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Communication in the Workplace: How to Effectively Interact with Differing Personality Types

Posted by Monica Mellinger on
By: Pamela Keller, Chemical Engineering BSE, Process Engineer

While good communication in the workplace has always been important, it has become an even more vital tool in navigating our current work environment. With many companies and employees continuing to work from home or in an atypical capacity, the way we communicate with our coworkers has changed as well. The lack of in-person interactions can be a new challenge for those of us who have relied on this as our main method of communication in the past. Learning new, more effective communication strategies can be difficult, but are crucial skills to develop over the course of one’s career. Investing time now into developing these skills can not only help in your current position, but also help you with future endeavors.

With today’s technology, we have so many options to communicate with our colleagues, such as meetings, emails, instant messaging, and phone calls, to name a few.  When in-person meetings are not feasible, video conferencing options such as Zoom and Teams can be great substitutes, as can conference calls. However, one thing to keep in mind when choosing your communication medium is that it can be much more difficult to gauge what everyone’s thoughts and feelings are with the loss of face-to-face interactions. Facial expressions, for example, can really help indicate people’s understanding or agreement on what is being discussed. Conducting video meetings can be a great way to overcome this issue. It is important, however, to keep everyone’s personal preferences in mind as well, so that everyone involved feels as comfortable as possible. Choosing the best form for meetings and discussions will start you off on the right path toward stronger communication with your colleagues.

Another thing to keep in mind in order to effectively communicate with coworkers is how much information you are sharing with others for their benefit. While you might feel like it is unnecessary to always send emails or have calls on the status of projects when there have not been many major developments, many times it can be more helpful than you think. Especially when working from home or at distance from others, you may be losing out on the typical “lunchroom chats” or “hallway meetings” that many of us have grown accustom to as part of our working day.  As a rule of thumb, over communicating is always better than under communicating. In time, you will find a happy balance through meaningful discussions with others that will allow you to meet everyone’s expectations.

Even with all of these options to communicate with coworkers, we can still struggle connecting with some members of our teams and organizations.  What might work well to communicate with one individual may prove to be much more challenging with someone else. It is important to remember that with differing personalities comes different ways of communicating. Understanding these differences in behaviors and personalities is a key step in improving your communication skills in the workplace.

The DISC Model

One way to improve how you communicate with colleagues is to gain a better understanding of how their behavior and personality differs from your own. This is the basis of the DISC assessment and DISC model. The DISC model focuses on four main personality traits: Dominance (D), Influence (I), Steadiness (S), and Conscientiousness (C). In general, Dominance deals with how you assert yourself in situations and deal with the issues you face, while Influence describes how you interact and communicate with others. Steadiness relates to your temperament in situations, and compliance how you organize and approach tasks and responsibilities. Everyone values these traits differently, and therefore may go about problem solving and communicating in a different way than yourself. The figure below shows a good representation of the DISC personality traits:

By focusing on only a handful of characteristics, this model is a simple way to describe how to best communicate and collaborate with others whose personalities differ from yours. Many companies use this assessment to help their employees work more efficiently with one another, particularly to highlight the fact that not everyone communicates and reacts the same way.

The DISC assessment typically has participants choose between a few terms or phrases that best describe their own personality and actions, and aligns them with DISC traits. More often than not, people are a combination of a few of these traits, with one more dominant than the rest. After completing the assessment, you will be rated on all four of the DISC traits, usually out of 100% - for example, a person might receive a result of 40% S, 30% C, 20% I, and 10% D. A result as such means that this person is primarily S (steadiness), secondary in C (conscientiousness), tertiary in I (influence), and low scoring in D (dominance); this would suggest they are more of an introverted, reserved personality that is ultimately more people oriented than task-focused in their work.

The table below summarizes the key traits of the DISC model, and how to best develop a stronger relationship with the associated personality type:

While each personality type is fundamentally different, no single one is better than another. Each has its own strengths, and its members contribute differently to groups and organizations. Learning to recognize the primary traits people possess and how that correlates to the communication strategies they will respond best to is a great way to develop better working relationships. Additionally, understanding the differences of others within your group or organization is a key way to work more effectively and efficiently with one another.

For example, when working with a person who is primarily D, they will be much more direct in their work and focused on the problem at hand and getting results, while still being outgoing and assertive in nature. On the other hand, someone who is primarily I cares more about the people-to-people relationships, and will express optimism and enthusiasm to others. A person who is primarily S is still people-focused, but is more reserved – they might focus more on helping and accommodating others. Lastly, a person who is C primarily may be more reserved and private; their main focus will be task-oriented work. When comparing these different key traits, it’s clear that when communicating with others we cannot treat everyone as the same – what may work well when collaborating with someone who is prominently I would not work well at all with someone who is mainly C. It will take some time to begin recognizing these differences, but this is a great strategy to help connect with others and communicate with them more effectively.

Overall, the DISC methodology can be a great tool to help strengthen your communication with others. By understanding their behaviors and key personality traits, it is much easier to effectively communicate with others you work with. Using this knowledge in combination with other strategies for better communicating is a great way to strengthen your soft skills, which are an important tool for furthering career development. If you are new to the DISC method and assessment, a great first step is to take the assessment yourself and see where your results fall – you may be surprised with what you find out.