phony. We’re simply saying to look at ways to self-manage or adapt when needed.

Incentives for Adapting

Think about how your style may differ from others. People ask, “Which is the most popular style when people take these assessments?” Four out of ten people score high in the S-style. This usually is one of the most common styles in North America and Canada. The second highest is the I-style. Both of these are relationship-driven or emotive styles. This means 68% – almost seven out of ten people you deal with – may have more expression of emotions, concerns, frustrations about retirement planning or finances, or the area of your counseling or coaching. Be aware that some venting or emoting is normal, even if that’s not as much for you. The third highest is the D-style. Only 18% or two out of ten have the D as their dominant trait, which is an entrepreneurial, executive style trait. The C style in the upper left is only about 14% of the population.

These percentages obviously are going to differ. For example, when I work with some automotive suppliers and have a lot of engineers in the room, it’s not uncommon that the typical 14% of C-style is more like 60%. Project managers have to have more of the D-style decision-making traits. School teachers may have more of the I-style or the social or the S-style.

What does this mean for us? It means to be ready to flex a bit. Let’s say you have the S-style, the bottom left quadrant. Even if you’re with the majority that still means that six out of ten people do not have the S-style as their dominant behavior trait. It could be their number two or number three trait.

How to Adapt Your Communication Style

Say you have the high S quality, and you’re trying to deal with a client that has the high D quality in the upper right corner. When we do live workshops, we hear the most significant challenge for a lot of people is the blunt, pushy D-style.

How to Adapt Your Communication Style

The extreme of the D is direct, decisive, edgy, and sometimes pushy. What do you do to adapt to that? Be more task-like, be more objective, more detailed; get to the point faster. Notice the sense of urgency. You might have a client who wants to do a 5-minute call instead of a 30-minute call. They just want some quick answers, and they want to speak and get off the phone. Could you go into their world a little bit by stepping up your sense of urgency?

Let’s say you have the C or the D style. Maybe instead of being so task and factual driven, you become a little more relationship-driven, and you talk a little bit more about their family and their career their goals. Slow it down a bit. The idea is to be aware of emotions and tune into them. Adapting your style can allow you to make a better connection or rapport.

Make an Effort to Adapt

We are professional. We should be the one who makes an effort to adapt. Other people aren’t as likely going to make the adaption, but they can if they want to.

A fundamental cornerstone of establishing trust with our clients is when by our example, we demonstrate that we’re listening, validating them, and showing that we care.

Identify the dominant traits people display and where they are most comfortable. We all have a parking place on the road map, and it’s a core trait, a core tendency. Yes, we do make some adaptions in different situations, but in general, we come back to our parking place where our temperament is most comfortable. Clients do the same. We can help them by going more in their direction.

Why bother with all this? Clients want us to be understanding. They assume we have some knowledge and how we convey that is going to make them comfortable or not. They want us to take responsibility, to step up to the plate. It’s almost like reading their minds through questioning, listening, and showing empathy and concern.

When you’re working with others, ask yourself if they are more introverted or extroverted? Make that mental note. Decide if you can make that effort to go there or allow it for them to stay there. Know your dominant trait, but work to self-management. The key is not overextending it.

Understanding Communication Styles for More Effective Client Relations – Joseph Tabers

Understanding Communication Styles for More Effective Client Relations – Joseph Tabers

About Joseph Tabers, CSP, President of Productive Training, Inc.

Joe is an expert in improving workplace presentations, interpersonal communication skills and relationships. Over the last 25 years his team has helped more than 450 organizations and thousands of individuals increase their workplace effectiveness by enhancing their communication skills. As a proven professional speaker, author and communication coach, Joe will help you connect better with audiences from high-level professionals to frontline workers.

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©2020, Joseph Tabers, CSP, President of Productive Training, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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