Chapter 2: Different communication styles
We all look at the world through special glasses created by us, for us. Kyeli sees the world through Kyeli-colored glasses and Pace sees the world through Pace-colored glasses. Your mom, your best friend, the mailman, the Dalai Lama, Alanis Morissette, and you each have your own lenses to see the world through. No matter how close we get to our loved ones, we can never see the world in exactly the same way they do. This lends itself not only to the usual error, but also to different communication styles. Everyone communicates in their own way. We all have our own idiosyncrasies, phrases, definitions, meanings, and understandings that belong to us and us alone. We each have our own issues and emotional baggage as well as our own unique ways of interpreting what we hear.
Kyeli’s Story: Differences in Our Household
In our home, there are three people (not counting the cats) and each of us has a different way of communicating, both verbally and non-verbally.
Pace tends to process things logically and often thinks out loud. It’s common for her to stop mid-sentence and change her opinion because she’s talked herself out of something. She’s also learning to make her body language more clearly reflect her internal emotions. She didn’t emote much growing up, so it’s still challenging for her.
I tend to repeat myself in different ways. Our canonical example of this comes from my days as a preschool teacher: “The block center is closed for the rest of the day. No more playing with the blocks. We’ll be doing things outside of the block center this afternoon.” I also speak in stories. I emote strongly and clearly, so it’s often easy to tell what I’m feeling, and it’s very difficult for me to hide my emotions (not that I usually want to).
Dru is still developing his communication style, and often has to start over and mutter a lot before his thoughts are coherent enough to share with us.
These differences inspired many of the chapters in this book. It’s a constant delight to learn how to better communicate with each other.
These differences aren’t bad. Often we become frustrated when others don’t communicate in a way we can easily understand. We feel like their communication style is wrong because it is not like ours. That’s one perspective, but remember that you can choose to change your perspective; you can appreciate others’ differences in communication styles as part of what makes them different, unique, and beautiful.
One way to better understand someone’s communication style is to have dinner with their family. Typically, children learn their communication style from their families of origin, and it takes effort to change it as an adult. Seeing how a person’s family interacts can yield great insights into how they learned to communicate the way they do.
Kyeli’s Story: “I’m Not Yelling!”
One night, we were having a conversation and I got excited. I was being really loud when suddenly I noticed that Pace was cowering. I stopped mid-sentence to ask what was the matter and she eeked out, “You’re yelling! You must be really upset!”
“Oh, no!” I responded, “I’m not yell… okay, I’m yelling, but I’m not upset, just… loud!”
My family is largely Irish/Italian. Family events at my grandmother’s house were loud and unruly, with adults having excited, animated conversations at various tables and kids running through the house and slamming doors. My dad gets loud when he gets excited, and as a result, I do too. I also took more than 8 years of choir and theater, so I have no problems being heard. I tend to be loud and get louder when emotional.
Pace’s background is very different from mine. In her house, raised voices meant someone was angry.
Once we established that Pace was making the usual error, we boiled it down to a major difference in how we each communicate. Now, whenever I hear myself getting loud I remind her, “I’m not angry! Just loud!”
Learning how you communicate will not only help you, but will also help those with whom you communicate.
Pace’s Story: “I’m Really Okay”
I know I have difficulty emoting, so if Kyeli seems to be misunderstanding me, I’ll pause the conversation to double-check with her. I’ll say something like, “Perhaps I seem to be upset, but I’m not. I’m actually okay.”
That’s often enough for Kyeli to feel sufficiently reassured to continue a conversation. It helps that she knows me well enough to know what’s going on when this happens; we’ve learned that emoting is one big difference in our communication styles, and we find ways around or through it so that we can still successfully communicate.
The better we get to know someone, the more likely we are to fall into the myth that our partner sees the world as we do. Keeping in mind that we don’t see the world in the same way, no matter how close we get, will help us get along more smoothly and enable us to communicate more clearly. When we see and embrace our differences, we remember that it’s wonderful and beautiful to be who we are, no matter how we are.