Adjusting your communication style depending on your audience is often intended as a way of showing empathy. However, it can also be offensive. In this video, learn about code-switching, mirroring, and adjusting your volume.
- Changing the way you talk to different audiences is a communication strategy intended to show empathy, build rapport, and make people feel connected. However it can also be offensive if it's not handled with sensitivity. I'm going to share some best practices and things to avoid when adjusting your communication style. First, consider your language and word choice carefully. For example, when speaking with people in a language that isn't their primary language try to avoid unnecessarily complicated words.
Using simple sentence structure and simplified terms will help get your ideas across and reduce misinterpretations of your content. In thinking about your word choice you also want to avoid idioms or colloquial language. In many respects language is local. What I mean by this is local communities use different words or phrases that have meanings that don't translate easily. For example, when referring to a soft drink or carbonated beverage there are regional differences in what they're called.
You may hear pop, soda, or coke depending on what part of the United States you're in. And there are commonly used phrases that don't translate or make sense outside of those contexts. For example in the UK bob's your uncle basically means this task is easier than you expected. The first time I heard it, I was completely lost. I don't have an uncle named Bob. You can see how this might be confusing to someone who doesn't have that context.
The second tip is to ask for understanding. Don't interpret someone nodding to mean they understand what you said, agree with you, or are going to do what you've asked. It could be that they're nodding to signal they're listening attentively to what you're saying. Instead ask them to repeat back their understanding of what you've said. You might say something like so what are your next steps? Or what do you take away from this discussion? Keeping these tips in mind will help you communicate more inclusively.
Next let's turn our attention to some things you want to avoid. First, code switching or mimicking. To a certain extent we all do this. You wouldn't talk to a baby or puppy the same way you speak to your boss. I catch myself picking back up my southern accent when I'm visiting family in the southern part of the United States. You might overhear bilingual people on your team speak differently to family members than they do in team meetings. This isn't an invitation to join in.
It generally comes across as disrespectful when you're seen as mimicking another culture. Mirroring or when you subconsciously replicate another person's nonverbal signals is a slightly different version of this concept. It has been seen as an effective way to connect with and build rapport with your audience. Where you want to be careful about this, intentionally or unintentionally, is using it in a way that could be interpreted as mocking. Finally, changing your volume significantly comes across as yelling.
Speaking at a super slow pace implies you don't think the receiver can process your information. Either way suddenly changing your speech patterns can be insulting to the receiver of your message. Think about it. If someone starts yelling at you, how do you feel? If your finding yourself speaking significantly slower or louder to members on your team, you're likely making them feel uncomfortable. Effective communication is a critical foundation of inclusive teams.
For a deeper dive on techniques to communicate more inclusively I have another course on this topic. Check it out.
- Creating a shared understanding of why inclusion matters
- Establishing trust
- Using inclusive language
- Providing feedback in diverse teams
- Discovering implicit associations
- Delegating work and opportunities equitably
- How unconscious bias creeps into the hiring process