She'd been a roaring success in her old job but was running into walls in her new one. Why wouldn't her colleagues respond to her e-mails? Answer: She wasn't speaking their language. Enter a laserlike coach with a talking cure that's transformed her life—on and off the job.
You know that feeling you get when you say something you weren't supposed to say and it comes out a little louder than you anticipated? It's a naked moment, and there's nothing you can do to cover up. You goofed, everybody heard, and how you fare from here on out depends on what you do next.
When I started a new job three years ago, that's how I felt all the time. I came from a publishing company where the communication style was pretty loose. There were cupcake birthday parties, plenty of pranks, exciting meetings with loads of brainstorming, but there was also a lot of yelling, and a good dose of humiliation. When a very junior person offered an opinion at a meeting, a very senior person responded, "Can someone who matters please speak?" Tears flowed freely. It was an overworked, understaffed, underpaid, frantic environment in which the only way to get I.T. to help with a dead computer was to throw a fit and threaten to call the president.
I'd spent ten years at that company before moving to my new job. Somehow I didn't pay attention to the fact that everything—and I mean everything—was different at this office. People were busy but not frantic. Nobody snapped at anyone else, at least not in an obvious way. I didn't realize that all you needed to do to get I.T. to come was simply call and leave a polite message.
Not surprisingly, my requests were falling to the bottom of most people's list of things to do. I couldn't get anyone to cooperate. I had a rough time with one young man who told me about a decision that was made on one of my books when I wasn't in the room. "Over my dead body," I exclaimed, not intending anything other than to express my dismay at what I thought was a bad decision. But for the first time, I saw the intimidation embedded in that remark: His eyes popped open and for an instant fear flashed across his face. I saw clearly the effects of my own brashness and his sensitivity at the same time. I never wanted to see that look on anyone's face again, and I couldn't believe I hadn't seen it before. To continue to work with him, I'd have to climb out of the hole I'd dug for myself, but I couldn't see a ladder. Although my boss and I had frank discussions about the need for me to adjust my style of interaction, he had no practical help to offer.
I called my friend Tony—a management and branding consultant—and told him what was up. "Did you think about asking them for a coach?" he said.
"A communications coach. Your HR department probably has a list, and I bet they'll even pay for it."
I couldn't imagine that my company would—publishing is not known for having extra money for this kind of thing—but I asked, and my boss said yes right away. And that's when I met John Artise, my communications sensei.
A big Italian-American bear of a man with a love of jazz, Brazilian music, and Eastern philosophy, Artise has been in the business of communication for close to 30 years. He developed the system he works with now after an experiment he conducted as a career coach to try to help his clients crack the code of getting hired: He spent eight years posing as a job applicant, during which time he sat through 300 interviews. "The process was a mess," Artise says, because each person was speaking a different language. He administered more than 5,000 communication style assessments to people in corporate outplacement and training to investigate language styles. After analyzing the results, he identified four types of communicators: The Feeler uses language to express emotion. The Sensor is driven by the drumbeat of constant deadline; she's interested in getting things done quickly. The Intuitor thinks in terms of the conceptual and long-range plans; he's a problem solver but not necessarily interested in sticking around to implement solutions—he'd rather move on to the next puzzle. The Thinker operates on logic: She loves organization and systems, and unlike the Intuitor, she likes to see projects through to the bitter end.
"Once I saw how hard it was for them to communicate with each other," says Artise, "it became clear that we needed to learn to recognize and even speak in each other's styles if we ever wanted to get what we needed at work and in life—cooperation." Success, Artise explains, isn't a matter of Sensors hiring only Sensors, or Intuitors working only with Intuitors. It depends on recognizing what is necessary for each person to do his best.
I took the assessment test. I came out a Feeler, and thought I was stuck there but found out that under different circumstances, we shift into other communication styles. Under stress my Thinker takes over. That's good news because the Thinker is clear and logical—balancing my emotional Feeler tendencies. Artise says that other people under stress might slip into Sensor mode. You know what I'm talking about: You walk into a meeting with your boss, and he makes you feel as if the clock is ticking before you've even opened your mouth. Sensors are very efficient, but when pressed, they become abrupt. The best way to drive a stressed-out Sensor crazy is to throw an Intuitor in her path—someone who is abstract, idealistic, and can take a while to get to the point. On the other hand, an overwhelmed Sensor can appreciate Thinkers and their habit of sticking strictly to the facts.
Artise explained that each type has its good and bad traits. As I read the list of characteristics for a Feeler, I was a bit pleased with myself: They're empathetic, concerned about others, they like to help people solve their problems. But when stretched, Feelers can be manipulative, impulsive; they can overpersonalize, become too subjective, and stir up conflict. I felt the sting that only recognition brings. Fortunately, Artise says Feelers are the most interested in making changes and the most willing.
My next task was to put this new knowledge into practice and try to get the cooperation I was hoping for. I messed up a lot, and my days were punctuated by phone calls to Artise, before things started to improve at work.
"I'm getting stonewalled by H."
"Don't forget he's a Feeler," Artise replied. "End every e-mail with a question he can answer. It'll make him feel good about himself and good about working with you. Every chance you get, remind him he's great, and you just couldn't function without him. Feelers love that." Indeed H did. After a few interactions using Artise's techniques, H said yes so quickly to my requests, it made my chair spin.
"I'm getting nothing but impatience and dismissiveness from R."
"She's in Sensor mode," Artise said. "Give her what she needs to do the work. Go in prepared with what you're going to say. Then get out fast." Soon, whenever I needed information from R, if she took more than an hour to get it to me, she included an apology.
"G starts every sentence midthought, and I have trouble understanding him. He gets irritated when I ask questions."
