Leadership / 09.09.19
The Power of Communication
What makes a good communicator? The power of their words? Their listening skills? Both, obviously, but the best communicators are also keenly aware of how people learn or process information.
According to Denise Smithson Green, Director of Ticketing with Des Moines Performing Arts, recognizing an individual’s learning style helps you communicate with them far more effectively. She shared her knowledge and some tips with attendees at INTIX 2019 in Dallas.
As she looked out at her audience, Smithson Green knew only too well that the people who had come to her presentation would process the information in a variety of ways, depending on which of three learning styles they employed. There were visual learners, auditory learners and kinesthetic learners — just as there are in her workplace, where knowing a colleague’s learning style can come in extremely handy. “I’m going to tell you how you can figure out who they are without really telling them that you are figuring it out,” she says.
Smithson Green is well aware of her own learning style, which, in the case of her Inspiration Stage presentation, was critical. As someone with dominant visual traits, she kept her eye on the clock knowing how quickly 15 minutes can zip by. “I have how many minutes left? We have to get through this, so I’m not going to get into a lot of detail as I’m talking, and I am going to make decisions quickly, too. Visual folks like to complete things, and we don’t like interruptions.”
There were no interruptions. Indeed, members of the audience were already trying to figure out their own learning style. Do you like to give hugs as so many in the INTIX community do? If so, Smithson Green says you are likely kinesthetic. Are you detail oriented? Welcome to the auditory club. Or, perhaps you like descriptive language, painting broad pictures of things and places. This is typical of visual learners.
Getting to know yourself and your colleagues
Looking for a quick way to know what kind of person you’re dealing with? Smithson Green suggests asking them for travel directions or how to do something.
“As you’re watching their face, you’re going to see a visual learner look up because they’re trying to remember what it looks like to get to their house or their office. They’re your big picture people. When they give directions, they’re going to say, ‘You’re going to go down there and there’s going to be a red house, then you’re going to take a right on that street. Then, when you see the pharmacy, you’ll take a left there.’ You’re not going to hear a lot of details, but they’ll paint a picture of how to get there.”
Auditory learners also look away when they are answering a question, but they don’t look up. “They hear things, so when you ask them for directions, they’re going to look to the side toward their ears,” Smithson Green says. “When they talk to you, they’re going to turn. They’re not being rude and turning away. They may even fold their arms because they are trying to block out anything that is going to deter from them being able to hear. My husband is auditory. It can drive me nuts. ‘Can you tell me how to get to such and such?’ He’ll say, ‘You’re going to go a quarter of a mile down there, you’re going to take a right on this street, then you’re going to go 3.2 miles and take a left.’ Not 3 miles, not approximately 3 miles, but 3.2 miles. So, auditory people give you the details. A lot of the time they’ll tilt their head because they are trying to point their ear at what they’re trying to hear and take in and not be distracted.”
And finally, kinesthetic learners. These are your touch-feely people, says Smithson Green. “They like to give hugs, always wear soft clothes, and they will actually look down when they are asked a question. They are kind of vague. ‘You’re going to go a little way down that road, then you’re going to take this other one, I’m not sure of the name of it.’ They’re not going to have a lot of details for you. When you’re talking to them, they’re going to be fidgeting, maybe rubbing their clothes. They are not going to sit still; they’re going to move in their seat because they want to feel something at all times.”
A telltale sign
If you don’t have an opportunity to ask someone for directions, Smithson Green suggests looking at their office workspace. “Their desks are pretty much an open book,” she says.
Kinesthetic learners have desks that “look like something exploded on them and in their office. It’s super sloppy, and there’s stuff everywhere.”
On the other hand, she says, “the visual person is going to have everything out on their desk because they like to see their stuff. It’s all about the big picture; it’s all about the visual. They’re going to have an organized desk, and they’re going to have a lot of stuff on it, but it will be very nice and tidy because it’s pretty and it looks good.”
Then there are the auditory learners, the cleanest and neatest of all. “My director of finance is auditory. When you walk into her office, the only way you know she still works there is there’s a blanket on the back of her chair. There’s nothing on her desk. So, an auditory person’s desk is usually pretty neat, clean and tidy. They don’t want anything to detract from any of the noise that’s going to come in.”
