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Navigating Communication Styles in the Workplace

Embracing varied communication styles isn't merely a suggestion; it's an essential cornerstone for any engaged organization

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Feb 23, 2024
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Last updated on Feb 12, 2024

In my 25 years in learning and development, I've seen a lot of trends come and go. But one constant remains – the crucial role of effective communication in the workplace. As someone who values the grit of real-world learning over the comfort of theoretical models, I lean toward tools that are simple to understand and easy to sustain, one of them being the DiSC model. At once it provides learners an oftentimes shockingly accurate view into their personal motivations while empowering them to find new ways to flex toward the needs of others.

Before diving deeper into the model itself, it’s important to understand why this type of self-awareness is essential. In other words, what’s in it for you? A recent study found that highly self-aware leaders outperform their counterparts by up to 79%. Furthermore, they demonstrate better stress management and conflict resolution while reporting stronger interpersonal relationships. 

Over and Under-Used Communication Skills

In this age of rapid innovation and non-stop communication, we often hear corporate platitudes such as “you can never over communicate.” The intention is good, to keep people informed, but this mindset often invites an overuse of our dominant communication style. Let me explain.

Picture the quintessential C-suite leader up in front of their employees at an all-hands meeting. They share the company vision for the coming year and paint a near-utopian view of how happy customers, shareholders and employees will be when everyone achieves their goals. They exude excitement and energy, their speech peppered with company jargon and a few compelling personal anecdotes. Employees applaud wildly then leave the meeting with a sense of disconnection.

What happened? Through the lens of the DiSC model, the leader doubled-down on their visionary style and failed to flex into other ways of thinking. Had they discussed the need to go slow at times and operate with velocity at others they would have calmed some nerves. Had they shared the plan to conduct a thorough data analysis to make informed decisions, while inviting some productive conflict and tension, they might have created more anticipation. You see, we can in fact over- or under-communicate just by being blind to the ways we are taking others' preferences into consideration.

Understanding the DiSC Model

The DiSC model starts by breaking down communication styles into four primary types - Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness. Each style has its strengths and challenges in a team setting. For instance, 'D' types are assertive and task-focused, great for leading projects but can be perceived as overbearing. 'I' types are the social butterflies and visionaries, excellent at persuasion but sometimes lacking focus. 'S' folks are your team's reliable rocks, supportive and consistent, yet often resistant to change and conflict-averse. And 'C' types? They’re detail-oriented and have a high degree of accuracy, but can get bogged down in the minutiae. Recognizing these styles in action is like having a Rosetta Stone for team dynamics.

Communication Impact on Workplace Engagement and Productivity

Here’s something I’ve noticed: teams with diverse communication styles that learn how to harness their collective strengths are more engaged. And it's not just me – open two-way communication has been shown to be one of 5 key drivers of employee engagement according to the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Conversely, the cost of ineffective communication is estimated by AxiosHQ to be over $15,000 per employee every year or $2 trillion annually across the U.S. With numbers like that, we ought to start investing.

Belonging Matters

Aside from effective communication, workplaces that seek out, accept, nurture and amplify diverse perspectives and communication styles create a stronger sense of belonging. I loathe attaching stats to belonging because I believe it’s priceless, but if you’re still not convinced, consider this. A Harvard Business Review study found high belonging was linked to a whopping 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days.

Applying the DiSC Model in Real-World Scenarios

So, how do we apply DiSC practically? It’s about adaptation and empathy. I like to use a prop of a large exercise band to communicate the idea, “if everyone stretches a little, no one stretches a lot.” Say you're a 'D' communicating with an 'S'. Instead of pushing your agenda, you might need to ease off the gas and offer support, highlighting the benefits an upcoming organizational change will bring. And if you’re the ‘S’, you might consider how adopting the change more quickly might benefit you and the team. It’s about finding that middle ground where all styles can coexist and thrive. 

The first step is to uncover the style of each member of our team because unlike the image below, we don’t walk around wearing our needs on our sleeves. And if, “Trust me, it works”, feels insufficient, you can have confidence on the technical side of things, too. Everything DiSC® provides a reliable assessment with strong psychometric properties, and prioritizes quality by using computer adaptive testing, global norming, and real-world testing. The result is a personalized report that results in a personalized, actionable narrative that makes behavior change tangible for each participant.

Overcoming Communication Challenges Using DiSC

Back to the human side and the hard truth. Communication snags are inevitable. Maybe it’s the ‘I’ type’s ideas getting lost in their enthusiasm, or the 'C' type's drive for perfection that’s slowing down a deadline. Here's where DiSC offers a lens to see not just the problem, but also potential solutions tailored to each communication style. But instead of holding the view that “Bob is so slow” or “Jane is too pie in the sky”, we are able to focus on behaviors and internal drivers of their communication patterns then come up with new ways of working. Perhaps Jane leads the brainstorming session while Bob is responsible for bringing the data that might highlight a hidden risk. 

Encouraging a Culture of Effective Communication

Whether you are a people leader, a change-making individual contributor or a HR professional, we have the extraordinary opportunity to weave the art of effective communication into the very fabric of our organizations. This journey begins with engaging and practical learning experiences, not as a one-off effort; it's a continuous dedication to adapt and refine how we connect with our teams.

Embracing varied communication styles isn't merely a suggestion; it's an essential cornerstone for any engaged organization, especially as we navigate turbulent times across 5 generations in the workplace. Whether you choose to explore the DiSC model or upskill using the plethora of articles, podcasts and programs available with the click of a button, I encourage you to put a strong communication tool in your toolkit to act as a personal compass in the often intricate world of workplace interactions. Once you do, you’ll have a much easier time finding your way and leading others.


Jen Fox is an Everything DiSC Certified Facilitator and Authorized Partner who has brought new levels of understanding, appreciation and effectiveness to teams and organizations from 5 to 2500 for over 20 years. You can learn more about DiSC and reach Jen through her website, Orgsavvy.com.

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