How Communication Styles Affect Requirements Sign-Off

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I’ve recently had some troubles getting all team members to provide approval for a requirements document. I know the reluctance is a sense of not knowing what the requirements contain. I thought maybe if I could tailor how I disseminated the information to different communication styles, I could receive feedback in a more complete and timely manner.

I turned to the internet for inspiration. I started researching communication styles. I expected to come up with visual, auditory, etc. I found this type of information but something much more fascinating came up. Since the time of Hippocrates it has been generally accepted that there are four communication styles. Carl Jung extended the meaning of the four, refined them slightly, but basically agreed there are just four. Even today we see professional business trainers use four basic communication styles when training how to communicate more effectively in business.

The names I find most appealing are: Expresser, Driver, Relater, and Analyzer. The Expresser tends to get visibly and externally excited about ideas and discussions, be impatient with lengthy explanations, strive for recognition, and make quick decisions as long as the idea being decided is exciting. However, the Expresser’s enthusiasm can often be mistaken for buy-in. The Driver tends to take charge and focus on results, finds it annoying to have someone else make a decision for them, strives to win, and also makes quick decisions but given time will tend towards a “no” answer. The Relater pays attention to how everyone else is reacting to the situation, worries about disappointing others or not meeting expectations, strives to build consensus to keep everyone happy, and needs time to make a decision. The Analyzer asks a lot of specific data driven questions, hates to make a mistake, will check and re-check calculations to make sure solutions are sounds, strives to complete the necessary steps to find a thorough solution, and likes to review all considerations before making a final decision.

I’ve summarized mountains of information to a few short sentences. The relevant piece of each communication style is how that person likes to make decisions. Expressers and Drivers make their decisions quickly. They are impatient and hate spending a lot of time embroiled in details and muckity muck that makes a quick decision less practical. Given time, the Driver will tend more and more towards a “no” decision.

In an environment where a Product Manager is seeking approval for a set of requirements with an Expresser and/or a Driver, it may be best to summarize the meat of the requirements in as concise a presentation format as possible. Then follow up by calling the Driver or Expresser and talking them through the information until a decision is reached relatively quickly. Simply sending out a large document and giving this type of communicator time to review it will not be effective. These communicators want information distilled to the relevant pieces so they can make an evaluation and decision quickly. Another facilitation method may be to host a meeting between the Expresser and/or Driver and yourself. As long as the meeting focuses on areas of consensus and does not get bogged down in how to change areas of contention, it should be relatively easy to get an Expresser or Driver to agree on the areas of consensus.

Analyzers and Relaters needs more time. They like to evaluate all the information available to them, determine how others might feel about the information, and evaluate whether the information is the “right” and “correct” information. These communication styles require a different approach. When trying to get approval from an Analyzer or Relater, it’s probably a good idea to send them the document and then schedule a follow up two or three days later. This gives the party time to read the document, evaluate the document, and come to a decision.

It’s possible the Relater will need to make the decision as part of a group. This communication style is reluctant to make decisions without measuring the concerns of the other parties involved. You may want to schedule a group meeting where the Relater can see others approve of different aspects of the document. If the relater is willing, you may ask him/her to identify areas of concern and then find others who approved those areas and let the Relater know of the additional support.

It’s possible the Analyzer will need more data. You may ask him/her to provide areas of contention and then seek out data to support one path versus another. You may need to quantify other feedback and approaches to get Analyzer buy-in. In any case, your Analyzers and your Relaters may need more time to review documentation. Your Expressers and your Drivers may need more attention to review documentation.

Armed with these four different communication styles, on any project, it should be easier to find a way to elicit a response from a particularly quiet team member. Good Luck!

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