Putting your knowledge to work
Let’s assume you now know your own learning style and that of at least some of your colleagues. How does that help make you a better communicator? No doubt that question was on the minds of everyone in the INTIX audience as well. After all, time was ticking away and, with that very much on her mind, Smithson Green got down to business.
“An auditory person needs all the details about a project, and they are going to ask a lot of questions. My database manager is auditory. I literally will go to her desk and talk to her because she’s going to have seven questions and she wants to know exactly how we’re going to do something. ‘Do you want it in two graphs or one; do you want them combined or separated?’ She’s going to have all the questions, which helps me get exactly what I need.”
Smithson Green continues, “Our kinesthetic folks, they’re people who have a lot of energy up front. They love to start things, and they work in these short bursts of energy. They’re easily distracted. They are very creative people, so they don’t want all the detail because they want to figure it out themselves. My kinesthetic colleague, when she comes to talk to me about something, she’ll go on for 10 minutes, yet she already got her point out in the first three. When I’m giving her instructions, I must be patient. I know I can’t micromanage her, and I don’t give her every detail so I can let her be a little creative.”
When Smithson Green sends her visual learner an email, she’s “direct and to the point. For me that’s super easy because I’m visual. I sometimes must stop and remind myself that I probably should have a salutation in there, but I like to get to the point. I can give her bullet points and she’s good to go. These are also people when you reward them and want to recognize a job well done, they like to see the certificate, the banner, the signs, the cards. They want to see something, so keep that in mind. It’s all about what they can see.”
Know yourself in order to help others
Of course, it isn’t all so straightforward, and it really helps to know yourself, says Smithson Green. “As a visual person,” she notes, “I can be very stuck in my point of view. Visual people tend to be a little stubborn. We may be a little judgemental and overly critical because our way is the right way. As the director of my department, I need to be super cognizant of that when I am dealing with my colleagues. My whole team is welcome in my office anytime, and I must remember that this is not an annoyance. I’m here to lead them, and I will check myself when they walk in the door. I have to appreciate their style and learn to work with it.”
In working with her database manager, Smithson Green has learned that this auditory colleague needs to take an occasional mental health day. “She’s a trained industrial engineer and is wicked smart. Auditory people are going to take sick days; they’re going to take long lunches. Auditory learners have a tendency to quit things and jobs when they get hard, so if you can help this type of person recognize that they just need to take a break and don’t need to take a break from the job, then you’ll keep them longer. So, help coach them through that.”
Kinesthetic learners also have issues related to their learning style. According to Smithson Green, there is a lot of drama and emotion surround them. “Recognizing that this is how they are going to react helps you coach them so they can recognize that they’re not at fault. It’s just how they are made, so working with them on that really does help.”
Smithson Green wrapped up her presentation by reminding her audience that they will communicate more effectively by tailoring their approach to the style of the person with whom they are working. Pay attention to the way you ask questions and even the way you praise people for doing a good job, she says, and you are more likely to get the results you desire.
“When you’re talking with your visual people, ask them questions that have to do with vision. How do you see this turning out? What do you see as the delay? These are things that resonate with them because it’s visual.”
She continues, “With auditory people, you want to ask them, ‘So what does this tell you?’ Or, ‘What did you learn from this?’ ‘What sounds good to you?’ Again, focus on those ears. As I said, give verbal instructions, be patient and allow them to ask all the questions they want to ask. If you’re auditory as well, let them ask the questions and don’t micromanage them because I think that’s how it can come across if you don’t allow them to ask what they need. They want to hear they’re doing a good job, so give them kudos in a setting where both they and other people can hear it. Unlike visual learners, they don’t really care about the tchotchke or the certificate. Just keep verbalizing your praise to them.”
Lastly, there are kinesthetic learners. “You want to ask them how they feel about things, tap into their emotions, tap into the feelings they are going to have,” she says. “Give them guidelines but not specific detailed instructions. They need that freedom to be creative. They want public recognition as well. So, keep this in mind as you’re working with your team.”
And finally, Smithson Green again reiterated that it is not all about the other person. “Hopefully you can look at yourself,” she says, “and recognize what kind of learner you are and when you may need to take a step back when you’re dealing with others.”
You May Also Like
Want news like this delivered to your inbox weekly? Subscribe to the Access Weekly newsletter, your ticket to industry excellence.
Tags: INTIX 2019 , Leadership