Project Management Institute

Inspire project collaboration and get results


Kristy Tan Neckowicz, PMP, Sr. Consultant, The Professional Development Group
Shawn Kent Hayashi, Executive Coach and Consultant, The Professional Development Group



Projects often suffer because project teams fail to collaborate on delivering the desired project results. Whenever people work together, conflict is inevitable, but it doesn't have to be perpetual. Whether you are a team member or a project manager, you can learn how to engage your project team effectively to inspire collaboration that propels action and gets results. To get your project team on the same page, you must first identify how people hear and respond to you, and what they need from you for successful communication to occur. You must also identify what motivates the project team members and be able to recognize the patterns that sabotage collaboration. This paper identifies and explains the foundations for effective collaboration to help you develop collaboration skills.


Project managers have to collaborate with project team members and other stakeholders to get results. For example, during project planning processes, project managers have to work with others when collecting project requirements, defining scope, creating the Work Breakdown Structure, defining activities and sequencing them based on their logical relationships, estimating activity resources, durations and costs; and identifying risks and coming up with risk response plans. During the project executing processes, project managers have to direct and manage the project work (done by other people) and develop and manage the project team; and, throughout the entire project life cycle, project managers have to properly manage stakeholder needs and communications. Because collaboration is such an important skill for project managers throughout these processes, project managers must develop their collaboration skills.

The foundations for effective collaboration include:

  • Knowing what you want to achieve; being clear about your projects' desired outcomes.
  • Learning how to “read people,” which includes identifying how people hear and respond to you and what they need from you for successful communication to occur; identifying what motivates those around you; and being able to recognize the patterns that sabotage collaboration.
  • Learning to listen deeply, as well as learning how other people listen.
  • Understanding group dynamics and being able to identify leadership roles for assigning tasks, influencing morale, and challenging conventional wisdom.
  • Managing conflict in a healthy way, because conflict is unavoidable when people work together.

This paper describes each of these areas.

Knowing What You Want To Achieve

Collaboration revolves around having meaningful conversations focused on achieving results with other people. If you're unclear about the results you want to achieve, how can others help you achieve them? To have engaging, meaningful conversations with others, you'll also need to know what motivates you and how you prefer to communicate. You will need to clarify your own goals before you communicate them effectively to others.

As a project manager you must be clear about your project's desired outcomes and be able to articulate that to everyone involved. Start by creating a list of your project goals; then add on personal goals and even your life goals. Your list can be long; it should include 100 or more experiences, things, opportunities, and conversations you want to have, ways in which you want to serve other colleagues and sponsors of your project(s). How do you want to add value in your work? In life? Be sure to include the people you want to meet, people from whom you want support, guidance and/or mentoring. As you construct this list (we call this your “That's For Me!” list), you begin to own your agenda and gain clarity about what you want to create in your life and your work. By developing this list over time, you begin to see what will motivate and inspire you, so that you can be passionate about your work. Have you noticed that the people who are star performers are usually passionate about their whole lives? Your list will paint a clear and compelling vision for what outcomes you want to create, so you can make a greater contribution to your work and be a better leader.

When you look closely at your “That's for Me!” list, there is something that will jump out quickly: In order to accomplish many items on your list, you'll discover you have to engage other people. You will have to inspire others to join you in your endeavors. That is why we collaborate!

People Reading

We read to comprehend the information we are focused on. When interacting with project sponsors and team members, we need the skills to comprehend their frames of reference, how they like to make decisions, how they prefer to respond to challenges, the pace of the environment, and the way they will respond to rules set by others. In the book Conversations that Get Results and Inspire Collaboration, author Shawn Kent Hayashi calls this “people reading.”

Getting people to focus on your desired results and take the right actions requires learning the three parts to people reading:

  • Communication style—how you approach people and tasks
  • Motivators—why you do what you do
  • Emotional intelligence—your ability to use your feelings wisely to guide your actions and make better decisions

As you become a master of people reading, you will be able to identify and develop other people's strengths and accomplish the outcomes on your “That's for Me!” list, by collaborating effectively with the right people at the right time.

When you have the ability to identify another person's preferred communication style, you will have more effective conversations. You will collaborate, lead, coach, manage, and serve in meaningful ways, by adapting to the communication needs of the moment. You will experience more effective communication and better relationships than you have ever known before. Magic will happen around you, because you are making connections that matter with your stakeholders.

