As a former communication scholar, I’m particularly aware of what I term “communication bullying” and as an executive coach, I often find myself working with clients on these very issues.  Even though engaging in these poor communication tactics is often unintentional, communicating poorly impedes sales efforts, securing promotions and experiencing healthy interpersonal relationships.

For example, last week I was asked by a company executive to silently sit in and observe their team zoom call.  When I inquired about why he’d like me to do this, his response was literally because I feel like I’m on a kindergarten playground!  I was astonished that someone in an executive role would feel this way after meetings and gladly accepted the opportunity to offer feedback.

It didn’t take long for me to understand why he felt this way.  About a third of the attendees monopolized the discussion.  They talked over one another, interrupted frequently and talked louder to ensure they held the floor.  As an observer, I felt like I was in a slightly violent tennis match.  While this dysfunctional Wimbledon match was going on, another third of the participants were trying to interject ideas that would strategically improve the company.  In comparison, these folks were engaging in a manner more like a friendly ping-pong game, communicating slightly better and in a much less violent manner.  And, while these back-and-forth matches were occurring, I couldn’t help but also notice the remaining participants sitting quietly, often diverting their discomfort by taking notes or flipping through pages of old notes.  They were unnoticed, disengaged and clearly very uncomfortable.

What I observed on this single team zoom call were many types of communication that could be characterized as communication bullying.

  • Interrupting
  • Talking over others
  • Posing questions and then interjecting your own answer
  • Repeating, repeating, repeating
  • Preaching
  • Feigning attention
  • Thinking of what you’ll be saying while someone else is talking

Many of us present differently in different situations.  And while we can switch between these different “voices” we usually fall back on one dominant one.  Becoming more aware of your different voices and the advantages and disadvantages of each one will make you more mindful about when to use one and refrain from using another.  Knowing and being mindful of how you present will make both your workplace and personal conversations more productive and rewarding.

As part of my debrief with the executive, I began by explaining that the most effective team managers lead by example and control their own voices.  All too often, those with poor communication skills cause those with better skills to compromise just to be heard.  After walking through some strategies for how to implement more productive and effective communication practices in his meetings, we discussed five common types of personalities and how those personalities impact communication.

Nurturers often look out for others and go unheard themselves.  They’re the most comfortable in conversations where kindness and shared values come first and more often than not, believe that people are more important than profits.

About 43% of the population are nurturers and they can help to ensure that your company doesn’t turn into a toxic dog-eat-dog environment.  However, nurturers struggle to make themselves heard and often undervalue their own contributions.  Leaders who are not naturally nurturing need to encourage the nurturers to participate and then make sure they are not interrupted.  And, if you’re a nurturer, practice how you might get comfortable with offering opinions and ideas and then try one method out.

Kites are the voices of innovation (and others often struggle to understand their ideas).  They’re highly imaginative, look toward the future and daydream about what could be.  Only about 9% of the population are kites and they gravitate toward owning their own business or working in organizations that reward out-of-the box thinking.

Working with kites can be intensely rewarding and insanely frustrating because there’s often a thin line between the innovative and the unrealistic.  However, kites are filled with creativity, inspiration and imagination…and all that is pretty messy.  Non-kites might practice expanding their time limit before cutting a kite off, while kites should practice how to deliver their ideas clearly and with their eye on an endpoint.  Kites need to know that their contributions are valued.

Custodians are super pragmatic and strive to protect traditional values.  Custodians often protect the proven ways of doing things.  The custodian’s emphasis lies in protecting the company from unnecessary or frivolous change, often at the cost of the interests of people.  They will most likely emphasize what’s working in a current policy or practice rather than what’s not.

Custodians too often get a bad rap.  They’re viewed as boring and restrictive, but they’re also filled with pragmatism and are realists.  They are frequently all that stands between a company and destructive recklessness.  Non-custodians should work to fully listen to custodians and ask clarifying questions when necessary while custodians should work on making sure their critiques are concise and pointed and make sure that they have connectors on their teams.

Connectors bring people together, facilitate new bonds and maintain existing relationships.  Connectors excel at partnering the right people to accomplish a goal or project.  They are infectiously enthusiastic, excellent motivators and can be counted on to share in work.  However, connectors often have numerous acquaintances but few true close friends.

Connectors are “go to” people for teamwork and collaboration.  They’ll always have an ear for a new idea or different way of doing something.  Non-connectors might practice exercising patience when connectors are struggling with logical information while connectors can practice not taking critique personally and refrain from shutting down.

Trailblazers are intent about achieving their goals and rarely shy away from making tough calls.  They’re often ambitious and strategic thinkers who have very strong visions of their personal and professional goals.  Trying to argue with a trailblazer might be akin to feeling like you’re getting run over by a freight train – not necessarily because they’re loud but more likely because they won’t budge from their position.  Before the conversation has even begun, they’ve thought through all the possibilities, most of the strategies and all of the solutions.  Trailblazers don’t just move pieces in a chess game, they’re very aware that pawns often have to be sacrificed to secure a win and they’re not afraid to make that move.

Trailblazers are often the most dominant character in the meeting.  Non-trailblazers should work on valuing the strategic input that trailblazers bring to the table while trailblazers should practice speaking last and remain mindful that although they’ve already run through all the scenarios, others in the meeting are just starting their analysis.

Remember that although we have several voices, we have one dominant voice.  Identifying yours and the impact it has in conversations will help your personal and professional communications be happier, healthier and more productive.  Decide what voice you’d like to use before entering your next meeting or conversation.