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Make Communication work

Improving team communication often requires an inward-looking assessment first of our conative styles.

Prior to delivering personal-awareness workhops, the primary challenge most clients and teams immediately identify with is “communication”.

Communication in itself is a vast word, and often there are very different stories behind the word based on people’s individual view of what good communication is.

When we dig deeper into the problem we hear things like:

  • I am not given enough information to move forward
  • Our processes are not clear enough
  • There are too many long emails I don’t have enough time to read them all
  • Meeting ran overtime with little achieved”.

The challenge is that these are diametrically opposing views. Often within the same team. How do we solve this and increase productivity? Well, we cannot judge the real situation until we understand our own natural communication style.

Now let’s look at this customer example below:

Julia is a founder of a growing business and she has seven direct reports. Sara is her marketing exec, and together they have managed to grow a substantial business over the past 8 years.

But they have a long-term dynamic – that they both put down as a “communication” issue. Julia assumes that Sara isn’t “quick” enough, and Sara thinks Julia rushes everything. Due to new investment a new wave of growth is planned, and their differences are bound to cause more frustration as the stress-levels rise.

If we assess their natural ability to collect, retain and process information. From our assessment, Sara’s need for data and information is so high that she will start every project and will not continue until she has sufficient information. Her strength is to get as many specifics as possible and specify a problem.

Julia’s assessment has shown that she is at the other end of the spectrum. Her strength in this mode is to simplify and get the overview of a problem, and it will not be the first thing she will do.

In this simple 1-2-1 assessment, we can see that Sara naturally needs far more information than Julia to do the same work. This creates natural conflict in their view of what “good communication” is.

  • For Sara, it is giving lots of detail and for Julia, it is giving very few clear points to move on from.
  • Julia will likely get information overload from Sara and come across like she is not listening to the (according to Sara) essential details about the problem. Sara in her turn will most likely get frustrated about Julia not giving her enough information to move forward (according to Julia, she have given more than enough in her overview).

The scenario becomes more complicated when we consider all other areas of assessment, and if we extrapolate the assessment to a wider team.

But the first step is to (a) create awareness of the natural way you will collect information and then (b) be aware of how others compare to you. The second step is not to change your natural approach but finding a middle-ground or workaround of how you can communicate and still stay true to your own strengths. Often, this is simply acceptance of each other’s natural ability but in this case – recognising that being able to see both the specifics and the overview of an issue is a strength. If they can accept their differences it will improve their collaborative output.

If you’ve been working with someone for one-day, or 10 years, your gut feel can often highlight these differences. But if you undertake conative assessments it becomes much easier, and less personal, to talk about your differences and work out the best path that suits you both.

Conative assessments identify our innate ways of approaching work, that have been formed since the age of six and will not change. So, rather than telling either Sara or Julia to change their approach we have to find workarounds of how they can find a middle ground that works for them.

If you have ever been in a similar situation to Julia and Sara below is some of the tips we gave them to improve their communication.

  • Agree to a limited number of specific questions Sara can ask Julia in one go.
  • When sending emails, Sara can write up a quick summary in the top and then attached or write down the details she feels is needed.
  • Work separately but come together for decisions when possible.
  • Do not expect Sara to give estimates and go along with Julia’s hunches straight away, give her time to go away and research before deciding.

In our example, Julia became more aware of her natural ability to “bottom-line” data which is in direct conflict with Sara’s need to collect and distribute a large amount of information. Sara realised that she could still collect and process the information she wanted but had to ensure it was summarised by the time it got to Julia.

In effect, to make communication work, one must increase awareness of ourselves before we can understand others.

If you would like to learn more about Kolbe and how you can improve communication, click on the graphic below to take our team scorecard:


Hutton Henry
Hutton Henry
Hutton has worked with Private Equity Portfolio firms and Private Equity funds since 2015. Having previously worked in post-merger integration for large firms such as Ford and HP, Hutton understands the value of finding issues prior to M&A deals. He is currently the founder of Beyond M&A and provides technology due diligence for VC, PE and corporate investors, so they understand their technology risks before entering into a deal.

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