Preferred Communication Styles

First, imagine that there are four common patterns in wiring a human brain that result in preferred conversation behavior and stories. Or you could think of it as four different windows people look out of as they communicate. Each of these represents a different communication window:

  • Direct, results-oriented, action-focused, and forceful conversations
  • Optimistic, fun, creative, entertaining, expressive, and lively conversations
  • Relaxed, patient, steady, and process-oriented conversations
  • Fact-based, accurate, logical, analytical, and detail-oriented conversations

Imagine these as communication windows that you look through as you interact with others. Depending on which window you are looking out of, you are going to see, experience, and want different things. When you have mastered this, you will be able to select the communication window that you need at the moment in order to achieve the best outcome, rather than doing what comes to you most naturally.

There is not one right way for us to behave or communicate, so there is not one style of communication that will be best in all situations. The goal is to understand these four patterns of brain-wiring. When you do, you will be able to identify in a meeting or a conversation what the underlying conversation needs are for each person to be able to walk away from the exchange feeling that things are moving forward. When you identify the need clearly, you can decide whether you are the right person to provide that information, or if you would be better served by finding someone with a different communication style who can achieve the desired results.

Let's take this deeper now. When looking to identify which communication style is being displayed, ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Is the receiver I am communicating with more outgoing and extroverted, or more internal and introverted?
  2. Is the receiver I am communicating with more task-focused or more people-focused?

Outgoing or extroverted communicators tend to speak directly, loudly, with crisp, sharp, or large circular gestures. They enjoy meeting and talking with people and will be proactive in meeting new people. “Gregarious,” “animated,” or “bold” are words that may be used to describe their behavior. They will jump in and start a conversation quickly, adding their own ideas, opinions, and suggestions.

Internal or introverted communicators tend to speak softly, indirectly with small or no hand gestures. To people with another style they may appear timid or shy at first and tend to wait until they are introduced to engage in conversation. “Diplomatic,” “reserved,” and “thoughtful” are words that may be used to describe their behavior. They will likely wait until someone else initiates a conversation, and then they will respond.

Task-focused communicators may have checklists for everything. They are focused on the current process and task at hand. People using a task focus will dive into the work or business agenda immediately. They appear to want to check items off the list and move onto the next item. They do not appear to want to engage in small talk until after the work is finished.

People-focused communicators will be interested in the morale, energy, and big picture involved in the issue being discussed. Communicators who are using a people focus will be more interested in getting to know you; small talk is important before diving into a meeting agenda or doing business.

By answering these two questions, you will be able to identify the preferred communication style for the moment. You will be able to have a conversation that addresses the specific needs of someone else's style. People's communication needs will change, based on the situation they are in. It is important that you see what is happening in the moment, so you can guide the conversation in a way that builds trust and rapport instead of tension.

There are predictable communication needs that emerge from each style. The most effective way to gain the commitment and cooperation of others is to provide what they need, to understand their styles, and to blend your own so that you connect with them. By identifying another person or group's communication needs, you can adapt to that style and gain the person or group's attention.

  • Outgoing/extroverted, task-oriented communication is a sign that the Dominant communication style is in play.
  • Outgoing/extroverted, people-oriented communication is a sign that the Influence communication style is in play.
  • Internal/introverted, people-oriented communication is a sign that the Steady communication style is in play.
  • Internal/introverted, task-oriented communication is a sign that the Compliant to Standards communication style is in play.

The graphic below summarizes these four styles:


Let's take a closer look at each of the four styles.

Dominance Style Communication Patterns

People with the Dominant style preference need:

  • Activity
  • Opportunity to respond to problems and debate
  • Challenges
  • Power
  • Quick decision making and a willingness to re-make decisions as they acquire more information
  • Variety and lots of change
  • Opportunity to be a self-starter
  • Results
  • New ideas and new and unique products to buy

Dominant behavior can be seen by those with other styles as:

  • Bold
  • Demanding
  • Pioneering
  • Aggressive
  • Driving
  • Competitive
  • Ambitious
  • Curious
  • Responsible
  • Relying on gut instincts
  • Juggling too many activities
  • Rushing with a strong sense of urgency to get things done
  • Willing to break the rules to be more efficient

People with this style will fight back when they experience external conflict. They need to learn that those with other styles are not as direct with their feelings as they are. High Dominant communicators also love to make quick decisions, but they often do not realize that those with other styles are uncomfortable with this. They will interrupt others whom they perceive to be too slow. Their sense of urgency to make a decision is often what creates conflict. Instead, they need to give others a few days to think and prepare for a discussion. On the phone they prefer to get right to the point, with little to no chit chat.

