Friday, September 27, 2019

The Supportive Communication Style Doesn’t Work in the Interview

Picture this...years ago, I am sitting around a long, rectangular maple table in a conference room. The walls are soft green. It is a soothing environment. Myself at the head of the table, four others are sitting around looking at me with intent expressions. Notepads and pens are directly in front of them. I can see a list of questions printed on sheets of paper with boxes for responses. It is Wednesday morning, 11:15 am, and the room is filled with sunlight pouring in from the small window on the back wall. In front of the window is an AV screen ready for the presentation that is expected after we finish talking. It’s an interview, and an important one.

The interview begins with the usual exchange of formalities. I listen intently to the others and try to learn about those at the table from their introductions. Job titles, voices tones, and expressions; I am tuned in to it all. From my immediate right comes the first question. She asked me about my qualifications and what makes me a good fit for the job? My response is calm, slow, and deliberate. I make sure I share my three greatest strengths and how they are a match for the job. I have practiced this response many times and use my natural supportive communication style to respond. This is the communication style that I have gravitated to all my life. And even more so in the last eight years while I have been an adult job education teacher. I deliver information, concepts, and approaches in the classroom to all walks and all education levels. I use my patience and relaxed attitude to help them grow and gain employment that they are excited about. This style comes through loud and clear as I speak to the interviews.

While I am delivering my strengths answer, I am still observing. I look for connections and social clues in this interviewer’s eyes and body language about how my response has landed. To my disappointment, it doesn’t have the impact I was hoping for. In fact, her response was rather neutral. “Thank you, Garla.” I am scratching my internal mind trying to figure out why she is not looking excited. My response was good! It turns out I am not speaking her communication style. My interviewer to the right is an initiating communicator. She had already shown me that she was outgoing and full of energy when she met me in the hallway to bring me in the interview room. She was talkative before the interview with all the interviewers. She appeared to be a natural communicator. She initiates conversations with others. These initiating communicators blossom with compliments and enthusiasm. Since she was the facilitator, I could have complimented her on the coordination of the interview process. I also should have been more upbeat and enthusiastic while presenting my strengths.

As the interview moves on, interviewers are now asking questions where they expect responses that are tied to behavior examples. In other words, they want P.A.R.s. They want me to deliver my responses in the form of what was the Problem, the Approach I used to solve the problem, and the Result.

The individuals sitting to my right in the second and third chairs are both interested in relationships that I have established with outside organizations and employment groups. They are interested in behavior examples. They ask the question, “This job requires creating opportunities that allow students to land jobs in these specific environments. Please tell us about your contacts and relationships in these areas.” I list a several organization names and people I know in these organizations while conveying the info in my supportive communication style to show that I am relaxed and confident enough to build the network and create the results they are seeking.
But rather than simply taking my answer, they prompt me with follow-up questions. How will you do it? Tell me more about this specific organization. Once again, my supportive communication style is not hitting home with these interviewers. They want more details, where I am trying to communicate a broad flexibility and easygoingness to work with any challenge. Their communication style is analytical. They are precise and want details. They are deliberate and specific in their follow up questions. They are leaders with technical backgrounds; trained to think critically and understand numbers, facts, processes, and strategy steps. They are not afraid to dive deep into a complicated problem. In fact, they need to dive in to understand. Their expressions communicate intensity. I fail here because I am not equipped to give them more. My supportive communication style needs to switch to analytical to show to how I built my network. What activities did I engage in to build the network? How long did it take me? What were the results? As a supportive communicator, I gravitate to listening (active listening) to ensure I don’t lose my audience. But these individuals do not see my brief elaboration as detailed enough. They need the details to hear me and communicate with me.

Now, remember there were four interviewers in the room. The most important interviewer is sitting near the far end of the table on the left. She is the big boss in the room. She is friendly but deliberate, and intense with her listening skills. I know who she is and her role on the team. She is responsible for setting the overall goals for the team and ensuring the group is able to navigate management’s demands. She needs to be direct and concise when engaging with the management team. When I asked for clarification to an earlier question, she was the one who summarized the question in a direct manner so that I understood what was being asked. Her interviewing question (which was very telling) was, “How do you handle pressure?” Those with direct communication styles tend to be competitive and resonate with competitive terms. Her role alone tells me a lot about her communication style. It is a direct communication style.

In response to her question, I deliver a P.A.R. that speaks to building a product while being required to complete it within a tight time frame. I speak on the challenges we faced while building the product, the people relations, parts assembly challenges, and I sum it up with saving the company time and money by avoiding late charges. A perfect P.A.R.! My supportive communication style lets me deliver the P.A.R. in a succinct and organized manner.

But I make two fatal mistakes. I repeat myself a couple of times. My supportive style is used to making a point two different ways to ensure all my listeners are understanding. But in this case, the delivery comes across as too many words, too much redundant information. My second mistake is that I don’t show my competitive nature in my response. A stronger answer might have been, “Despite one-third of our parts not fitting, I was determined to drive that number down to less than 5% by the time the product transitions by aggressively and ruthlessly working with engineers to get the tolerances tighter and drive our quality team to report and reject piece parts that were out of spec or closes.” She needed to hear my determination with minimal details to show I desired to win.

Perhaps you have anticipated, I did not get that job. But what I learned from this process is that communication styles needed to be altered depending on your audience. Within the interview setting, it is especially critical to understand your own communication style and the styles of those in the room. I believe the supportive communication style has little place in the interview process. It is an excellent communication style for the classroom and educational environment and even within leadership roles, but not here.

Consider the roles and backgrounds of individuals as you are crafting your interview responses. Being succinct and detailed about the delivery of your accomplishments, goals, strengths in styles that the interviewers can understand is critical. If your communication style is supportive know that in an interview setting, this style has to be adapted even further to come across as a well-rounded candidate who can get the job done. Supportive styles particularly tend to exhibit a gentleness which can be perceived as weakness. This is not what you want to communicate. You want to communicate that you are a winner.

With all of this analysis, keep in mind that you do have a default communication style. You are who you are. You must understand your natural style and then recognize how you come across to others. You must recognize how others see you in the room and then speak to each of those individuals. The goals is to communicate with them on their level. If you find yourself struggling to identify the styles of others or struggling to adapt your own style without seeming forced or phone, a career coach can help you strengthen these skills. As a job seeker interviewing, your delivery cannot be just based on you! Your interviewer must be able to hear what you have to say in their language.

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