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There has been a big communication barrier on every team I have led. Yet, it is often overlooked.

Most effective teams at some point will do a personality assessment of team members. I work a lot with Myers Briggs, but there are certainly other great ones. At one time have probably taken most of them, All of them can be helpful at some level.

But this major communication barrier, while it can be picked up some by a personality assessment, is still often overlooked (or misunderstood) on most teams.

And, of course, this barrier involves a difference in people. If you’ve lead teams at all you could probably predict that.

A big communication barrier on every team:

  • Those who speak with and listen for details.
  • Those who speak with and listen for generalities.

You could call it “big-picture oriented” and “detail-oriented” – and a host of other terms. And, again, this concept is certainly picked up in personality types and assessments, but the nuance of this principal is huge. If you don’t understand that people speak and listen differently you will continually be miscommunicating.

This is true in all relationships. It’s true in my marriage. In fact, it is our biggest source of conflict if we allow it to be. I speak and listen more in generalities. My wife speaks and listens more for details.

For illustration purposes, when I lead a team I rarely tell them exactly how I want something done. I paint a big picture vision, have lofty ideas, and a general concept of what things might look like. Sometimes a person on our team who listens in details misunderstands my point. If they don’t understand this about me, (and I have to continually remind people of our differences) they may think I gave them a specific directive, while I was only sharing a very general concept.

(And if you are wired for more details you’re still waiting for a clearer definition of this principle. But that only further illustrates my point.)

Think about your team for a minute. There will be huge variations of this principle among them. No two people are just alike. But if you had to assess – who are the people who speak and listen for generalities? And who listen and speak for more details?

There might lie a big communication obstacle on your team.

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion One Comment

  • Jim Pemberton says:

    Very thought-provoking observation!

    I like to see both although I'm more detail-oriented. That is, if I get all general vision and no details, then I won't know how the big picture affects the details. If I get all details and no overarching vision, then I don't know what the purpose of those details are such that I might employ them well. When I lead, I like to at least like to give a goal or a purpose to details so people know how those details might be adjusted in different circumstances in order to achieve the goal. For example, when I developed the MRP system that started our plant in India, I gave them a method that worked, but wanted them to understand that this wasn't the only method that could work. I made it all open source so they could adjust it and reprogram it if they wanted. They used it a couple of years until they understood how the details related to the big picture and were able to spec a bigger system because of what they learned using the little piece of software I made for them.