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What Is Adaptive Communication?

If you’re asking what adaptive communication is, it may be because you are contemplating different styles of communication and how they can benefit you in the workplace. Adaptive communication refers to a style in which the speaker tailors their natural communication style to the needs of their audience.

Most workplaces include diverse team members with various communication styles and personalities. Taking an adaptive approach to communication enables leaders to reduce misunderstandings and genuinely connect with their colleagues and team members.

If you want people to listen, you must speak their language. Adaptive communication helps leaders accomplish this goal.

What Value Does Adaptive Communication Provide?

Adaptive communication allows you to communicate your intentions and objectives more efficiently. Clearly conveyed messages can play a role in stronger performances and enhanced morale in the workplace.

Consider these facts:

  • Poor communication is deemed a “primary or contributing factor” among workplace projects considered failures. Investing in adaptive communication can help current and future leaders drive better performance and outcomes.
  • Leaders spend 80% of their time communicating. That significant statistic indicates the value of elevating their communication skills.

Strong leaders use adaptive communication to manage the unique traits of each member of the workforce. As a result, adaptive communication is a valuable tool for building authentic connections and trust.

Leaders can also leverage adaptive communication to promote a team member’s growth and development. We will explain further in the next section.

What Is an Example of Adaptive Communication?

Here are three examples of adaptive communication in the workplace:

A manager would like a team member to assist with a project, but this particular team member is a passive communicator. The individual has an easygoing attitude, often following the team’s consensus, and is soft-spoken in group settings. Understanding these aspects of the team member’s personality, the manager takes a more direct approach by facilitating a one-on-one conversation.

A more intimate setting helps the team member feel more comfortable voicing their thoughts, creating growth opportunities. The manager may also request that the individual brainstorm solutions or ideas on their own to ensure that they have an opportunity to think and prepare before the meeting.

A manager has just finished presenting a new initiative to the executive team and has received approval to present the initiative to the rest of the staff. Instead of using the same presentation, the manager adjusts the presentation slides and script to omit high-level or technical terms that staff members may not understand.

This leader may also adjust the level of formality by creating a friendlier or more casual tone throughout the presentation. These efforts will help staff members understand and engage with the presentation.

A team attends a training session. The coach understands that these team members are visual learners and chooses to communicate their messages by incorporating several visuals and infographics into the training. Knowing that visual learners tend to focus on the big picture, the coach may also provide detailed notes on the side to ensure individuals are paying equal attention to the smaller picture.

How Do You Achieve Adaptive Communication?

Adaptive communication encompasses four strategies:

1. Assess Your Own Communication Style

Before you can adapt your communication style to accommodate the needs of others, you must understand how you communicate currently. Consider how your communication style affects your behavior towards others and how others respond. You could also consider the impact of your communication style on your team members’ performance.

You can unveil those areas through a few methods:

360-degree Leadership or Communication Skills Assessment: This assessment offers insights into how your behaviors and actions impact those around you. By taking it, you can become more self-aware while reflecting on how your communication style may promote or inhibit positive relationships.
Personality assessment: Personality assessments such as DISC, MBTI, and brain dominance instruments help individuals better understand their personalities and thinking preferences, what they value in the workplace, and how they tend to behave or interact with others.
Direct communication: You can always reach out directly and ask your close colleagues what they believe your communication style is and how it might affect their work.

As you think about your style, here are a few other questions to consider:

  • How do you prefer providing and receiving feedback?
  • Do you prefer interacting in a group or a one-on-one setting?
  • Do you prefer communicating digitally over Slack, email, or Zoom?
  • Do you prefer to begin interactions with friendly, personal banter or would you rather get right into the facts and subject under discussion?
  • Do you need clarity, creativity, efficiency, or rapport when interacting with others?

2. Identify Your Audience

Once you have built the baseline from step one, you will be prepared to analyze the communication style and needs of the people who you talk to regularly.

There are several ways to discover this information:

  • Requesting feedback: Asking for feedback is a quick way to get helpful information from team members. For example, if you’re scheduled to meet with a team, email them to ask about their preferred communication style. Consider including some or all of the questions from the first step.
  • Leveraging questionnaires: You may also consider sending out questionnaire forms that dive deeper into strengths and weaknesses in one’s communication style. The data from questionnaires will help you identify patterns and the individuals’ preferences and intentions. Your team members may also be more willing to share their preferences in an anonymous forum.
  • Conducting your own research: Who do your audience members often interact and collaborate with at the workplace? Ask their colleagues, peers, or managers about their preferred communication style.

Remember, the intent is to form a constructive and meaningful two-way relationship. Thus, based on your circumstances and team members, select the best strategy above to set you up for success.

3. Select Your Mode and Channel

After assessing the communication styles of your audience members, use the data collected from the first two steps above to select the most appropriate mode and channel for the communication.

  • Mode: Will you communicate verbally, non-verbally, or in writing?
  • Channel: Will you communicate via phone, email, video, or in person?

It’s helpful to think about the context and purpose of the conversation. Depending on these factors, you may want to use various modes and channels to suit your audience.

For example, if you’re communicating complex information, you’ll want to send written communication first (e.g., a written document or email containing the data) and then have a video or in-person conversation about the details afterwards.

4. Establish Tone and Language

Determine how best to craft your message. What is the attitude, intention, and emotion you want to convey based on the context and audience? If you are communicating with an executive director, you may use a more formal tone or language; with a peer, you may be more casual. You will also want to consider language factors, such as the level of formality, urgency, and jargon.

5. Seek Feedback

Asking for feedback on the message you delivered  will enable you to

  • Identify ways to better connect with the audience by creating more effective strategies for communication.
  • Understand which behaviors and strategies you should repeat in the future in order to ensure that you continue to communicate successfully with the audience.

Now that you have a better understanding of what adaptive communication is and how it can benefit you as a leader, you may see a need to adjust how you communicate with others. CMOE’s Communication Training for Managers can help you achieve this goal by providing insights into different styles and learning how to adapt your natural style to the needs of your team. Through adaptive communication, people have the potential to build trust and respect, align actions, and ultimately drive bottom-line performance. Learn more about how our program can elevate communication in your organization.