When it comes to communicating with others, we all tend to have different styles.
For example, some people like to talk a lot, while others barely issue a grunt every now and again. Some people come across as blunt and straight to the point, while others typically skirt issues, dropping subtle hints in the hope that the person they’re communicating with is able to read between the lines.
Regardless of where you are on the communication spectrum, the key is to understand your particular communication style when it comes to interacting with others. This can help you really hone in on and utilize your communication strengths while minimizing your communication weaknesses when speaking with coworkers and clients.
How do you know what style of communicator you are?
4 Basic Styles of Communication
According to Straight Talk, a company designed to help people identify and maximize their communication styles, there are four basic styles of communicators. They are: director, expresser, thinker and harmonizer.
While most people are a blend of two or more of these, recognizing your primary style enables you to use it more effectively.
For instance, you’re primarily a director-style communicator if you’re someone who is usually focused on getting the job done, who doesn’t typically doesn’t engage in small talk with the people around you and is often goal oriented.
On the other hand, if you spend a lot of time talking about your feelings, feel like you have 100 different ideas floating around in your head at any given time and love to think outside of the box, then you have an expresser communication style.
The thinkers are communicative problem solvers, and they also like to know as many details as possible before making a decision, which also means that they tend to take longer to do things. This deep-dive into topics also makes them more cautious by nature.
The fourth style is the harmonizer. These are the people who “are caregivers and healers,” according to Straight Talk, and are also known as the Mother Teresas of the world. Harmonizers are very empathetic and are typically quiet and nonaggressive. Their goal is to ease conflict versus creating it.
When reading about these four different styles, which one feels most like you?
More specifically, how does your particular style impact how well you’re able to communicate with your coworkers and clients?
How Your Communication Style May Impact Coworkers and Clients
If you’re a director, you may come across as abrupt and unfriendly due to your general dislike of small talk. Also, because directors are often extremely focused on the task at hand, they aren’t the best listeners.
On the flip side, if you’re a director then you’re likely going to do what you say you’re going to do (when you say you’re going to do it), which increases your trust and respect with clients and coworkers who value this trait.
Expressers are the story-telling communicators, which isn’t a problem if your coworkers and clients are OK with lots of conversation; however, this could be a problem if they prefer silence or don’t have a lot of time to chat.
The creativity aspect of expressers can also be a pro or a con, depending on how much your employer, coworkers and clients appreciate your ability to see things a bit more abstractly.
If your primary communication style is that of a thinker, some people will appreciate your willingness to want to know more details before offering an opinion or making a decision, but this could also work against you if you need to respond quickly and don’t feel like you know enough.
Your cautiousness can also be seen as an advantage or disadvantage, based largely on the situation and your ability to respond.
Finally, as a harmonizer, some clients and coworkers will appreciate that you can sympathize and understand, while others may think that you’re not direct or forceful enough.
Plus, your desire to avoid conflict may make you shy away from taking part in conversations that are difficult or filled with tension, potentially making it harder for others to feel as if issues or concerns have been resolved when communicating with you.
4 Tips for Being a Better Communicator
Regardless of your communication style, there are some things you can do to improve on your interactions with your coworkers and clients.
For instance, Melody Althaus, C.M.T. at Here and Now Wellness Massage in Orange County, California and she follows four basic communication rules:
- Always, always keep the discussion professional;
- Limit the conversation to an absolute minimum so that the client can relax and focus on themselves;
- Discuss problematic areas, such as health issues, prior to massage; and
- Avoid mixing your personal life with your professional life with both clients and co-workers.
What can you do if you’re faced with a difficult situation with a client and have trouble communicating about it?
Handling Difficult Communication Situations
Ruth Werner, B.C.T.M.B., and author of A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Pathology, is a pathology educator who, in addition to facing her own difficult communication situations while practicing as a massage therapist, has also received numerous requests for advice on how to handle tough situations.
For instance, what if a person reports in the middle of the session that she’s been using a lotion with snake venom? What are you supposed to do with that?
Or, more commonly, what if during an introductory interview a client reports that he had been taking Coumadin, but is not anymore because he took himself off the drug since he didn’t like how it made him feel? Or what do you do if your client admits to taking Prozac for depression, but divulges that he feels much better thanks to your massages, so he’s planning to stop taking his medication?
“In terms of communication skills, the client’s safety is the highest priority,” says Werner. Although sometimes they don’t want to hear it, it’s your job as a massage therapist to communicate why you’re going to do or not do something.
This may involve saying, “For your safety, I can’t do that, but let me see what else I can come up with that will help.”
When dealing with difficult or sensitive situations, massage therapists also need to “convey concerns in a way that respects scope of practice but is not alarmist,” says Werner.
This requires following the principles of active listening and creating a dialogue that conveys, “I noticed that [insert what you saw in a clear, but not alarming way]. My concern is, while it may be nothing, I don’t want to cause you harm, so here’s what we are going to today.”
It sounds simple, but is often very complex and not easy to do, which is why, in class, Werner asks her students to do some role-play. This is something you can right in your office with your coworkers, practicing different, difficult communication situations so you can develop an effective response before you actually need one.
Additionally, Werner shares that “the practice of massage has to be so private, it is unethical to share identifying information unless you have permission. But working in that kind of isolation is really hard.
“And while other helping professions have infrastructures which enable people to meet with peers to talk through situations and share in a structured way and decompress and debrief, “ she adds, “this isn’t built into the massage system at all.”
There has to be a way to share stories without violating confidentiality, adds Werner. Thus, finding a way to share your problems, issues, or concerns with fellow coworkers without divulging a client’s private information may also help as it gives you someone to bounce ideas off of or collect some advice.
Communication is complex, but knowing how you tend to interact with others and working to make that communication as effective as it can be is a great goal in any profession, massage therapy included.
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