I am working on the Toastmasters educational path, Presentation Mastery. As part of the pre-work for my speech in Level 2, I took a brief survey on communication styles. The survey confirmed what I knew already about myself: I prefer a supportive communication style. According to the Toastmasters course survey, this style is “calm, steady, approachable, sincere and gentle.” And “due to her active listening skills, others see her as cooperative, dependable, and loyal.” I agreed 100% with this assessment.
I decided to give a speech about communication styles and tell a story about myself and my own experiences to illustrate the different styles. I am sure you have heard the idiom “it takes all kinds.” This idiom can apply to the need for inclusion of many ideas and people from different cultures with different heritages to be part of the conversation. The idiom can also apply to the need for different communication and leadership styles in work groups and personal interactions.
Many of you work in high tech, so I am sure you are aware of the Type A personalities. Those D’s on the DISC personality scale. The dominant personalities who are direct, strong-willed, and forceful. The Toastmasters communication style assessment describes the direct communicator as someone who is results-oriented, focused, competitive. Direct communicators are motivated to get things done and can be impatient with others.
I am not a Type A, not a D on the DISC scale, but an often over-looked and undervalued C: conscientious, analytical, reserved, private, precise, systematic. I also prefer a supportive communication style and am calm, steady and approachable.
Here is my story.
When I was a mid-level manager at a high-tech multi-national firm in Silicon Valley, I asked to participate in the intensive Managing Through People Program. This was a week-long boot camp held in Santa Cruz at the Chaminade Hotel and Resort. All the attendees had pre-work, of course, and 360-evaluations prior to the event. On the first day we were assigned to teams of ten mid-level managers from across the company. There were about sixty of us at the workshop.
At lunch on the first day, I knew immediately I was in over my head and way beyond my comfort level. First, I noticed that the women attending were definitely in the minority, probably less than 5% of the attendees. Second, I noticed that I was surround by Type A personalities, there were plenty of egos on display.
After lunch with our assigned teams, as part of an icebreaker activity, each of us took the DISC personality scale assessment and then shared the results. No surprise, I was the only Conscientious C (reserved, private, precise) at a table of all D’s (direct strong-willed, result- oriented). I felt doomed.
Throughout all of the group activities and team building exercises during the week, I felt talked over, talked down to, and undervalued. How was it that when I made a suggestion or offered a solution, no one paid any attention to what I said? But when one of the Type A’s made the same suggestion, everyone agreed and thought it was wonderful. Was I not communicating? Was I speaking a different language? In a sense, yes.
As a communicator, I am supportive and sincere. I prefer a personal, relaxed, no -tension environment. The communication style of my team members could be categorized as direct and forceful. They were not tuned into what I was saying or how I was saying it. I tend to sit back and listen intently, thinking about the issue and formulating a reply. The direct communicators blurt out the first thing they think of with so much conviction and assurance, everyone agrees they must be right!
Halfway through the week, I thought that I had made some progress in making my voice and ideas heard. I did enjoy learning new things and meeting new people. I felt that our team was making some progress.
From the beginning of the bootcamp, we had been warned about the final project on the last two days of the program. This final project, we were told, would test us and require us to put into practice everything we had learned during the week. I was worried, would I keep up with the team, was my more reserved communication style up to the task ahead?
Thursday afternoon after lunch we were given the final workbook and instructions for the last project. The project that would test our skills as a manager, communicator and team leader.
Something totally unexpected happened, I was assigned to lead the team. Me, the quiet one, not a Type A at all, not a D. Someone who thought deeply before acting. How was it even possible? I was terrified!
We opened our workbooks to start the exercise and I was immediately challenged by several of my teammates. A revolt! They wanted to show me who was boss, and it wasn’t supposed to be me. I am sure I had the look of panic in my eyes. I thought we would fail, and it would be my fault.
I took a deep breath, got up from our table and started a slow walk all the way around the ballroom while my team stayed behind watching me. As I walked, I said to myself, “This is it, you can make this the worst day of your life and give up right now, or you can rise to the challenge and lead the team.” Just then, the workshop organizer who had picked me to lead the team, walked up to me. I said to him, “This is the worst day of my life.” He said, “No it isn’t. I’ve watched you all week, you can do this.” I smiled at him and said, “Yes I know I can, and your support just confirmed that.” Exactly the words of encouragement that I needed to hear.
I went back to my table. I was able to take the leadership role and work with my team using the new skills I had learned that week. Using the communication style am most comfortable with—calm and steady, don’t get flustered, look for the patterns, ask questions and make sound decisions.
Looking back on that experience 15 years ago, I learned a lot about myself that week and why it takes all kinds and the appreciation of all kinds, to help you and your team succeed.
Written by Helen Josephine, Women L.E.A.D. Toastmasters member
See you at our next meeting on Wednesday Feb 17th, 2021 7:00pm PST