The Dominant style communicator adds value to a team in the following ways:

  • Innovation
  • Initiation of activity
  • Making decisions quickly in a crisis
  • Being challenge oriented or argumentative
  • Placing a high value on managing time efficiently
  • Being a bottom-line organizer
  • Tenacity
  • Challenging the status quo
  • Competitiveness
  • Paying attention to the big picture and the concept or vision
  • Taking risks that those with other styles will not be willing to take

The Dominant style communicator wants:

  • Forums for verbalizing their ideas
  • Quick decisions
  • Prestige, position, and powerful titles
  • Ways to demonstrate success
  • Power and authority to achieve results
  • Control of his own destiny and opportunities to lead others

Projects that are well suited to the Dominant communication style include:

  • Freedom from controls and direct supervision
  • Non-routine work that includes risk, challenges, and new opportunities
  • Evaluation based on the results produced, not how the process was done
  • A forum to express ideas and suggestions efficiently
  • Lots of activity and movement

High Dominant communicators will be direct and to the point. To those with other communication styles they will appear blunt, argumentative, and overly results focused. After a heated debate, people with this communication style do not hold a grudge, and they may not realize that some with other styles do. Prose and flowery language may turn them off.

Each style has limitations or blind spots. It is important to know the Dominant style limitations:

  • They may lack tact and diplomacy in selling new ideas and suggestions; they can appear bossy.
  • They take on too much, too soon, too fast.
  • They focus too heavily on tasks that get results and avoid building relationships.
  • They refuse to listen to people considered to be less experienced or competent.
  • They push or bully people, instead of leading them.
  • They are overly argumentative and appear not to be listening.
  • They are impatient pushing for decisions or action now.
  • They will overstep their authority if they do not understand where the boundaries are.

Influence Style Communication Patterns

People with the Influence style preference need:

  • To interact socially with others
  • Activity
  • A favorable environment
  • Opportunities for fun
  • Opportunity to sell their ideas and influence others to their points of view
  • To be liked, to hear affirmations
  • Emotional connection to others — talk about feelings

Influence style behavior can be seen as:

  • Enthusiastic
  • Inspiring
  • Magnetic
  • Political
  • Persuasive
  • Warm
  • Charming
  • Polished
  • Trusting
  • Sociable
  • Quick to decide — may appear impulsive in buying what they want
  • Emotional
  • Optimistic
  • Talkative — chatty

People with this style may verbally lash out or fight, and then run, when they feel conflict. They can be seen by those with other styles as being verbally intense or abusive when angry. They will interrupt others because they are so chatty and full of ideas. They do not mean their interruptions to squash others; they are simply feeling excited about what they are discussing. On the phone they may initiate long conversations and will have a great deal of tone variation in their voices as they chit chat about all the events of their day and their thoughts on everything. These are huggers; they will greet you with a warm hug, even if they are new acquaintances. They warmly touch your arm to confirm agreement.

The Influence style communicator adds value to a team in the following ways:

  • Verbalizing thinking
  • Positive sense of humor
  • Motivating others toward goals and to be part of the team
  • Negotiating or facilitating when there is conflict on the team
  • Building morale and creating hope for new possibilities with their warm, friendly, fun demeanor

Those with the Influence style want:

  • People who appreciate their verbal conversational abilities
  • Social recognition — public acknowledgment of what they are doing
  • Variety of people to connect with and build connections with
  • Identification with a team or group — time to socialize with the group members
  • Freedom of speech and lots of people to speak with daily
  • Positive, uplifting, optimistic people to interact with
  • Group activities — teams to belong to outside the work environment
  • Warm connections to others

Projects that are well suited to those with the Influence communication style include:

