Effective communication - Adapting to the situation

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  3. Adapting to the situation

In a work environment, there are a range of different situations that you may find yourself communicating in - sometimes within a single day.

You could go from a casual chat with colleagues, to a management meeting, to a performance management discussion with a team member, to a conversation with a customer - and all of these situations require a slightly different approach to be optimally effective. You may even find yourself communicating with the same person in different situations, requiring different approaches.

The key to adapting to the situation is in your language and tone.

Language and tone

As we discussed earlier in this module, the language and tone (non-verbal communication) we use shapes how our messages are interpreted and also how we are perceived.

Use the wrong tone and people can easily misinterpret the meaning behind our words. Use the wrong language and we can come across uptight or too casual and unprofessional.

When adapting your language and tone, you need to consider two things:

  1. Language style - What level of formality is most appropriate? Informal – e.g. casual chat Formal (Consultative) – e.g. job interview, client meeting
  2. Tone - What tone is appropriate for the situation? Serious, friendly, entertaining etc.


Kane is meeting a senior colleague for the first time. He takes a very informal approach because he believes that being informal is the best way of building rapport.

Result: Kane came across as unprofessional.

Michael is having a performance discussion with one of his team members. He doesn’t like to be confrontational so he makes a few jokes to lighten the mood.

Result: Michael’s team member is confused and offended that he thinks this is a joke.

Susie is delivering a presentation to her manager and her team. She uses the correct language style and business terminology. She also uses some light humour to engage the audience.

Result: Susie came across as professional and likeable.

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Next: Effective communication - Planning the conversation