Have you ever noticed that when some people write or speak you immediately resonate with them, while at other times, with other communicators you don’t?
Have you ever asked yourself why that is?
Now, while there are a lot of answers to that question, there is one fundamental mistake that I observe most communicators make—and it’s the same basic mistake that most leaders make when leading. And what is that mistake? It’s the mistake of communicating (whether written or spoken) in their own learning style (Hang with me, there’s a big payoff coming).
Why is that a mistake? Because no matter what your personal learning style is, the majority of people on planet earth are not like you—which means that every time you send a message out (written or spoken) most people won’t connect with you and your message the same way you do. And that is a very real problem!
- It costs you time as you have to say the same things over and over again
- It costs your business or organization money in terms of lost productivity and sales
- It creates conflict and tension in relationships when neither has to be there
- It minimizes your leadership effectiveness and your ability to leverage the time, talents, treasures, resources, networks, and intellectual property of your people. And
- It slows down the growth of your business or organization
Any way you add it up, you can’t afford to not get this right! So, how can you immediately improve every communication you have or send? Keep reading!
The Four Learning Styles
Now, don’t worry, I’m not going to take you through a long course on learning theory. Instead, I want to share with you a simple rubric that you’ll be able to use and remember for the rest of your life. And if you use these four words, they’ll open up a whole new world of communication for you.
So, what are the four learning styles? I think they emanate from our personality preferences (and since I’m a Myers-Briggs® fan, I use the four temperaments to help me understand the differences) and they can be described in just four questions, “Why?” “What?” “How?” “Now?” (come on, how hard is that? A whole semester of theory in just four words 🙂
1. “Why?” Learners – Why learners are those who want to be moved by emotion and logic to believe that what’s being said ought to matter … TO THEM. Just because you’re speaking and you think something is important, doesn’t mean it’s important to them/anyone else. So, if you want to connect with a “Why?” learner, then you have to make an argument (used in the positive sense) that what you’re saying is relevant and important to them—for their reasons (not yours).
Note: the “Why?” learner style fits the NF personality temperament type best.
2. “What?” Learners – “What?” learners are those who like content. They’re the ones who like to understand the theory or reasoning behind something. They like to be challenged in their thinking. They like learning and getting the inside scoop. But they easily get bored with average or boring content. So, if you want to connect with a “What? learner, you want to make a persuasive argument that challenges them to think in a new way or that informs them of something they didn’t know.
Note: The “What?” learner style fits the NT personality temperament type best.
3. “How?” Learners – “How?” learners are those who want to know specifically, “What am I supposed to do?” “How?” learners like to understand steps and procedures. They want to do something right so they want to know exactly what they should do in order to complete a task correctly. So, if you want to connect with a “How?” learner, then you’ll want to give some very concrete steps and examples of how something should be done. For example, “Before your next communication (talk/letter), take out a piece of paper and at the top write out the four key questions (Why? What? How? Now?) and for each question write out …”
Note: The “How?” learner style fits the SJ personality temperament type best
4. “Now?” Learners – “Now?” learners are those who want to take action now! They don’t want to wait around for a bunch of theory or ideas, they want to make something happen right now! They’re the kind of learners who live for the moment, who love experiencing life, and who enjoy being spontaneous. They think that experience is the best teacher so why not experience this idea right now. Which means that if you want to connect with a “Now?” learner, you’ll want to challenge them to do something right now—not in the future (and don’t keep it cerebral :-).
Note: The “Now?” learner style fits the SP personality temperament type the best
Using the Four Learning Styles
As I already started to illustrate, I think the simplest way to remember that not everyone listens or learns the same way we do is to come up with a simple construct like, “Write at the top of your paper (or email or handouts or …) the four questions and then answer them.”
Using this post as an example, here’s how I’d fill them out.
- Why? – Mistakes are made in communication because most people aren’t like us. And the cost of not communicating in someone’s style is significant (like slower growth, relational conflict, lost productivity, etc.)
- What? – Discuss the four learning styles and how they should affect communication. Plus, link to personality type (something most content people wouldn’t know).
- How? – What I’m doing right now 🙂
- Now? – Challenge them to use this today on their next letter or talk
It’s really not that difficult, is it?
But, and this is key, if you don’t do this, then you’re shooting yourself in the foot every time you communicate anything to any group of people. Note: If this is a one-on-one activity and you know someone’s style, you don’t have to use all four types, but if you’re speaking to a group of people (or writing for a whole group of people) use all four.
Why? Because every time you think through and use all four styles, you’re automatically and immediately improving your communication effectiveness and the number of people who’ll receive your message in their own preferred style.
That said, I need to ask you right now, “So, what are you going to do differently today in light of what you just read?” Will you use this short rubric of writing the four questions at the top of your next letter (the draft that is 😉 and make sure you connect with as many people as possible? I hope so! Because the cost of not doing so is way too high!
To your accelerated success!
P.S. If you have any other communication tips you’d like to pass along, make sure you add them to the comments section below (or click here >> if you’re reading this by email or RSS feed).
P.P.S. If you’re curious about personality type and how it should affect how you lead, make sure you check out my course on “Personality Type Leadership: How to Lead People Who Don’t Think, Act and Feel Like You.“