  • Activities that involve working with teams — lots of people to interact with
  • Freedom to move around easily
  • A manager who appreciates that they share their thinking and feelings easily
  • Optimistic work culture that appreciates their warm, friendly, fun style
  • Work tasks that change frequently — they love variety
  • Assignments that involve inspiring, connecting, and networking with other people
  • Freedom from detail

People who strive to have fun at work are exhibiting the High Influence tendency. High Influence style conversations will be:

  • Wordy, flowery
  • Emotional
  • Charming
  • Outgoing
  • Fun

Each style has limitations or blind spots. It is important to know the Influence style limitations:

  • Need for help creating structures and organization
  • Need for focus to help them stay on track with their goals, as they can be easily distracted
  • A tendency to interrupt others because they have so much they want to say
  • Lashing out at others when they are upset, which may feel verbally abusive to others

Steady Style Communication Patterns

People with the Steady style preference need:

  • Established standards and methods
  • A stable and predictable environment
  • Personal attention and recognition for ongoing commitment to the project and for tasks completed consistently
  • An environment where long-standing relationships can be developed
  • An environment that gives time to adjust to changes

Steady style behavior can be seen as:

  • Mild
  • Friendly
  • Systematic
  • Sincere
  • Non-demonstrative
  • Team-playing
  • Patient
  • Stable
  • Kind
  • Understanding
  • Predictable
  • Amiable
  • Passive compared to other styles

People with this style of communication will put up with what is being asked of them when they feel conflict. They do not want to argue; it is uncomfortable for them to stand up to someone else in a conversation. Later, they may feel resentful that they were pushed to do something they did not want to do. They can hold onto bitterness and resentment toward someone for a very long time without openly admitting that they feel this way. Great listeners, they will not interrupt others. On the phone, they are warm conversationalists, friendly, and concerned for the other person or team.

The Steady style communicator adds value to a team in the following ways:

  • Patience for all
  • Logical, step-by-step thinker
  • Great listener
  • Creating an easygoing, relaxed culture
  • Dependable team worker
  • Finishing tasks committed to
  • Reconciling, calming, and stabilizing other team members

The Steady style communicator wants:

  • To serve
  • Patient, relaxed conversations and relationships
  • Loyalty
  • Long-term projects and relationships
  • Closure on projects and decisions before starting something new
  • To work for a leader with a cause

Projects that are well suited to the Steady communication style include:

  • Completing work that has a clear step-by-step model already established
  • Long-term assignments
  • Working with the same team members for long periods of time

High Steady style conversation will be:

  • Introverted
  • People focused
  • Indirect
  • Focused on stability
  • Slow decision making spread over days or weeks in several conversations
  • Relaxed, with no sense of urgency (even if there is urgency)

Each style has limitations or blind spots. It is important to know the Steady style communicator's limitations:

  • Lack of emotion. It may be hard to read their feelings; they often do not themselves know what they are feeling about something until they are asked to explore it.
  • Possessiveness.
  • Appearance of agreement or support an idea because they are uncomfortable working through conflict.
  • Need for preparation and time to adjust to changing circumstances.
  • Having homey clutter around them.
  • Taking constructive criticism of their work as a personal affront, so it can be hard to give them feedback to help them grow.
  • Need for help getting started on something new, because they like to do what is tried and trusted, rather than start new, unknown projects.
  • Internalizing their feelings; they tend not to discuss their hurt feelings to gain resolution.
  • Waiting for orders or direction from others before taking action; they need someone to tell them what to do, because they may not take initiative on their own.
  • Staying involved in a situation that is not good for them, because they do not project a sense of urgency.
  • Stubbornness, being locked into their ways of thinking about or doing something

The Steady style communicator needs:

  • A favorable — no conflict — environment
  • A steady pace that allows time to consider options before making decisions
  • Time to make decisions
  • Little variety in day-to-day activity

The Steady style communicator can be seen as:

  • Relaxed
  • Predictable
  • Stable
  • Reliable
  • Deliberate
  • Consistent
  • Non-demonstrative, not into drama
  • Resistant to change

Compliant to Standards Style Communication Patterns

People with the Compliant to Standards style preference need:

  • Direct and to-the-point conversations
  • Fact-based conversations
  • Logic
  • Proven results
  • Guarantees
  • Rules
  • Low risks and the ability to collect information about pros and cons before decisions are made
  • No impulsive actions
  • No emotionalized dramatic communication

