Sometimes you just have to flex a little. When Denise Ryan was trying to read a map in the middle of the night in her car outside a closed gas station, a man tapped on her car window. She was alarmed and wouldn't get out. So the man adjusted his approach. He spoke to her from a few steps back, while she listened through her partially lowered car window.
"My fear was a barrier to us communicating," said Ryan, a communication expert who addressed the attendees of the SC Business Licensing Officials Association and SC Municipal Finance Officers, Clerks and Treasurers Association Joint Annual Academy.
"He changed his approach to deal with the emotion. A lot of times, that is what we have to do. We have to get that emotion dealt with, whether it's by listening or drawing that person out. … Maybe it's us and we're angry, and we just need to take time to cool down."
All kinds of barriers stand between people when they try to communicate, she said — fear, technology, emotion, a tendency to stereotype others, distractions and knowledge gaps, among others.
"Sometimes, there's a knowledge gap between you in your jobs and the very people you're trying to help, or even new city council or town council members," said Ryan. That gap can be created by something as simple as using acronyms that others may not know.
Working for cities and towns poses unique challenges related to interacting with others. Ryan said people are often automatically intimidated by those who represent the government.
She said generational and cultural differences play a role in communication, too, but that communication styles are the biggest factor.
"I don't want you to change who you are," said Ryan. "But we have to flex a little to communicate with people who have different styles than our own."
She detailed four types of communicators, and said that it is helpful to recognize yourself and others within the groups in order to communicate better.
The four types
Director/Controllers: not shy but private about personal matters; come on strong in conversation; value getting the job done; results-oriented.
How to speak to one: Get to the point right away. Give respect. Argue facts, not feelings.
Promoter/Socializers: value enjoyment; talkative and open about self; love to brainstorm; celebration-oriented; intuitive, creative, spontaneous; want work to be fun for everyone.
How to speak to one: Keep up with their fast speaking pace and digressions. Create energy and excitement, because they're easily bored. They like stories and shared experiences. Give sincere compliments.
Supporter/Relaters: harmonizers; good listeners; value acceptance and stability in circumstances; build network of friends to help do work; relationship-oriented.
How to speak to one: Take time to connect. Say "good morning" and ask about their weekend. Know that they are more often taken for granted than other types. Draw them out at meetings. Solicit their input. Invite them to meetings and activities.
Thinker/Analyzers: introverted; prefer to work alone; value accuracy; closed about personal matters; logical; ideas-oriented.
How to speak to one: Present ideas logically and without gimmicks. Give them lots of written information and enough time to analyze it. Do not put them in a position where they are unprepared. Don't rush them.
In closing, Ryan said that no single communication style is better than another: "The beauty is in the mix."