One reason why servant leaders are effective is that they concern themselves with needs of the individuals whom they lead; the needs that must be fulfilled for them to achieve their full potential. For Christian leaders its clear that Jesus adjusted his approach to his disciples according to their needs and circumstances. When it comes to communications, the listener’s learning styles can play a big role in how well they keep up with and understand what we have to say.
In this part of the “Communication Tips for Servant Leaders” series we look at how learning styles affect our ability to communicate with others.
We each have different learning styles, which is a description of the preferences we have that help us learn best. In a formal class it is possible that my ability as a student will be diminished if the teacher presents the lesson in a way that works against my preferred earning styles. Similar things can happen when we speak to people. In principle both are about conveying information to elicit some response. A young man that I know primarily has a kinaesthetic learning style. Essentially this means that he learns best by doing. He has great difficulty with chalk and talk teachers and finds their lessons difficult to deal with. In contrast, give him a practical subject or practical learning exercises and he is in his element and enjoys himself while learning. He also needs to be convinced that what he is asked to do is worthwhile. That means he needs to understand “Why?” before effective learning can take place.
Why are Learning Styles Important for Effective Communication?
In essence all forms of communication are about conveying information in order to achieve a response. This is what teaching and learning is about too. Your preferred learning styles affect how you are able to receive, absorb and integrate information, whether in a formal lesson or an informal face-to-face corridor conversation. The same is true for other people. If we can accommodate their learning styles when we speak with them, then our attempts to communication are more likely to be successful. If you don’t know the other person, then it’s obviously difficult to specifically tailor how you interact with them. Of course, everyone is a mix of learning styles with specific preferences.
The servant leaders’ perspective means that one of his goals is to enable people to perform to their very best. This means that whether it’s a one-to-one conversation or a team briefing, or even a sermon, accommodating learning styles is very important in helping our listeners keep up with us and absorb what is being said.
There are several models about how people learn and a full consideration of learning styles can get somewhat involved but there are plenty of books to help you.
A Simplified View of Learning Styles
The following, greatly simplified view of learning styles will help you structure what you have to say.
Explain why it’s important
Some people need to understand the reasons why something is important. Its really part of the “What’s in it for me?” issue, but if you fail that test then they will not be interested. Then they may well switch off because they are not convinced that what you have to say is relevant.
Convey what it’s all about
What is it all about? These folk need to have a more theoretical view of the issue at hand because they can then work out the implications and requirements for themselves. Minimize that detail and they will find it harder to respond.
Set out how to do it
“Just, tell me what you want me to do?” might be the request from these people. They need to understand the practical, pragmatic process in which they are to engage. They may understand what it’s about but need to know how they are required to respond.
“What if?” might be the question uttered by the explorers, the doers, the experiential learners. They need a challenge to go and do something and learn from the experience. They may need a pointer on how to begin.
Use words for the verbal learners
Verbal learners like the written and spoken word. They can take in what you say and process it all. Some may prefer the written word, others the spoken word.
Use images for the visual learners
Visual learners use images, pictures, charts, maps drawings and the like to express themselves and learn. They are able to visualise information and may find a “words only” communication more difficult to deal with.
Servant Leaders Take Learning Styles into Account
When you are planning your communication, whether it be written or spoken, one-to-one or one-to-many it is helpful to accommodate as many styles as possible. The first four mentioned above can form a logical structure to help organise your communication (Why? What? How? And “Have a go”). The last three types will affect the style of your communication. If you know the person you are to communicate with well, then tailor your message to address their learning styles.
Where do you fit in that simplified learning styles model? What do the people you consider to be good communicators do to help you understand what they say?
Think about each of the members of your team or a group with whom you communicate regularly. From your knowledge of them, what do you think their learning styles are? How can you use this insight to make you more effective as communicator the next time that you speak to them? Give it a go and see what happens but remember practice makes perfect, so don’t give up, it will soon become second nature.
The Effective Communications Series
This article is one of series on effective communications in the context of being a servant leader in a Christian setting. You can access the others through the following links:
Image: Robert S Donnovan Flickr.com