Compliant-to-Standards style behavior can be seen as:

  • Accurate
  • Mature
  • Conscientious
  • Fact-focused
  • Systematic
  • Analytical
  • Methodical
  • Exacting
  • Restrained
  • Precise
  • Diplomatic
  • Patient
  • Unemotional or fear based

People with this style will avoid dealing with the issue when they feel conflict; they need to learn how to address and negotiate differences in opinions and feelings early on before they turn into deep conflict. This does not come easily for them, because it is about subjective emotion and they prefer to deal in facts and logic. They will not interrupt others unless they are pushed to the edge and feel intense anger. On the phone, they get right to the point, with little to no chit-chat.

The Compliant-to-Standards style communicator adds value to a team in the following ways:

  • Conscientiousness
  • Defining, clarifying, getting information, criticizing, and testing fact-based thinking
  • Objective thinking
  • Maintaining high standards and quality controls
  • Being task focused
  • Asking lots of questions
  • Being diplomatic
  • Paying attention to small details and the next task at hand to implement the desired result
  • High quality and safety standards
  • Perfectionism, double checking all details

Those exhibiting the Compliant-to-Standards style want:

  • Procedures
  • Manuals
  • Precision and attention to details
  • Proof and evidence
  • Doing work by the book
  • Safe environments
  • Quality controls

Projects that are well suited to the Compliant-to-Standards communication style include:

  • Implementing quality controls and procedures
  • Technical, task-oriented work in deeply specialized areas
  • Assignments that can be followed through to completion
  • Tasks where critical thinking is needed and rewarded
  • Minimal noise and people distractions or interruptions
  • Little need for customer service or bedside manor

High Compliant-to-Standards style conversation will be:

  • Introverted
  • Task focused
  • Direct
  • Focused on avoiding problems — risk mitigation

Each style has limitations or blind spots. It is important to know the Compliant-to-Standards style communicators’ limitations:

  • Being too critical of themselves and others
  • Being unaware of how often they squash others emotionally, a need to develop self-awareness and empathy for others’ feelings to keep other people engaged with them
  • Having the most difficulty with High Influencers who want to express emotions and seem too impulsive.
  • Having difficulty with High Dominant communicators who seem fixed in their own points of view and want to make decisions quickly, based on the first evidence they find that supports their points of view.

There is not one right style. Right and wrong are judgments that relate to ethics. We are not talking about ethics here. We are focused on understanding people's communication needs. The issue is what you do with your communication style to be effective when collaborating with others.

When you understand how the predictable strengths and blind spots play together, you will begin to collaborate with people to play to their strengths and to cover their blind spots. You will no longer take it personally or be offended when you bump up against someone's blind spots. It is not personal when someone who has a high Compliant-to-Standards communication style does not greet you with a warm hug. Likewise, when someone gives you a big warm hug the first time he sees you, you'll recognize a clue that points to the Influence Communication pattern.

Understanding communication styles not only helps you bring out the best in others by connecting them with projects or tasks suited to their modes of operating, it can also help you fine tune your ability to persuade and influence project sponsors, team members, clients, investors, or anyone with whom you need to share your vision. If you know your audience well, it's much easier to tailor the delivery and content of your message to make it more effective.

We have described above the four “pure” communication styles. Most of us prefer a combination of these four styles so it is important not to stereotype someone just because he or she prefers/exhibits some traits of one particular communication style. First, learn how to adapt to each of the pure styles identified above, and then practice identifying the combination patterns, beginning with the Steady style. For example, how will a person who prefers the Steady and Compliant-to-Standards communication patterns show up in a meeting? Then how will a person who prefers the Steady and Influence patterns show up? What will someone who prefers the Influence/Dominant combination pattern want to focus on in a conversation? Practice creating conversations that will appeal to each of these combinations.

Using this information about communication styles is not about trying to be all things to all people. It's about guiding yourself and others toward the right roles and assignments on a project team; it's about speaking to people in a way that they can hear you; and, it's about valuing differences and knowing how to bring out the best in others. Your ability to adapt your behavior and conversations to each of the styles will increase your effectiveness in communication and enable greater understanding and appreciation of others’ similarities and differences.

