Talking Beyond Talk: Communication Style Matters

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The renowned English Writer Ben Jonson said, 

“Talking and eloquence are not the same: to speak, and to speak well, are two things.” 

And therein lies the truth. Consider some powerful speakers of our times—the eloquence of Mohammad Ali outside of the ring, the stirring oratory of President Obama, or even the clear, simple, factual no-nonsense of Margaret Thatcher. How did they manage to distinguish themselves and be commemorated as notable communicators until today?

The answer lies in our individual verbal styles — the domains used to communicate in conversations. 

Conversation is more than just a set of spoken words. Language itself is a learned social behaviour, and therefore the method each of us adopts in sharing our views, ideas, and opinion varies greatly. It depends on multiple factors such as context, the people we talk to, culture, our own inhibitions, and even our intention—whether to influence, understand, or perhaps even caution. 

These things work together to make our talk far greater than the sum of its parts, bringing each individual’s communication style into focus. 

The Impact of Our Verbal Styles 

Everything that we choose to say in a conversation, is communicated in three main categories — Ask, Tell, and Suggest. 

When people think about improving their conversation, the solution often seems to be focussing on quantity—they think of talking more, and frequently. However, powerful communication is dependent on quality, using a skilful blend of these three verbal styles, executed purposefully to bring results. 

Asking for Answers

We learn about life through questions. As children, most of us tend to go through the passage of curiosity, badgering our parents with endless ‘whys’, much to their chagrin. As adults, this trait becomes much more acute, nuanced, and thoughtful.

Asking illustrates the brilliance of inquisitiveness. It involves posing questions to others. These can range from asking how someone is, to raising detailed questions about complex issues. Questions can also be open, closed, leading, or rhetorical. They all play crucial roles in our dialogue with others.

This verbal style can be broken down further into three voices that we use:

    1. To Inquire: The Brilliance of Giving Attention 
    2. To Diagnose: The Brilliance of Defining Problems 
    3. To Probe: The Brilliance of Unearthing Truths 

When we inquire, diagnose, and probe skilfully and in the spirit of honest information gathering, we cultivate an environment that is safe and comfortable to discuss issues, whether in a personal or team setting. The communication style of asking can also be a great self-management tool, keeping your mind open to learning ahead of judgments. Collectively, this creates a strong foundation for trust that carries forward in increasing connections, engagement, innovation, and productivity.

Telling for Clarity

Legacies are made from telling. And yet, people often hold back from speaking up, afraid of rejection and consequences that may follow. 

Telling illustrates the brilliance of shaping. It involves setting out expectations, instructions, corrections, and rules. To tell someone what to do and/or how to do it is the use of your expertise and experience in directing the thoughts, feelings, and actions of others.

This verbal style can be broken down further into three voices that we use:

    1. To Correct: The Brilliance of Managing Boundaries 
    2. To Critique: The Brilliance of Dissection
    3. To Challenge: The Brilliance of Disruption

Think of telling as an act of contribution to the ‘greater good’. Correcting, critiquing, and challenging fuels discussions, highlighting areas of improvement, necessary strategic changes, and drawing attention to minor issues before they become major. By getting people to consider the other perspective, you also boost collective knowledge and creativity within your peers or organization. 

Suggesting for Influence 

Why do we scour the internet for reviews prior to making a purchase? For many of us, it provides transparency and goes a long way in helping us make informed decisions. This is the subtle genius of the Suggest style. 

Suggesting illustrates the brilliance of influencing. It involves making your point, persuading others, describing situations, and offering advice. Suggesting is an intermediate point between asking and telling, requiring both involving and proposing. We use it all of the time.

This verbal style can be broken down further into three voices that we use:

    1. To Advise: The Brilliance of Gifting Answers  
    2. To Advocate: The Brilliance of the Appeal to the Heart and the Head
    3. To Articulate: The Brilliance of the Telling of the Story

Using the Suggest voice constructively brings numerous benefits and creates a healthy environment. Leaders who use this communication style skilfully increase their own transparency and effectiveness. It also helps in optimizing work processes, and increase growth within individuals and teams, leading to better results.

Bringing It Together 

Great communicators do not just give compelling speeches. They hold influence that comes from a good mix of telling their experience, suggesting further information or recommendations, and asking good questions to find out more information while ensuring a clear understanding of their own messages. 

Individually, these communication styles may not hold much of an impact—after all, how much can you focus on solely asking questions, telling information, or suggesting recommendations before it starts to get tiring? In the same way that we are stronger together than we are alone, our verbal styles work best when we bring them together. 

The next time you consider improving your conversational style, reject the idea that others want to hear you talk more. Instead, consider adopting a strategy that integrates these three verbal styles and the different voices within them to elevate your effectiveness towards becoming a powerful communicator. 

Find out your dominant communication style with the Soundwave Brilliance 3 Communication Assessment

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Maalikka is the latest addition to SoundWave's team of marketing and content extraordinaries. As an avid reader, writer and learner, she’s always on the lookout for new information online or interesting conversations to inspire her. Her other passions include gaming, Netflix, and cats.

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