Stop Talking Past Each Other! Improve Communication by Tuning Into Your Dominant “Language”

Do you ever have those moments in a conversation when you can tell that you just aren’t on the same page as the other person? You’re saying similar words, but your wires are getting crossed. For some reason, you just don’t understand things the same way. It is a frustrating, confusing, and time-consuming phenomenon. Miscommunication also wreaks havoc on team productivity. The good news is you can put a stop to these issues once you understand power of communication styles and how they influence what people say, hear, and think. 

You may be surprised to know that for your whole life you may have been engaged in conversations with others while also speaking different languages. According to systems psychologist David Kantor, we each have a very strong communication style preference. This preference shapes our context of understanding and interpretation in all of our conversations.

Kantor identifies various communication styles or languages. Each of us has the ability to use and modulate between languages, but we typically have a dominant one. Just as ingrained as being right- or left-handed, we tend to naturally gravitate to one language style over the others.

Language of Affect

People who prefer to communicate using the Language of Affect interpret and understand information through the contextual lens of emotion. They comfortably speak about a topic based upon how it makes them feel, or discussing how it affects others. They freely talk about feelings and emotions. You can easily identify the Language of Affect by listening for key phrases like “I feel…”, “How do you feel about…”, and “Are you ok?”

Language of Meaning

Communicating with the Language of Meaning uses the contextual lens of understanding. Those who prefer this language can comfortably speak about the purpose behind something, or will seek out understanding. They freely talk about how and why things are the way they are. You can easily identify the Language of Meaning by listening for phrases like “I think”, “What are your thoughts?”, or “Why is that so?”

Language of Power

Those who prefer to communicate using the Language of Power interpret and understand information through the contextual lens of action. They comfortably speak about the actions or steps necessary to do something. They talk about timelines, deliverables, and goals. The Language of Power is often in use when you hear phrases such as “Do something”, “I want…”, or “I need it done.”

How to Deal with Conflicting Languages

When there are major disconnects in a conversation, it’s frequently because different language modes are in use at the same time. One person is talking about a task that needs to get done, another is trying to understand the purpose of the task, and a third is thinking about how the task will affect others. All parties are focused on the same thing (the task), but they are coming at the conversation and interpreting it from three different perspectives. 

Here are 4 steps to remedy such situations:

  1. Start out by learning your own language preferences. What do you tend to talk about the most? Do you talk about feelings, understanding and purpose, or getting things done? Notice when you use different communication styles in different situations.
  2. Take a pause when you think you are talking past someone. What is your communication style in the moment? Listen for key words that clue you in on their preferred language. Is it the same or different as yours?
  3. Switch to match your conversation partner’s language style. It is empowering when you are able to recognize you are speaking a “different language” and switch to their language to get on the same page.
  4. Use influence to shift others’ communication styles. Once you get more comfortable seeing and changing your conversation modes, you can try modulating the style of others through influence. A great way to accomplish this is to validate and acknowledge their perspective by using their language, and then explain that you are looking at it differently and shift into your preferred mode. Without even realizing what’s happening, they will be able to better understand what you are saying, and you can quickly get onto the same page.

When we start tuning into each other’s language styles, personal judgement often fades away. We are empowered to change the structural dynamics of our communications, strengthen our relationships, increase our knowledge and awareness, and improve performance.

Categories: IT Management

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Nicole Mills

Strategy, leadership, culture, team dynamics, performance management, change management, Agile, organizational structure, and operations.

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