Workplace Motivators

The second part of people reading is identifying the motivators that are driving a person's actions. Motivators (or values) are the glue that holds relationships and teams together. When our motivators are aligned, we share a common mission and find fulfilling meaning in our work together.

Our beliefs form our values. What we value motivates us into action. According to research done by Eduard Spranger in Types of Men (1928) and later G.W. Allport in The Study of Values (1960), there are six basic values that show up in the workplace:

  • Theoretical: Wanting to find solutions, using facts and data, and learning and sharing knowledge.
  • Utilitarian: Wanting to be practical, be resourceful, and get a return on your investment of time, energy, and money. Likes keeping score perhaps with money or points.
  • Individualistic: Wanting to be part of leadership decision making, striving for a world-class level, and being seen as the best.
  • Social: Wanting to benefit and help others, putting others’ needs above one's own, solving people problems.
  • Aesthetic: Wanting things to be artistic, creative, subjective, striving for balance, harmony, and peace.
  • Traditional: Wanting rituals, guidance in how to live or work in the best possible way, having operations or traditions to pass down to others.

A person's top two or three motivators will lock together and be the core reason behind his or her actions. In other words, a person's top motivators become the WHY for his or her action. These six motivators are not right or wrong, nor good or bad. They have no morality. It is how we use them that determines whether they are ethical or not. Each could be used for good or for bad — in ways that lift others up or tear others down. Why we do what we do is tied to our own motivators.

Review your “That's for Me!” list. Look at each item on your list and ask yourself why you want to do it. Asking yourself why you want to create something forces you to examine, “What is my motivation? What am I passionate about?” If you have not done enough exploring to know the answer to this question; then take the time to carefully examine your motivation. Be diligent about discovering your core passions. What is the emotional connection you have with your goals? Motivation requires emotion; we want to be passionate about what we are creating in order to inspire others to join us.

As a project manager or leader, when you understand how to spot what motivates others, you will be able to offer them assignments, projects, and positions that will align with their motivators. Satisfying work is what makes engagement and collaboration most meaningful. When our motivators are aligned to the work being done, we will be able to build long-term relationships that add deep value over a career.

Emotional Intelligence

Our feelings are triggered by our thoughts and by what is happening around us. What triggers joy in you may not trigger joy in me and vice versa because the wiring of our brains is different. The third part of people reading involves being able to identify what you are feeling and then what another person is likely feeling in the moment. You want to consider how those emotions will affect what you are doing together now. Knowing how your own emotion is affecting your actions, as well as how another person's current emotion is affecting his or her thinking and actions, is vital to people reading and effective collaboration. To be able to do this in a conversation requires developing emotional intelligence first.

Emotional intelligence includes five abilities:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social skills

We have all encountered, at one time or another, a leader who is either unaware of his or her own emotions in the moment, and/or unable to control his or her own “emotional hijacks” or impulsive behavior when angered, for example. If we do not have strong self-regulation muscles, we can be overcome by any of the seven core emotions (love, joy, hope, envy, sadness, anger, and fear) and either take actions that we will regret later, or not take actions needed to achieve the results we desire. We need the self-awareness and self-regulation abilities so that we can intentionally process ourselves through emotions or guide ourselves to use our emotions in a healthy way. When we have strong self-regulation ability, we can guide ourselves, and then others, through emotional stuck spots. Our ability to guide others to use their emotions in healthy ways depends on our ability to create empathetic rapport. People who have this ability are known as great listeners and inspirers. We feel like kindred spirits with people who have these abilities.

We encourage you to explore each of the five abilities, so that you can identify which ones may need more developing in order for you to get better results when people reading and collaborating with others.

Adjusting Your Communications Based on Results of People Reading

We have the most difficulty understanding the communication from people who are opposite from our task- and people-focused communication patterns; the wiring of our brains is very different. We cannot expect our sponsor, manager, peers, and team members to use our communication style when working with us. We have to adapt our communications to others’ needs and appeal to their motivators. We cannot take it personally when others do not respond as we think they should. We have to understand others from their perspectives, and think about how they need information based on their preferred communication style. In any relationship, the person who wants to change the relationship is the one who needs to adapt to the other person's preferred communication style. If you are the one who wants change in a relationship, it is your job to adapt to the other person's communication style. When you begin to adapt your communication style to your receiver, you will experience new results. Begin to observe what communication style your receiver is using in his or her conversations. For maximum engagement, adjust your discussion style and information sharing to the receiver's style to meet his or her needs.

