Communicating with “Point People”

Are you a “point person,” or a “story person?” If you can’t recognize these two communication styles — in yourself and others — and adjust to your audience, you’ll often find yourself annoyed and frustrated (This opening is written for point people.)

Sarah was beyond frustrated.

After six weeks of thoughtful work on a special project for the CEO, she presented her findings to the CEO and was given all of ten minutes. Ten minutes! The project involved identifying a complex data set, delicate inter-departmental collaboration, and impressive analysis. Sarah had been looking forward to walking the CEO through her work, and her thought process. While she hoped her effort and insight would impress the CEO, more importantly, how could the CEO possibly understand and appreciate the merits of Sarah’s recommendations without the full picture.

Instead, Sarah was told, “just give me the bottom line.”

Speaking to her executive coach later, Sarah retold the story — and got herself almost as worked up as when it happened. Discussing communication styles, Sarah’s coach helped her understand two fundamentally different communication types — point people and story people.

Sarah is a Story Person

Sarah wants to provide the background. She believes context is very important. Her preferred communication style builds a story, from the beginning, and leads the audience through the twists and turns, to the climax — revealing recommendations and solutions. From Sarah’s perspective, people can only understand a recommendation or conclusion by understanding the journey that led there — the process, the factors, the details, the analysis, and the weighing of the pros and cons.

But the CEO…

The CEO is a point person. They want to start with the lead. They want to get to the point. For point people, the bottom line is what’s most important, and the sooner they get there the better. If they have questions, they’ll ask. If they feel they need to understand an aspect of the background, or part of the decision-making process or analysis, they’ll ask.

Story people and point people often have difficulty communicating with each other. As Sarah’s coach put it, “point people and story people can drive each other a little crazy.”

Sarah’s coach observed that many senior leaders have a bias toward point people and are point people themselves. There may be many reasons, but a lack of time is a big factor. CEOs simply do not have 45 minutes to discuss and consider the nuances of a project. They may have ten minutes; they often have less.

Practice Recognizing the Needs of
Your Point People Audience

Many talented people move up the ranks of their organization as story people. The challenge for them is that as they move higher, they typically need to become comfortable communicating to more point people — even becoming point people themselves.

Sarah is now working on “knowing her audience,” and learning how to better recognize and communicate with point people.

1. One way to help people recognize their preferred communication style is through a DiSC assessment. DiSC is a proven tool designed to better understand yourself and others — and how everyone interacts and works together. DiSC identifies the way that someone approaches the world, how they process information and make decisions, and how they prefer to relate to each other. For more, read Arden Coaching’s blog, “The Value of DiSC for You and Your Team.”

2. Before meetings and presentations, Sarah is practicing writing out “headlines,” and “story leads.” Like a good journalist writing a news story, people should be able to get the gist of the story with a headline and a lead paragraph of 2-3 brief sentences.

3. Sarah is striving to read her audience — observing body language and recognizing signals that some people may need something different in the pace of her presentation or level of detail.

4. Sarah is developing her stories, presentations, and project updates with the image of a funnel in mind. She organizes information from the narrow end of the funnel first (getting to the bottom line), through the middle of the funnel (major considerations and significant decision-points), to the wider top of the funnel (the importance of who was selected to the project team, how the need for the project came to be, and big picture organizational or environmental factors that impacted critical decisions). 

Armed with this framework, Sarah is ready to communicate more effectively at her next meeting — and position herself for additional responsibilities and promotion at her organization. For more about communication skills, read “Leadership and Communication Skills: 4 Insights.”

To learn more about communication skills, DiSC assessments, building leadership skills at your organization, contact Arden Coaching at [email protected] or 646.684.3777.