Thursday, September 10, 2015

How Did We Get It Wrong?

Do you know you have a communication style?  You may even have more than one.  With different people, you may be selective.  What I find amazing is, as children, we learn to talk starting with simple words, learning our ABC’s, and forming short sentences.  Along the path, our use of language is modeled after the significant people in our lives: parents, teachers, friends, and co-workers. We may never have been taught the appropriate way to communicate.  How do we get communication “so wrong” that we have to re-learn “how to talk”?

Do you remember an unpleasant incident when someone said something to you that’s embedded in your memory forever?  I remember being told, “You ever do that again, I’ll break your fingers.”  Now, flip your memory to a time when you said something you wish you never had.  Regretfully, I know I have.  My words pierced the heart of someone when I sarcastically criticized him for being like his father.  Ouch!

Communication is something we do every day. Our words either build people up or tear them down. Our words can lead to meaningful conversations or cause silence.  Whoever we associate with daily, can either respond negatively or positively to what we have to say.  Like me, we go through the normal course of our day, doing things the way we always have.  Listening and speaking contribute to a communication style we are unaware we have. Like you prefer a specific style of vehicle, you may prefer a specific communication style that is “Assertive”.  As Claire Newton explains in her article, The Five Communication Styles, surprisingly the assertive style is used the least. Her meaning for assertive is respecting yourself and other people.  It is the ability to clearly express your thoughts and feelings through open honest and direct communication.

Claire Newton describes in detail the different behaviour and language associated with her list of five: Assertive, Aggressive, Passive-Aggressive, Submissive, and Manipulative. Identifying yourself and others with a particular communication style may be a thought-provoking exercise. To learn more, click here.  

When you comb the Internet, you will be surprised to see the amount of information dedicated to communication styles.  What does this tell you? I would say understanding the way we communicate is important “stuff”.  Communication styles help people identify themselves and others so they communicate effectively.  Look at the various titles in each group. Which one are you?

q  Driver, Expressive, Analytic, Amiable

q  Action, Process, People, Idea

q  Relator, Socializer, Thinker, Director

q  Doers, Thinkers, Influencers, Connectors

Sharing this information contributes to understanding your family’s make-up.   When discussing money matters, we keep getting back to the development of an important habit shared by Dr. Steven R. Covey:  “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” The better (and more) you can understand the way others think, communicate, and react, the more successful your relationships will be. When discussing money issues about saving and spending, how effectively do you communicate your reasons?  If goals, dreams and aspirations are not shared effectively in meaningful conversations, then pinpoint whether a specific communication style is the road block.

The place to start is with awareness. The following excerpt from Iyanla Vanzant’s book, One Day My Soul Opened Up, struck a chord with me. Probably the reason I have been so smitten by her rationale was because I could see myself in her story. 

A teacher once told me, “If one person says you are a horse, you don’t have to listen.  If two people say you are a horse, you probably need to pay a bit more attention to what you are doing.  If three people say you are a horse, more than likely you have hay hanging out of your mouth and a saddle on your back!” In other words, people looking at you can see things that you may not be aware of. Very often we are unwilling or unable to discuss with one another the unpleasant aspects of ourselves.  Rather than discuss what we feel, we criticize one another.  People always told me I looked angry.  When they were saying I looked angry, they were saying that I was defensive and combative. Whenever these things were said to me, I would become offended and would go into a long tirade about people not knowing me, what I thought, or what I felt.  I usually ended my little speech by saying how sick and tired I was of being criticized, and that I was not angry, damn it!
When you refuse to pay attention to what life is saying to you, life will make its point very clear.  Life wants us to be aware of ourselves so we can make the necessary adjustments in order to live more harmoniously.  Life was trying to make me aware that I was acting like a horse, but I kept insisting that I was a kitten.  

At some point in our lives, we need a wake-up call. Awareness is the key to understanding your relationships with different people. I am not a psychologist; I am a financial planner. But it doesn’t take a genius to see that relationships break down because people do not communicate effectively. 

What’s the solution?  Walking with blinders, pointing a finger at someone else, and complaining he doesn’t understand your motives, isn’t the solution. Perhaps a practical one is to be aware of the personalities and communication styles of others.  If you are unsure about your own, ask someone to give their honest opinion or search for an on-line quiz which will provide the answer.  Learning what makes other people tick, including yourself, is a step in the right direction to “get it right”.  

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