Leveraging the Best Communication Style in the Workplace

As part jobs-plus2of NIU Jobs PLUS, an alumna is teaching students about four communication styles that all employees could benefit from to improve their relationships on the job.

Jobs PLUS partners with alumni, businesses and NIU faculty and staff to present training workshops every semester so student employees are more effective in the workplace and ultimately more competitive in the job market after graduation. Since the program began in 2015, students have spread the word about the benefits of these workshops, which often fill to capacity.

Audrey Southard (’85, management) of Southard Consulting presents the popular communication styles workshop, which introduces students to the lion, lamb, peacock and owl styles of communication. The event is typically an eye-opener for students because they learn how to use their own style effectively while avoiding conflicts with someone with a different style.

“The personalized nature of the workshop allowed me to analyze my personality and communication style,” said Alejandro Molina Hoyos, an NIU math major. “And the interactive component demonstrated the benefits and downfalls of each style, as well as communicated how to use each style’s strengths to effectively accomplish a goal.”

Once the students identify their style, Southard shows them how to leverage their positive attributes and recognize the downsides of their traits. She cited an example of how lions can use their take-charge personality as an advantage. On the flip side, lions tend to dominate the conversation and not listen as well.

“The whole session is very interactive,” Southard said. “So once they identify their animal style, the participants learn as much from each other as they do from me.”

She points out that all employees can benefit from the session because it makes them more aware of how to imaudrey-southardprove a team or a work relationship.

“We need all styles to really get the most out of a group,” Southard said. “For example, a lamb is very loyal, is a team player and adds great chemistry to the group, but may shy away from conflict or can be indecisive. However, when a lamb is paired with a lion, who doesn’t mind making a decision, they can make a great working group.”

Students are often surprised to learn that working with someone with the same communication style can be a disadvantage. For instance, she said, when workers with peacock traits (who like to talk and have fun) are put on the same team to plan a meeting, they find that getting work done can be a challenge and that they are better off with a mix of styles.

Employers also benefit from the training because their employees are more effective and engaged on the job and improve in areas such as workplace communication, teamwork, ethical decision making, time management, conflict resolution, stress management and interpersonal skills, said Chad Glover, director of Jobs PLUS.

"The NIU Jobs PLUS program is a tremendous benefit for our interns and our organization,” said Vicki Slomka, senior vice president of global human resources for IDEAL Industries in Sycamore. “This is the first step in developing their professional presence. The students are able to enhance their communication and leadership skills while working for us – which makes them more effective in their roles."

In an effort to get more jobs for students and expand the program, alumni who own a business or can make a connection with an employer are invited to fill out a referral form at the Jobs PLUS web page or call Glover at 815-753-2056.

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently recognized Jobs PLUS as a program that makes student jobs more meaningful in an inexpensive way. The program was cited for its employer agreement that allows students to attend the professional development training during paid working hours. With this agreement, according to Glover, students no longer have to sacrifice personal time to attend Jobs PLUS, and attendance is up.

“The objectives of the program are to integrate NIU into a sphere of a student’s life, which higher education is usually absent from programmatically, and to create an entirely new kind of network,” Glover said.

By Colleen Leonard