Thinking Out Loud

What Do I Call It?

I recently conducted a workshop on leadership and communication styles, something I do regularly. A number of participants worked in the same organization, most were attending individually. Afterwards, as I gathered my materials and prepared to leave, one of the participants re-entered the room and asked to talk with me for a few minutes. 

She started by saying, “What do I call it?” I basically knew what she meant because I’ve frequently encountered this question in various forms in different communication styles venues (teaching and consulting). She felt stumped about how to label her style and felt frustrated because of it.  And frankly, she seemed a little embarrassed that she didn’t “get it” better. In fact, she more than got it. She was actually at the next level of understanding without realizing it.

Let me digress for a moment. At the end of any program I conduct when I’m teaching the Communication Styles Framework, I make a big point of telling participants that I want and hope they will be in touch with me sometime in the near future. This is not a ploy to drum up business. I offer this (without cost) because of what happened to the participant in this story: Once you learn about the basics of your communication style and get beyond the terminology, it becomes more personal. You begin to make nuanced observations about yourself, and the elements of your style begin to overlap. Now let me get back to the story to illustrate this point.

After this participant asked me about what to call her style, I asked her to just describe her experience without being concerned about labels. She said, “Well, when I’m in a meeting with my team, I end up feeling kind of stupid. I start to say something, to offer my thoughts, but it doesn’t come out right and then I just give up and feel bad.” I asked her if she had trouble finding words to describe her experience and she said, “Not ultimately, just at the time,” and then went on: “I can kind of see what I’m going to say, it’s like an image.”  Then I asked, “At that point is it clear to you what you want to say?” She replied, “Not quite, but because I feel that I should contribute I say something that just doesn’t work and the feedback I get tells me that I’m not making sense to others.”

I asked her to take a moment and revisit a situation where that happened, to picture it and describe it to me. She thought for a moment and then had an epiphany. “It takes me a couple of minutes to get the pictures in the correct order before I can be clear about my thoughts and say anything coherently.”

From there I suggested she talk with her team about this observation and find a way to create space in the conversation during meetings so she can make sure everything is in the proper sequence before talking about it.  She doesn’t need to think out loud, which she was defining as the right thing to do. If she is clear about how her communication processing works, finds a straightforward way to account for it, and communicates with others about what she’s doing, she’ll be able to successfully contribute to the discussion.

We could say that she is strong in the visual-spatial and intrapersonal domains and not so strong logically, but those labels and characterizations don’t get her where she needs to be. These tools, however, helped her identify what was working and what wasn’t working so she could better understand her communication process and acknowledge to others what she needed. When I asked if she felt comfortable discussing this with the team, she responded enthusiastically, “Oh, yes. That will be easy. They were here, too!”

Even if the other team member were not present, giving co-workers some basic information about how you process information and therefore communicate is very helpful, and in my experience, very welcome. In fact, it’s a natural team-building experience.

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