When you are able to identify a person or group's motivators, preferred communication style, and which emotion they are currently marinating in, you are able to create more effective conversations and relationships for collaboration.

Highly Attentive Listening

Assuming that you heard the same thing as everyone else at a meeting or in a conversation is a mistake. Not hearing or not listening causes conflicts. Whenever a stakeholder of ours thinks, “He does not value me and my thinking enough to make time to hear my ideas,” conflict is inevitable.

When we have different communication styles and motivators driving our behavior, and when we are subject to our own unique patterns of emotions, we hear things differently. We may see the same visuals and listen to the same words at a meeting, but we will hear and understand them differently, because we use our own communication styles as our listening modes. For example, a person who prefers the High Dominant style will listen for results first, next actions, power, and competency. A person with a High Influence style will listen for creative ideas, emotions, what is popular, and opportunities to have fun. A person with a High Steady style will listen for how things will be done, ways to serve and please others, and will prefer listening to talking. Someone with a High Compliant style will listen for the facts, details, data, logic, and research. When we do not understand these differences, misunderstandings occur, because we have different wiring connections in our brains.

Your workplace motivators, communication style, current emotion, maturity level, and past experience determine what you do and don't hear. If you do not understand the communication styles model we discussed earlier, it will be difficult for you to pick out underlying needs in a conversation. Most people are so habituated into their own ways of communicating and valuing experiences that they miss much of what goes on around them. They have not learned to hear or see from other perspectives.

When a topic is complex, emotional, or controversial, or anytime you are communicating with a stakeholder on your projects, use these deep listening steps in order:

1. Maintain eye contact, hear the tone of voice, the words being used by the speaker, and observe the body language the person uses while speaking. Notice whether words, tone of voice, and the facial expressions are aligned. When these things are not aligned, the person is experiencing internal conflict with the issue being discussed.

2. Ask two or three questions that do not have a judgmental tone to them. This could sound like, “Hmm, that is interesting, would you tell me more? What else was happening at the time? How many people were involved? Wow, what were you feeling when that happened?” These questions show you are interested, and they enable you to build on what the speaker has said already. (Asking questions like these will take you out of being reactive or defensive.)

3. When the speaker stops talking, allow a long pause, then summarize what you have heard so far and confirm you got it right. “What I've heard you saying is … XYZ. Have I heard you correctly?” or “You seem to be feeling … have I got that right?” Include both the content and the feeling tone of what you heard. Watch for a nod indicating that you heard correctly. The other person may jump in to add missing details. (Now the other person feels heard.)

4. After doing the first three steps, share your own thinking, observations, insights, and suggestions. Make your proposal, ask for what you want, or share what you are doing. (This is deep listening in action.)

Whenever someone shares something that shows vulnerability, emotion, or compassion, use these listening action steps. Also, when someone shares something complex or challenging, something that you need to understand so you can take action, use these steps. Master these behaviors so they become automatic and they will then be there when you sense conflict and need to find resolutions as well.

Get the Playbook for Group Dynamics

Did you know that every team has more than one leader? Even in newly formed teams, people carve out roles for assigning tasks, influencing morale, and challenging conventional wisdom. Understanding these roles can help you gauge whether your team performs efficiently or is bogged down by dysfunction.

There are four leader roles that begin to evolve early in a group's meeting. Within twelve hours of the group members interacting, these roles will be established. Usually, these emerge in the order shown below:

1. Task leader: This person sets the agenda, assigns tasks and roles, and allocates resources. On a healthy team, this person participates, engages others, and is open to communicating and listening. On an unhealthy team, this person is a dictator or tyrant.

2. Emotion or morale leader: This person watches for the morale of the group, gets to know people as individuals, and encourages people to share their thoughts and feelings. On a healthy team, this person is a trusted colleague who is a sounding board for uncovering ideas and feelings, so that one does not get stuck. On an unhealthy team, this person gossips, pits people against each other, and creates tension in the team.

