Sonja asked to be assigned to a project she was interested in—much of it involved ways to use her particular organizational and people skills. Steve, managing the project, was delighted to have her and briefed her on where they were in the process and what they needed her to do.
Steve’s supervisor Tara was coordinating the project on a larger scale within the organization, and within a couple of weeks, she noticed Steve’s frustration with Sonja when Steve presented a periodic update. At first, Tara was not concerned because Sonja was responsible, competent, and well respected: She had, after all, just joined the project. But Steve’s frustration increased, and he began complaining to Tara: “Sonja’s so stressed all the time. I’ve told her what needs to be done, kept out of her way, and offered a lot of support. But she keeps saying she needs more information and that there must be more documentation available. I’ve told her what she needs to know, more than once.”
When Tara heard Steve’s description of Sonja’s frustration, she had an epiphany and reminded Steve of the communication styles workshop they attended: “You know how Sonja writes very detailed e-mails with lists and bullet points, as well as detailed descriptions? They probably indicate how she processes information and how she would like to receive information. Try writing out what you’ve been sharing verbally with her in a style that is consistent with her e-mails.”
Then Tara added a personal observation. She reflected on how Sonja’s e-mails, although dense and time consuming to read, had helped her on more than one occasion when she needed to look back on a project to find specific information or documentation. Steve and Tara acknowledged how our communication style strengths can also present challenges.
So, Steve put the information he’d previously told Sonja in an e-mail message, using lists, bullet points, and narrative descriptions as organizational tools. Later that afternoon, Sonja sent a responding message to Steve profusely thanking Steve. She told him how helpful and amazing his message was, how it gave her direction, focus, and the detail she needed to forge ahead. Sonja also mentioned that she shared it with a colleague working on a related project who was also effusive and grateful for the information.
Tara was delighted, of course, when Steve shared Sonja’s response. And it was a good lesson about how one small adjustment related to communication style preferences can have a big impact. Tara was also relieved because as Steve’s distress and frustration escalated, Tara considered getting more directly involved, making personnel changes on the project, and shifting responsibilities of several participants—all of which would affect time, money, and morale. Instead, they were moving ahead productively and with stronger working relationships.