Communication is an artform; it’s also a two-way street.
But before you even open your mouth, do yourself a favour and pay attention to the person you’re about to address and gain some crucial insight into how he or she processes information.
We can each process only 5-9 chunks or nuggets of information at a time and so we use ‘meta-programs’, or unconscious filters, to ‘select’ them from the shower of stimuli we constantly receive. These patterns run behind the scenes in our brains. They are so automatic that we usually don’t even realise they’re there. But they are there. So, if your favoured ‘meta-program’ differs from that of the person to whom you’re about to speak, you’ll want to adapt your communication style.
Research suggests that there are six basic ‘meta- programs’ that most of us use to varying degrees. Here’s how best to approach them:
- First decide your own patterns and preferences.
- Next advance to the person with whom you are desirous to communicate and test them out.
- If you meet with enthusiastic nods, you’re on the right path but if you get a stern-faced response or anxious questions, try something else.
- This approach works equally well at work, at home, and with friends/neighbours/acquaintances.
- The focus is always on having whatever it is that you wish to convey enjoying a good reception and being understood.
The Six Metaprograms
- General/Specific– this pattern controls how much information should be given and how best to be deliver it.
- People running with a ‘general’ program, are likely to respond well to a conceptual overview but people running with ‘specific’, need lots of details so they can build their own view up step-by-step.
- Research shows that about 60% of people are ‘general’ whilst only 15% are ‘specific’. This leaves about 25% responding equally to both.
- To discern which you’re dealing with, ask the person about a project or hobby with which he’s currently engaged. A response with lots of detail (he said/she said, I feel, they did), provided in specific steps with plenty of adverbs and adjectives tossed in, suggests he/she operates on the ‘specific’ program. Alternatively, someone operating on the ‘general’ program will probably give you a brief, comprehensive overview and/or summary often presented in short sentences delivered in random order.
- Beware that context matters. Even someone usually operating on the ‘general’ pattern will, from time to time, need details.
- Equally, you can tell much from someone’s written communication – emails, for example. If their usual style is to keep it short and sweet, then match it and do the same. If not, adjust your own electronic missives accordingly.
- Proactive/ Reactive– this pattern deals with how best to channel energy during the communication.
- Some people are more inclined to initiate things than others – and so when you’re dealing with a ‘proactive person’, you need to always be pushing forward. These folks do not like delays and want to get started at once.
- By comparison, a ‘reactive’ person wants to consider all the options/implications of situation presented to him/her before doing anything. These folks are great at research/analysis as well as fire-fighting and problem-solving.
- 60-65% of people have a mix.
- Spot the ‘reactive’ person by his or her ability to sit for long periods of time. Also, he or she will tend to use long, incomplete, and convoluted sentences. They will use passive verbs and conditional words like should/could/would/might.
- Give the ‘reactive person’ plenty of time to think – if you push, they will not respond well. Use the alternative strategy for the ‘proactive’ types who are ready to get started right away.
- Toward/Away-From– this pattern is key when trying to motivate someone to do something.
- People take action primarily for one of two reasons – they want to move ‘toward’ something (like a target or goal) or they want to move ‘away from’ something (escape).
- The ‘away-from’ folks are problem solvers – they look for potential problems and thus can avert crises.
- The ‘toward people’ tend to be self-starters – give then a goal and they’re on it.
- Each of these polarities tends to judge the other poorly – ‘away-from’ people think that ‘toward’ people are naïve or sloppy because they don’t see potential problems and the ‘toward’ people think their opposite is negative or cynical.
- A few questions will help you to tell the difference – when asked what is important to them and why, they’ll reveal their type in their answers – do they want to succeed or not to fail.
- About 40% of people are ‘toward’ and 40% are ‘away-from’. This leaves a grey area of about 20% in between.
- To motivate the ‘toward’ people, use words like – get – attain – achieve – accomplish – advantage – obtain.
- For the ‘away-from’ people, use words like – fix – avoid – prevent – wrong – solution – remove.
- Sameness/ Difference– this pattern is key when it comes to selling change especially in a fast-paced environment.
- Those with pure ‘sameness’ (5%) feel comfortable in a highly stable and unchanging environment – consistency their mantra.
- The ‘difference’ folks (about 20%) thrive on change and love to switch jobs frequently as well as reinventing and reorganising their environment/organisation.
- About 65% of people are ‘sameness’ with allowance for some minor changes/improvement that are more evolutionary than revolutionary. Some of these folks (10%) can tolerate even more difference as long a major change doesn’t happen too frequently – every 3-4 years is good for them.
- To tell where someone sits on this spectrum, ask them what is the relationship between something important (for example, their job) between last year and this year and then listen carefully:
- the ‘sameness’ person will tend to focus on things that haven’t changed – although he may toss in a few difference and make comparisons like more – less – improved – better – fewer.
- The ‘difference’ person will point out all that is new and different and may even be surprised you asked the question.
- Other people will mix and match the differences and those things unchanged – listen to their emphasis and their assessment of both sides of the equation.
- When explaining to people about ‘change’ – adapt your weighting of ‘sameness’ and ‘difference’ according to their preferences.
- Choose words ranging from – as usual – similar – better – identical – improved – revolutionized – upgraded – more – fewer.
- Options/ Procedures– this is about how one tackles his/her work – do they rely on the tried and tested approach or look for new, improved alternatives.
- ‘Options’ folks (40%) like choice and variety – and are great for deciding how something should be done but not necessarily doing it themselves. New projects are started with zest but following through to finish is less predictable.
- ‘Procedures’ folks (40%) believe there is a ‘right’ way to do something – start with point A and move through these procedures to get to point B. Too many choices are not helpful.
- About 20% of people are a mix.
- The ‘options’ folks says things like I can or I could whilst the procedures folk say I must or I should.
- To influence the ‘options’ folks use words like – possibilities – choice – play it by ear – options – break the rules – variety.
- To influence the ‘procedures’ folk, use words like – right – tried and tested – first, second, and then (this or that).
- Internal/ Eternal– this is about giving/receiving feedback – there is an optimum approach and amount.
- ‘Internal’ folks tend to believe they’ve done a good job regardless of what others think. Their own judgement of their work (measured against their own standards) is what matters most.
- Give these folks much space as possible to make their own decisions and when that is not possible, negotiate the standards to be used for measuring in advance. Generally, these folks don’t want feedback and when they get it, they tend to ignore it.
- For ‘internal’ folks, a set of advance instructions is informational only. Use words like – you may wish to consider – only you can decide – here’s a suggestion – up to you – what do you think?
- By contrast, ‘external’ folks love lots of feedback – they need to know on a fairly consistent basis ‘how they are doing’. Use words like – I’ve noticed – word in the street is – statistics show – opinion is.
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