ATD Blog

Improve Interpersonal Communication Skills by Tuning Out the Noise

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

As we conclude this three-part series on spring-cleaning our communications habits, I want to focus on improving interpersonal communication skills by examining differing communication styles. We will take a look at two style divides that can result in lost perspective, frustration, and conflict.

During the past 20 years, I have observed a lot of interpersonal conflict at work. Much of it is completely unintentional and unnecessary. Interpersonal conflict, when poorly managed, leads to unproductive, toxic environments. The saddest thing about workplace conflict is that it often is rooted in style differences—differences that are inherently good and, when recognized, can turn into complementary team skills that improve overall productivity and quality of work, not to mention enjoyment and fulfillment.

Let’s look first at the divide over energy preference: introversion versus extraversion. If you ever have taken a personality test (MBTI, DiSC, etc.) you probably identified a preference for one or the other. Simply put, those who prefer introversion draw their energy from reflection—they enjoy quiet time to sort out their thoughts. They tend to prefer longer, deeper conversations with fewer people. They prefer to think through their words before speaking them.

On the other hand, people who prefer extraversion gather their energy from external surroundings and feedback. They push their own energy out as a means of getting more. They often process externally (thinking-out–loud). They prefer high-energy environments and lively conversation, and they are quite comfortable in dynamic conversations. Extraverts generally feel comfortable shooting from the hip and speaking extemporaneously.

Neither preference is better than the other, and both provide great value—so what’s the big deal? Comfort really. Introverts and extraverts can make each other really uncomfortable. Below are some common assessments that create division: 

  • Introverts reacting to Extraverts:
    • They never shut up.
    • They interrupt.
    • They are phony.
    • They are shallow.
    • They can’t be trusted.


  • Extraverts reacting to Introverts:
    • They never talk.
    • They are so slow.
    • They keep secrets.
    • They are critical.
    • They can’t be trusted.



Another frequent divide that affects interpersonal communication skills is the one over judging and perceiving. These Myers-Briggs terms simplistically refer to preferences for how we interact with the world. Those with a judging preference like to bring closure to things, while those with the perceiving preference like keeping things open. “Judgers” like to get things done. They have a natural awareness and focus on time, tasks, progress, and so forth. They are driven toward completion, and they feel a great deal of stress relief at crossing tasks off their list.

Alternately, perceivers like a little more flexibility and spontaneity. They prefer to keep options open, always looking for a better, more complete, and more perfect choice. They tend to be less focused on time constraints and are more naturally open to investigate new ideas, gather information, and work through multiple scenarios to determine the best option. At times they may have to be pushed to make a decision.

After looking at these brief descriptions, it is easy to see how differing styles can result in conflict. Both styles accomplish work; however, they go about it very differently. That might be fine if we didn’t all have to work together—this is where the rub comes in. It isn’t uncommon for judgers to come to a status meeting with their to-do lists checked off while perceivers come with ideas for a completely new solution. It creates frustration on both sides of the table:

Judgers reacting to Perceivers:

  • They are always late.
  • They never finish anything.
  • They hold up the entire process.
  • They can’t be trusted.



Perceivers reacting to Judgers:

  • They are rigid.
  • They never listen to anything.
  • They make rash decisions.
  • They can’t be trusted.


It’s all about trust

If you find yourself in a place of interpersonal conflict and your assessments line up on either side of these lists, you may be experiencing style-based conflict. If you are frustrated, so is the other person. For every negative assessment you have against him, he has a reciprocal criticism for you. Through the lens of your own styles, you learn not to trust the other, and conflict emerges.

If this is resonating with you, great! Once you’re aware of a style-based conflict, you can master it. You can tune out the noise that your own style creates by valuing the contributions of the other person and working to improve your interpersonal communication skills. For example, if you are an extravert and you have been critical of a co-worker who is slow to share in meetings or takes a long time to get her thoughts out, reframe your negative assessment into a positive one: “Jane likes to choose her words carefully, and if I really pay attention I bet what she says will be valuable.” Or, go even further and let someone know in advance for what questions you would like input. Both of these small actions minimize the potential for conflict. Simply reframing your negative thoughts changes how you react and creates new possibilities for the relationship.

For more information on communication styles and resolving workplace conflict, visit

If you missed the first two posts in this series, check them out here:

About the Author

Kimberly Gerber is the founder and CEO of Excelerate, a communication training and coaching firm that offers interactive workshops, executive coaching, group coaching, mediation, conflict resolution, and laser coaching to focus on specific issues. For the past two decades, Gerber’s focused approach to communication strategies has successfully led Fortune 500 companies such as Starbucks and Fleetwood Enterprises toward real results. Gerber also brings the power of effective communication to podiums across the country as a motivating and empowering public speaker. Gerber holds a B.A. in Marketing and Public Communications from SUNY Buffalo. Committed to lifelong learning, she’s completed graduate studies at San Diego State University; is a graduate of Newfield, an ICF-certified executive coaching program; and has earned mediation certification from the Los Angeles County Bar Association.

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