I always tell new employees at The Predictive Index (PI) not to worry if they see me running through the office. “There’s no need to panic,” I say. “It’s just a lot faster to get from point A to point B if I hustle.” And with the time saved by running, I’m able to get more things done. At least that’s what I tell myself after I catch my breath. I enjoy the efficiency of that hustle. It feels good to me.
It’s important for us to check in with ourselves on our efficiencies. I sometimes like to take a moment to zoom out and take a look at the efficiency of my efforts. I’m not talking about time efficiency. I’m talking about energy efficiency. I like to check in on my energy—human energy—and where I’m spending it.
When I get home at the end of the day, I might have gotten a lot done in a short amount of time. But how do I feel? More often than not, I’m tired. Sometimes, it’s a good kind of tired. The fruitful and satisfying kind—like being sore after a grueling workout. You worked hard and you accomplished a lot.
Then there’s the bad kind of tired. The kind of tired you feel when it seemed like you were spinning your wheels. The kind of tired where your input was much higher than the output. Your efficiency was low and you feel drained.
It’s the bad kind of tired that leads to burnout.
Inauthenticity costs energy.
There are probably a bunch of low-efficiency things you can fix in your day to day. This post focuses on one: communication.
I am not a people person. My PI behavioral pattern is what’s called an Individualist pattern. For those not as familiar with the Individualist pattern or PI’s behavioral assessment , here’s an actual quote from one of our reports about Individualists:
“Dealing with people, Emily is frank and outspoken, expressing herself factually, at times bluntly, and with strong conviction. In general, her interest in people is secondary to her concern for getting things done in her own way and at her own pace.”
Woof. “Her interest in people is secondary.” That’s another way of saying I’m not the warmest or fuzziest person in the room. To take it even further, in the part of the PI behavioral report, generated after taking the assessment and gives my manager tips on how to best maximize my “effectiveness, productivity, and job satisfaction,” it says that he should provide me with “the opportunity to work alone,” unless I choose otherwise.
So… I’m not a people person. Yet, here I am, working as the software product director at PI, a job that absolutely requires I communicate continuously and effectively. What’s more, I need to communicate with highly-technical engineers, visionary executives, clients of all varieties and attitudes, and the people in our network of business partners. My environment doesn’t exactly provide me with oodles of “opportunities to work alone.”
Recently, I was asked to pinpoint what it is that helps me work with so many different people—so many different kinds of people. Here’s the answer: conversational communication.
Conversational communication is the art of speaking plainly. It requires you to take a step back and strip out acronyms, technicalities, and jargon. It opens you up to humor, which increases the exchange of understanding. And most importantly, it reduces the amount of energy it takes to keep up the formality. On its face, this seems simple. But there are a surprising number of forces that pull us in the direction of formality.
Formal is the workplace default.
Starting a new job is a lot like learning a new language. You feel the need to work within the confines of the known grammar and sentence structure, leading you to be more formal. Not a lot of poetry gets written when you’re first learning a new language, because you aren’t able to freely express your ideas yet. When you start a new job, it’s difficult to freely express opinions and thoughts on a certain subject because of the need to be “professional.” It’s difficult to express yourself conversationally.
The faster you can access an honest exchange of ideas, the less energy you spend doing the dance of inauthentic conversations that don’t get you anywhere. Conversational communication bridges people with different levels of both soft (interpersonal) and hard (technical knowledge) skills to transfer information using less energy. It requires bringing very specific details, like technical jargon, up to a more conceptual level, and bringing high-level visionary ideas down to realistic, digestible pieces. But it’s very difficult to do this well in a workplace environment, especially a new one.
So how do you get there faster, or skip the need for that phase at all?
The workplace is naturally a strained environment. You’re not going to meet someone the way you’ll meet someone at a backyard barbecue or bar. And formality and inauthenticity can be draining and unproductive. So let’s talk about how to kick-start conversational communication. Here are the three magic ingredients I’ve identified:
1) “Repeating back” bridges the communication gap.
Think of yourself as a translator. Some languages are harder to speak, and some people may be more difficult to understand. If each person is speaking their own language, what is the best way to bridge the gap between your understanding of a concept, and theirs?
One thing I’ve used in my experience as a non-people person: the art of repeating back an idea to someone in your own words. By summarizing what someone’s explained to you, you’re bridging the gap between your two understandings. And the more you engage in this process, the more you’ll actually find other people doing it right back to you. Nothing feels better than having a conversation where both parties leave feeling understood. Repeating back achieves that result consistently, and that doesn’t go unnoticed.
This approach works especially well when you’re talking to someone with an expertise that you don’t share. For example, I work with very technically-inclined engineers who are waaaaay smarter than me. We’ve gotten really good at speaking each other’s language. Here’s how our conversations usually go:
Me: “Can you update the thingy so it does the spinny thing?”
Me: “The icon. Can you have it do a little swooshy action?”
Engineer: “You want us to add an animation to the HTML element?”
Me: “Yes. That.”
Granted, I do know the words “animation” and “HTML element,” but you get my point: instead of spending energy trying to learn technical language that I’m not required to know, we’re able to understand each other’s goals through conversational communication. Secondly, it’s kind of fun. I’d like to think it makes them laugh, though I don’t think they would ever admit that to me. Which leads me to my next point…
2) Humor melts inauthenticity.
You know you’ve achieved conversational communication with someone once you can crack a joke. Per my previous metaphor, it’s just like learning a new language—formal and rigid at first, but more comfortable over time. And with comfort comes jokes.
Human connection is when you can joke about things. Megan Holsinger, the director of client success here at PI, always says “Humor is the key to everything.” Before Megan led a team of client success managers, she was a master trainer at PI. And as she puts it, when she was teaching a workshop, “If they made a joke about The Predictive Index, I 100% knew they got it. And if they picked up on my silly PI jokes, I also knew they got it. Plus, I liked them more for laughing at my jokes.”
Humor is a natural way to create a stronger human connection. It puts people at ease and can break down barriers between different backgrounds, technical level, and different behavioral drivers.
3) The moment of understanding is magical.
Conversational communication is a path to having your moment of understanding. You don’t need jargon, acronyms, and fluff to get there. Conversational communication can help the very detail-oriented see the forest through the trees, and help the creative visionaries appreciate more clearly the trees that make up that forest they’re envisioning.
As someone who is constantly running around the office like a crazy person, it’s nice to know I don’t need to spend extra energy on being who I’m not. Stretching to be someone you’re not is very possible, but it’s draining. It’s how people burn out. So let’s make the world a little bit brighter by being a little more authentic and talking to each other like humans.