My Boss And I Have Different Communication Styles And It's Destroying Our Relationship

My Boss And I Have Different Communication Styles And It's Destroying Our Relationship

September 2016


One of the biggest problems that occurs between bosses and employees is a mismatch in their communication styles. When you speak and the boss doesn’t hear you, or vice versa, it can greatly hurt your chances of career success. And I’ve recently been working on research that shows that when bosses and employees have different communication styles, the employee can be 20-30% less engaged at work.

The communication breakdowns between bosses and employees can take myriad forms. Sometimes there’s a mismatch in the extent to which you communicate with emotions or with data. For example, your boss might say something like ‘I feel like we’re off to a good start this quarter’ (emotions) while you would say ‘this quarter sales are up by 7.2%’ (data).

Sometimes the mismatch is the extent to which you communicate in a linear way (e.g. do you like to start with A then B then C then D, all the way to Z) or in a freeform way (e.g. do you like to skip over most of the details and jump right to Z).

These situations, among others, can hamper your ability to have even seemingly simple conversations like whether the big project is on schedule or the department is going to meet its budget. So one way for us to think about resolving this is to understand communication styles.

There are four primary communication styles; Analytical, Intuitive, Functional and Personal. And there’s a free communication styles assessment to assess your preferred style.

Briefly, here are the four styles:

The Analytical Communicator likes hard data, real numbers, and tends to be suspicious of people who aren’t in command of the facts and data. They typically like very specific language and dislike vague language.

The Intuitive Communicator likes the big picture, avoids getting bogged down in details, and cuts right to the chase. They don’t need to hear things in perfect linear order but prefer instead a broad overview that lets them easily skip right to the end point.

The Functional Communicator likes process, detail, timelines and well-thought-out plans. They like to communicate things in a step-by-step fashion so nothing gets missed.

The Personal Communicator values emotional language and connection, and uses that as their mode of discovering what others are really thinking. They find value in assessing not just how people think, but how they feel.

See which style you think resonates with you, and which best describes your boss, and then take the communication styles assessment to corroborate your intuition.

Now, there are two major conflicts in communication styles that tend to occur between bosses and employees.

The first conflict is between Analytical and Personal communicators. This occurs when you have a data-driven communicator, who really dislikes ‘feeling’ language, and an emotional communicator, who dislikes cold emotionless data. Analyticals and Personals often have quite a bit of difficulty hearing each other. Analyticals might think that the Personals are too touchy-feely; they want hard numbers and data, and having to listen to someone’s emotions ad feelings just kills them. And the reverse happens when Personals are listening to Analyticals. Personals want to hear your feelings and opinions about a situation; they often feel that if they wanted emotionless numbers they could simply read that from the computer.

The other big communication styles conflict that occurs is between Intuitives and Functionals. Intuitives want people to cut to the chase; they hate hearing long lists of items that seem to go on forever. And Intuitives are not known for their patience or attention span. So when Intuitives are listening to Functionals, it’s quite common for them to roll their eyes, fidget, sigh and otherwise express boredom and exasperation. And when the reverse happens, when Functionals are listening to Intuitives speak, the Functionals are often left feeling like they haven’t heard anything at all. They’re often thinking ‘sure, you told me the last page of the book, but I need to understand the whole story.’

The key to solving both of these conflicts, of course, is to start training yourself to speak in the boss’ communication style. If your boss gets impatient when you give detailed presentations, try putting your conclusion right at the beginning of the presentation. Don’t give a 30-minute presentation and then say ‘in conclusion, I think we should invest in XYZ.’ Instead, begin your presentation by saying ‘if we invest in XYZ, we’ll achieve a 20% ROI…and now I’d like to show you how we’ll achieve that.’ And when you’re giving that detail, still keep it concise. If your boss wants your detail, you can have it ready, but don’t force it on them.

If your boss is an Analytical data person, force yourself to speak with numbers. Don’t say things like ‘I feel good about this project’ or ‘I get a good vibe that we’ll win the account.’ Turn all of those adjectives into hard data. Try saying things like ‘this project is 3 days ahead of schedule and we’ve beaten 4 of the last 5 milestones’ or ‘we’ve spoken with 4 of the decision makers and I’m calling the final one this afternoon at 3 PM.’

None of these changes will feel particularly natural at first. Then again, neither does learning to speak a foreign language. But with practice and vigilance, and especially paying attention to how your boss reacts when you speak, you’ll be able to build a better bridge. And you’ll likely be shocked at how much more successful you are.


This article was written by Mark Murphy from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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