By Richard Newman
A good leader must possess a wide range of skills and qualities, including openness, self-awareness, innovation, creativity, empathy, and so much more. Perhaps the most important skill for successful leaders is to flex your communication style for the situation.
Because leaders find themselves in many different situations speaking to many different people, effective communication must be adaptable and nuanced. We may not use the same speaking style when updating a room full of shareholders, checking in with one employee, or motivating an entire audience. In fact, leaders should be intentional about tailoring their style to various listeners and topics.
Even if you have a compelling speaking style, using a method of communication that is not congruent with your message or audience can lead to a negative reaction. You may speak to a group who appear to love everything you say, then say those exact same words in the same style to a different group and get a bad response. When this happens, you may think there’s something wrong with the audience. In reality, it’s just that your style didn’t match their needs.
Think of athletes. A tennis player may win hundreds of matches, but then meet someone they cannot defeat. The player must adapt their style to fit the new opponent.
Rather than getting stuck in a rut, using a communication style that occasionally works, leaders must master various styles of communication and know when to implement which style. I’ve broken them down into four categories: Motivator, Commander, Entertainer, and Facilitator.
Motivators get their audiences energized and ready to go. When a motivator speaks, they typically use a fast pace, high intensity, choppy gestures, and a strong voice. This is the style leaders should engage in when they’re ready to drive people, often in short bursts, to inject energy into specific sections of a meeting.
Many people open their meetings with this style, but they risk tailing off, leaving the audience feeling deflated. Because the motivator can be difficult to sustain, I urge leaders to implement this style at the end of meetings, encouraging listeners to spring into action.
Commanders invoke authority. They typically speak slowly, use pauses, lower their pitch, make smooth and controlled movements, and use palms-down gestures. This style is useful for delivering serious messages with precision.
Many aspiring leaders request coaching because they feel they lack gravitas and authority when they speak. While experience and competence are prerequisites for leadership, leaders must also be able to embody the commander, communicating groundedness, confidence, and precision.
Sometimes leaders need to lighten the mood. This doesn’t mean cracking jokes or trying to be funny, but rather generating a lightness and freedom that gives others the space to laugh, relax, and joke around with you if they wish.
Some techniques for embodying the entertainer include speaking with a high pitch, using floppy gestures, talking at a fast pace, moving around more, and using exaggerated facial expressions. These traits suggest that you’re not taking the moment too seriously and encourage others to have fun as well.
This style is great for lighthearted conversations before meetings or to lighten the mood after discussing a more serious topic. It can be deceptively difficult to master, but when leaders soften up physically and vocally, listeners can relax a little, too.
The facilitator is more about listening than talking. We instinctively understand that someone is a facilitator when they talk less, use a softer voice, use soft gestures, tilt their head, and stand or sit off-center. These qualities signal that the leader is no longer taking full charge of the meeting. They have softened their position to give space to others.
This doesn’t mean that the facilitator sits down and lets someone else take over. Thoughtful leaders using the facilitator style encourage useful discussions, drawing in the voices of different people around the room. This can be great for collaboration and problem solving.
Mixing and Matching
A good leader is able to read the room and switch styles, keeping the audience engaged and achieving the results they need. It requires practice to glide effortlessly between styles, but once leaders can master all four, they will be able to connect with more people in a greater range of ways.
Some styles may feel more natural than others, but everyone uses each one in different areas of their lives. For leaders, take note of when you use each one. One day you’ll need that version of you in a meeting, and it’s handy to know how to access it!
To strengthen yourself as a speaker, answer the following questions:
- What style do you think you use most often?
- Which style do you struggle most to embody?
- In what situations do you find it easiest to become each style?
- When can you try out each of these styles in the future?
These elements of communication style are like colors that you can use to create any painting you choose. If you want to successfully connect with all types of people in a range of situations, you must adapt how you apply those colors and always be prepared to paint a unique picture.
You were born to adapt. If you’re in a position of leadership, you’ve already proven that you are capable. Learning to develop a communication style tailored to any situation is just one more opportunity to strengthen your leadership skills and achieve your goals.
About the author
Richard Newman is the CEO and Founder of Body Talk, the global leader in evidence-based training on the psychology of communication, and author of the new book, Lift Your Impact, which shows you how to transform your mindset, communication and influence, to achieve your goals.