I’ve been teaching English for nearly 13 years now. Although I think I’m a fairly easy-going person, approachable and friendly, I have had a few groups over the years who have been really difficult to get on with. I remember once giving a technical English course at a printing company – I had been teaching for just over two years and was still relatively unperceptive to how different people communicate. I found the participants terribly unfriendly, and interpreted their silent reaction to my questions and reluctance to participate in discussions as rude. Imagine how surprised I was at the end of the course when they gave me flowers and told me what a great job I’d done!
As a more experienced trainer today, and – I hope – a better communicator, I recognize that different people communicate in different ways. It’s clear to me that good communication influences opinions and makes listeners receptive to your ideas and suggestions. In companies it plays a major role in work-related tasks such as meetings, phone calls, negotiating and teambuilding. Ultimately, communication plays a very significant role in the smooth running of any business. Good communication skills demand a high level of self-awareness. If we can understand our personal style of communicating, and how others perceive us, we can adapt our behaviour in order to make other people more comfortable.
Recently I was discussing new students with a colleague and she told me she had one lady in a class who was really frosty. She didn’t have any time for small talk, she wanted to get straight to the point, and pretty much damned any opinions which she disagreed with or tasks she couldn’t relate to. The atmosphere in the group was rather awkward, and my colleague didn’t know what to do with her. I asked if the lady knew how her behavior was affecting the others, and unsurprisingly, she didn’t. “It’s just how I am” was her response…
Last month I gave a workshop in Frankfurt in which we discussed communication styles. This is basically a concept which looks at our personal preferences for the way we communicate information to other people, as well as the way we interpret the communication we hear. There are lots of different models which allow people to identify their preferred communication style and to develop strategies for dealing with other people more effectively. It appears, however, that it all boils down to two basic aspects. Firstly, how receptive someone is – do they embrace opportunities to interact and share with others, or are they very reserved? Secondly, how straightforward are they? Do they take charge of a situation and steam in with ideas and suggestions, or are they very risk-averse and need to plan everything carefully?
I gave the workshop participants a questionnaire which we all completed, identifying our own personal communication style. We then discussed how accurate we felt the results were. A few people were skeptical, as their preferences came into more than one category. This was also the case for me, but I believe it’s the result of years of dealing with different kinds of people, and needing to adapt my own style accordingly. We discussed how we might use communication styles questionnaires with our classes, and brainstormed different approaches to teaching it.
I’m sure this kind of exercise will be of interest to any of you teaching business English, so I’ve taken some of the ideas we discussed and put together a complete lesson, which can be found here. You’re free to download and use it, and it would be great to hear your feedback and to hear the experiences you have had with communication styles both inside and outside the classroom. If you have any more suggestions on how to extend the lesson, and would like to share them here, then your input would be very welcome. Have fun!