Communication, Connections, and Relationships: How to decode the mysteries of misunderstandings in your relationships
Your communication style in relationships is the way you seek to interact with those around you. If your style compliments the other person, the communication will most likely be successful. If not, you will most likely encounter communication problems. Many communication problems are not with the words we choose to use, but with the tone and the way we string the words together. Sometimes it is even body language or lack of it. Most of us are blissfully unaware of the styles we use to connect with others. When our words do not strike home we are often surprised and maybe even hurt. When we realize that we are misunderstood, we often say that we “just didn’t connect”. This failure to connect underlies most relationship problems. Without connection, relationships fall flat.
Some of us talk to think and others think to talk. In the first case, talking to think occurs when the individual comes to conclusions about the subject matter as he/she is talking it out. In the second style, the individual thinks very carefully about what he/she is going to say before speaking. Either way it is difficult for these two individuals to connect unless they understand what is going on. The individual who thinks to talk often feels flooded with all the chatter and the sheer quantity of words that the individual who talks to thinks uses. On the other hand the person who talks to think is often offended at the slow response of the person who thinks to talk. His/her words are often measured and few. Either party might be offended or hurt just because they do not understand their roles in this communication. When the listener of the talk to think exchange understands that his/her only role is to nod, make affirming noises and maintain eye contact while the other person spills out his/her words, then they can sit back and enjoy the exchange without feeling like they are supposed to respond to this 500 word tirade. Likewise when the listener of the think to talk exchange understands that his/her role is to patiently wait for the other person to pick his/her words and then say them as succinctly as possible, they no longer feel hurt by the slow response. Neither way is better. They are just different. You might have already guessed that most women fall into the talk to think category and most men fall into the think to talk category. However, it would be a serious mistake to assume this. There are plenty of role reversals with communication styles and it is best to evaluate each person’s style independent of any presuppositions.
My daughters and I are definitely the talk to think types, and my husband and son are definitely the think to talk type. My son-in-law, I think might just be the talk to think type. It’s too early to tell about my grandchildren, but suffice it to say that my granddaughter uses a whole lot of words! As you might imagine communication issues in our household have been among the top issues we have dealt with. Fortunately we are all pretty well educated in communication (sometimes against the will of my children especially my son who once said “I wish you weren’t a therapist!”) But even though we are all aware of these differences we still experience difficulties from time to time. One of the hardest things for me is when my son doesn’t share his thoughts, dreams, and intentions with me. Well, he says he does, I think he doesn’t. You see, he uses very few words. I have to admit that he may use very few words because I use so many! Either way, for the last few years I have had to learn to patiently wait for him to share. You’d have to ask him how he feels about my communication style (he hasn’t said). The girls and I are doing better than we did when they were teenagers. I think they still think I say too much and I think I can’t get a word in edgewise with them, but all in all we are doing okay. My son-in-law and I are learning to communicate and respect each other’s style of communication. I have discovered that he has some pretty deep thoughts if I just be quiet long enough for him to say them! Ah, my husband, well he does a wonderful job of listening to me and encouraging the kids to listen to me. In fact, he might just be up for sainthood when it comes to all the listening he does. Sometimes I get frustrated with him for what seems to be lack of feedback to me, but now that I realize that he is just “thinking” so he can figure out how to respond, I don’t take it personally. We are all definitely works in progress, but the important thing is that we keep on learning and growing in our relationships with each other.
1. Try to determine which style every family member prefers.
2. Identify your own style.
3. Observe and record in your journal the styles of each family member and how your style and theirs either helps you connect, or disconnects you from them.
4. Talk with your family members about your discoveries. Ask them to work with you as all of you learn to respect the styles of the others.
5. Widen your circle to include extended family and then friends and co-workers. Do the steps above to determine their styles and deepen your understanding of them.
6. Have compassion for and patience with those who have styles different than your own.
Have fun with this exercise. Not everything has to be work! Learn to laugh at your own shortcomings in communications and encourage humor and tolerance when discussing the shortcomings of others.