"He's an off-the-charts Intuitor. He thinks what's in his brain is also in yours. Let him speak for a while and then ask your questions. He'll feel he's had a chance to be heard, and you can locate yourself in his thinking process. Let him know that you love his ideas and want to know more—you're just having trouble absorbing them so quickly." This person became a treasured mentor.
I felt a bit manipulative using these techniques, until one day the veil lifted: I was giving people what they needed to feel safe working with me. They were happier and that thought made me happy. The method had fallen away.
Call me stupid, but it was only then that I noticed my dramatic style was a little too present in my personal life as well. I'd surrounded myself with people who were, I thought, tough enough to take my unfiltered style of self-expression, but I hadn't noticed that my behavior could be shocking to those outside my nice little coterie of family, friends, and colleagues who somehow found it worthwhile to put up with me. And even within that circle, my vociferousness could wear a little thin.
So I started using the tactics Artise had laid out—identifying someone's type, speaking their language, then asking for what I needed using the style that meshed best with their type (see "Can We Talk?" page 136). If my husband was overwhelmed at the office but I wanted him to do something right away because we were on a deadline for our taxes, I had a choice. I could say, "I need you to do this now" and begin a battle of wills in which he lets me know he's too tired to think about it. The other option would be to try to move him into Feeler mode. Artise has noticed that's where people are more empathetic, more emotional, and more likely to help you. If I began with, "I'm sorry things are rough," my husband would then be more willing to cooperate when I said, "but I know you're the one who can figure out whether or not these accountants are the right people to hire."
I've found that this kind of attunement works even on strangers. Say there are ten people behind you in line at the drugstore, the register won't accept your $5 cash-back reward, and the credit card reader is down. You can push the cashier to hurry up and figure it out—likely leading her to tell you where to stick it and you can forget your cash-back reward. Or you can recognize that she's under pressure. She's probably in Sensor mode, and you try to draw out her Thinker by saying, "Boy these machines are terrible. Is there another one that's working? Maybe the manager can help us." She'll likely begin to come up with a way to fix the problems and make sure you get your five bucks.
It can be difficult to show restraint—especially if you're like me and you have none—but the discipline pays off. Alice, a friend who went through the same training, was having a tough time with her Sensor fiancé, Tom. She wanted to change wedding planners—the one they hired was giving them her version of a wedding, and Alice's own dream was going down the tubes. Tom was stressed at work and felt it was too late in the game to start from scratch. Instead of arguing that he wasn't respecting what she wanted, Alice recognized that a Sensor would respond best to a plan for making the switch easily—which she came up with. Once she showed him her outline, he agreed to the change right away.
It might seem that when you give up arguing for your point of view ("I want this done now," "I want you to finish ringing up my purchase and give me back my money," "I want to change wedding planners and you have to agree"), you're sacrificing your needs. But the opposite is true: By shifting gears to speak in another person's emotional language, you're dropping the impulse to get your way by imposing your style on them. This isn't easy, but the surprise is that by giving up, you get even more of what you want.
Can We Talk?
So how do you know whether you are talking to a Feeler, a Sensor, a Thinker, or an Intuitor? Artise teaches people to listen for clues to the other person's communication style—or the style they've slipped into for that particular moment—so you know how to get compromise and cooperation from anyone, at work or at home. To become a black belt communicator, use the cheat sheet on the next page.
The Feeler The Feeler uses language to express emotion.
How to Recognize a Feeler She's an empath and wants to connect, make you feel comfortable. If you're not doing so well, she'll try to figure out a way to help you.
How to Get a Feeler to Cooperate Listen for signals that she is overwhelmed or exhausted. The Feeler needs to hear two things: One, that you understand she's having difficulties—something like: "I'm sorry you're having such a hard time. I don't want to make things more difficult for you." Second, explain that she's the best one to help you: "I'm in trouble and I need your advice; you're so good in situations like this." Being a rescuer is the role she lives to fill, but she wants to be acknowledged for it. When she feels appreciated, she'll be ready to jump in.
The Sensor The Sensor is driven by the drumbeat of constant deadline; she's interested in getting things done quickly.
How to Recognize a Sensor A Sensor labors under the constant pressure of deadlines and does everything—including communicating with you—in bursts of very intense energy. She has a short attention span and can make you feel as if you're taking up too much of her time just by saying hello.
How to Get a Sensor to Cooperate She responds best when she knows you have a plan for getting a task done fast. You need to communicate in easily digestible sound bites, so prepare ahead of time. If you don't get to the point quickly enough, the Sensor will consider you an additional source of stress. What you want the Sensor to know is that you can help reduce her workload.
The Thinker The Thinker operates on logic: She loves organization and systems and she likes to see projects through to the bitter end.
How to Recognize a Thinker These people play by numbers and facts. They are logical and realistic, and they will pop any idealistic balloon by citing a similar situation in which someone failed.
How to Get a Thinker to Cooperate A Thinker loves systems and organization and solving problems. So when she points out inaccuracies or mistakes, let her know that you understand and will fix the problem. She needs to be reassured that you'll stay grounded in reality and that you'll be very careful about gathering your research.
The Intuitor The Intuitor thinks in terms of the conceptual and long-range plans; she's a problem solver but not necessarily interested in sticking around to implement solutions—she'd rather move on to the next puzzle.
How to Recognize an Intuitor She's the one with the big ideas that you have a hard time understanding. She presents information as though you're supposed to know exactly what she's talking about. She doesn't give any context—no last names of people to whom she's referring, no company names even though she's discussing a problem specific to that company. When you ask questions, she gets impatient. She doesn't realize that you don't know what's in her brain.
How to Get an Intuitor to Cooperate Let her talk out her ideas for a while before you begin asking questions. They should be phrased to show her you like her ideas but simply need more details to understand the full picture.