When Public Speaking Personalities Clash
Have you ever had that experience where you’re talking to someone, but it’s almost as if you’re speaking two different languages?
This recently happened to a client of mine. Darniece is a retail executive, responsible for a large number of stores. Last week, she was talking to one of her store managers about the manager’s bad habit of sending employees out on poorly-planned, last-minute errands.
In Darniece’s words, “I kept saying that her actions were hurting the team, but she just didn’t get it. She kept talking about ‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ and she didn’t see how there could be a problem, since all her work was getting done.”
What’s going on here? Darniece and her store manager don’t just disagree on a tactic; they have different public speaking personalities, or styles — and, as a result, different concerns:
- Darniece is a “Helper.” She’s concerned with team cohesion, with creating a harmonious work environment, and with making sure everyone feels valued.
- The store manager doesn’t share those priorities; her use of “right and wrong” language suggests that her public speaking personality is that of “Reliable” — someone who puts the good of the institutions they’re part of (in this case, the store) above the comfort of individuals.
Persuasion Tip: Talk to Their Concerns, Not Yours
To persuade this manager to change (and Helpers would rather persuade than give an order), Darniece may need to make a statement that matters to her Reliable listener. Instead of saying, “You’re hurting the team’s morale” (Darniece’s concern), she may need to say, “That’s not how we do things in this company.”
That argument is more likely to persuade her Reliable manager, because — whether the institution is a family, company, church, law firm, or army — Reliables want to protect it by following approved, time-tested procedures.
The Reliable Personality’s Credo: “Just Say No”
More than any other personality group, Reliables are concerned with doing what “should” be done. In fact, the word “should” (like the “right and wrong” framework) is a good tip-off that you’re dealing with a Reliable.
- Their commitment to traditional values is their greatest strength, making them loyal, responsible, and relentless in protecting the institutions they value.
- It can also be their greatest weakness, making them impatient with, and intolerant of, other people’s frailties because they truly don’t understand why the rest of us don’t just “get with the program” and do what “should” be done.
Former First Lady Nancy Reagan’s famous phrase, “Just say no,” is a perfect example of the Reliable attitude. Drugs are bad? Just say no. Your teenager should be asleep? Make her go to bed. You’re anxious about an upcoming pitch? Prepare more carefully; then you won’t be anxious.
This stolid, sensible approach can make people who are not Reliables want to tear their hair out. (Yes, that is a shout-out to my husband of 42 years, jazz musician Jerome Harris.) But Reliables make up for it by being rock steady life partners, business partners, and friends.
So How Do You Talk to a Reliable?
Literally. Here’s another story of speaking style culture clash: For years, my husband used to ask me things like, “Is there a reason why you left the milk out?” I would reply, “Are you criticizing my housekeeping??!!” or sometimes, if I was in a particularly bad mood, “You’ve been on the road for weeks, so why do you think you can just walk back in here and criticize my housekeeping??!!”
This reply confused Jerome, who couldn’t figure out why I thought he was criticizing me. (The answer: Because I’m a Helper and we take everything personally.)
Fortunately, after learning about the Reliable public speaking style, I realized that the correct answer to “Is there a reason why you left the milk out?” was either “Yes” or “No.” If I said yes (there is a reason), there Jerome was content to know I’d left the milk out on purpose and the conversation was over. If I said no (there is no reason, or rather, I forgot to put it away), he would put the milk away and the conversation was over.
Calmly. Reliables are not swayed by your passion for a suggestion or idea. They want to see your research. Facts, figures and calmly spoken logic are the best ways to make your case.
Responsibly. Remember that, for Reliables, serving and protecting the important institutions in their lives is key — and they are often highly placed within those institutions. So,
- If you’re a non-profit Executive Director who wants your Board Chair to expand client programming, instead of talking about the lives that will be changed, try talking about how having more programs ill enhance your non-profit’s prestige.
- If you’re a law firm Partner who wants a plum overseas assignment, don’t argue that you’re the most capable person for the job; instead try telling your Managing Partner that you’re the best person to represent the firm’s interests overseas.
Do You Have the Reliable Public Speaking Style?
One of the toughest lessons for a Reliable communicator to learn is that your calm logic and reasoned proofs will not be sufficient to persuade people with other public speaking styles. To reach the widest possible audience, begin to build some of these elements into your presentations:
- Make an occasional personal statement. Something as simple as telling your audience that you believe in the new program or that you’re excited about recent events will help Helpers relate to you emotionally. They need that before they can adopt your ideas and suggestion.
- Mention your credentials. Improvers will need to be convinced of your competence; the authority that comes with your title or position will not be enough to persuade them that you’re worth listening to.
- Show Experiencers that you’re a person of action, and that you’ve implemented your ideas in the real world. Abstract thinking doesn’t convince them; actual experience does.
As you can see, small additions to your Public Speaking Style can make you an even more successful communicator.