Skip to content

Elephant or Crocodile: What’s Your Communication Style?

RH - Communication | RCGT

Written By :

Updated on April 24, 2023

How a manager communicates with employees plays a pivotal role in employee retention and engagement.

The word communication comes from the Latin communicare, to share. It’s important to remember that communicate and inform do not mean the same thing.

One message, two styles

To illustrate two very different communication styles, we can use the example of two diametrically opposite animals: a crocodile and an elephant.

You’ll recognize the crocodile in a supervisor who talks all the time and implements solutions without trying to understand what caused the situation in the first place. The crocodile’s jaws are much bigger than its ears, it talks a lot and doesn’t listen much. His sharp comments can be hurtful and if you go against him, he can bite back.

A supervisor who listens is more like the elephant. He asks open questions, seeks advice, restates messages and tries to understand a situation before acting. Like the elephant, he’s all ears. The employee feels valued and respected. The elephant is not afraid to acknowledge having made an error.

Listening first to communicate better after

In our management consulting practice, we sometimes come across crocodile-type supervisors, especially if they are new to the position and want to make their mark. Employees will certainly feel frustrated and disheartened (why should I speak up, he/she won’t listen to my idea?) and may even leave the organization to go somewhere where their skills and opinions are appreciated. Knowing someone is paying attention makes employees feel valued and doesn’t cost the organization anything.

When a person feels misunderstood, hearing someone else speaking loudly or too much may only make matters worse. In these cases, it’s best to have “an elephant in the room”. Being quiet and listening carefully—without thinking about your answer at the same time—promotes efficient communication.

Five tips for better communication

  1. Listen carefully to what’s being said, without distractions. If you don’t have the time, or you’re busy, say so or postpone the discussion.
  2. Pay attention to non-verbal communication, such as facial expressions or body language. The speaker doesn’t want to feel like prey facing a crocodile!
  3. Don’t start thinking about an answer while the other person is speaking.
  4. Repeat what the person has said in your own words to confirm your understanding. Use expressions such as “If I understood you correctly, you’re saying that …” or “From what I can see, you’re not comfortable with …”.
  5. Use psychometric tests to become aware of different behaviours. Our personality traits partly dictate our behaviours and attitudes. For example, someone extroverted in a position of authority and with strong leadership skills may tend to talk a lot and take over the conversation with employees and colleagues.

With work and practice, communication skills can be developed, just like any other ability. In today’s business world, they are key for any supervisor, regardless of the hierarchical level and will contribute to his or her success.

The link of this page was copied to your clipboard