3. Fun leader or scapegoat: This is the person who, on a healthy team, lightens the intensity, encourages playful interactions, ensures that team members take breaks and laugh. On unhealthy teams, this person is blamed or criticized; he or she becomes the scapegoat for people not taking responsibility for their own actions.

4. Challenger leader: This person challenges the task leader's thinking, agenda, process, and goals. On a healthy team, this person speaks up directly to the task leader and works out the blind spots in the task leader's style and thinking. On an unhealthy team, this person goes underground, sabotaging the task leader's role and power.

When a person in one of these emergent leadership roles moves off the team, another person moves into the emergent leadership role. In other words, sometimes a new manager will get rid of the challenger leader, not realizing that someone else will assume that role. As the project manager, you will be wise to align with and make good use of the feedback that comes from the challenger leader and the other types of leaders on the team.

The Conflict Conundrum: Play or Punt?

Whenever people work together, conflict is inevitable, but it doesn't have to be perpetual. There are several predictable patterns that show up when people who are not aware of communication styles interact with each other.

For example, when a person with a High Dominant style (a fast decision maker) interacts with a person with a High Steady style (a slow decision maker), and they are not trained in the communication styles model, the interaction patterns between them are predictable. The High Steady style communicator will describe the High Dominant style communicator as:

  • A bully — he overpowers everyone
  • Too intense and fast paced — everything is urgent — he has fire drills every day
  • Taking too many risks and creating change for the sake of change
  • Addicted to making decisions, does not hesitate to change his decisions later
  • Not listening
  • Only focused on the big picture and over committing what the team is capable of doing

The High Dominant style communicator will describe the High Steady style communicator as:

  • Too slow — nothing seems to be getting done on an effective time line
  • Showing no sense of urgency
  • Focused on how things will be done before we even agree about what we are doing
  • Too soft — always talking about family, personal stuff, and not focusing enough on the task at hand
  • Going along with whatever I say — a pushover who does not have a backbone or share thinking
  • Non-emotional — I can't tell if he wants to be on the team or not
  • Over-focused on security

Similarly, when a person with a High Influence style interacts with a person with a High Compliant-to-Standards style, and they are not trained in the communication styles model, conflict between them occurs in a predictable way.

Understanding these predictable patterns that cause conflict can help you resolve the conflict by avoiding the common mistakes and misunderstandings. However, if the conflict cannot be resolved between two project team members or stakeholders because neither one is willing or able to adapt or adjust communication styles, it may require a change in group dynamics by reassigning roles or even removing someone from the team.


Now that you understand the foundations of collaboration, you can memorize the cluster patterns and how they fit together to communicate effectively based on the people dynamics on your project(s). Understanding the range of behaviors and motivators will guide you to recognize what is likely to emerge in any relationship. People reading gives you the self-awareness to be sensitive to the communication needs of your stakeholders, so your message will reach them—so they will understand you. For example, someone who likes to make decisions quickly and forcefully will also probably like a strong, healthy debate; in other words, he or she will enjoy what people who do not like to make quick decisions call arguing. On the other hand, an executive sponsor who prefers to research a broad array of options, perhaps reading several books or articles on the topic before making a decision, will probably not like a strong emotional appeal in your presentation. Your ability to people read successfully will ensure effective communications.

As a project manager with high emotional intelligence and high awareness of group dynamics, you will solve people problems on your projects by filling in the missing pieces. As a leader, you will put the right people in roles that will bring out their best selves and help you achieve the goals that are most meaningful to you. Based on the desired outcome of your project(s), take a critical look at each project team member with whom you need to collaborate with. Then, do your best to motivate each team member to play to his or her strengths, preferred communication styles and workplace motivators. Whenever possible, design roles and assignments in your workplace that are doable based on the communication style needs of the work being done. As with any new skill, once you understand the foundations for collaboration described in this paper, you will need to practice, practice, and practice until you master it.

Hayashi, S.K. (2010). Conversations for Change: 12 Ways to Say It Right When It Matters Most. McGraw Hill: New York.

Hayashi, S.K. (2011). Conversations for Creating Star Performers. McGraw Hill: New York.

Hayashi, S.K. (2013). Conversations that Get Results and Inspire Collaboration. McGraw Hill: New York.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2013, Kristy Tan Neckowicz and Shawn Kent Hayashi
Originally published as a part of 2013 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – New Orleans, Louisiana



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