My husband and I were watching Jeopardy recently when a question came up about the launch year for an old TV show. I confidently gave the year as 1989. My husband was a little surprised. “How did you know that?” he wanted to know.
So I explained my thought process: the show was new when our friend Scott told us about it the year we all got food poisoning on the Cape. Scott picked us up at our rental condo, so it had to be post 1986; his daughter (born 1987) was a preschooler, and our daughter (1990) had yet to be born. All of that put the year after 1988 but before 1990, hence 1989.
Steve looked at me like I was from Mars. “You went through all that in the time it took to answer a Jeopardy question?”
Navigating Differing Communication Styles at Home
Well….yeah. But until that moment, I hadn’t really considered how…um…completely weird that was. That’s just how my brain works. In my head, bits of information are compartmentalized and referenced by their relationship to other things. If you lived in there, you’d be constantly mowed down by the mad dash of people, places, and things required for me to answer a simple question about what I had for breakfast.
What really struck me about this exchange was what it illuminated – the magic of thought processes. People think so differently. Steve has a more ordered approach. He navigates by street map; I have a more relational approach; I use donut shops. Over 25 years of marriage, it’s made for great moments in marital communication.
But, Is It Okay to Speak One’s Mind at Work?
And such communication divides aren’t only at home. People are no more inclined to be identical at work than anywhere else. Some people work by feel; others by process. Some people see words on a page: I hear the sound of their rhythm in my ears. I can explain why a copy suggestion won’t flow, but I’m speechless when it comes to imagining how a design will look before it’s been created.
Those things might seem trivial, but they matter because they affect how and why people come to conclusions. And they can cause conflict when people assess elements from different vantage points. But it’s a whole lot easier zing a spouse for the great toothpaste-cap incident than to be a voice of dissent at the office. How can you effectively navigate those divides in a professional setting?
Follow the Lead of Your Company’s Value Statements
Free speaking comes down to permission…and that comes down in large part to values statements. There’s more power in these things than people might think. I count myself among those who initially wasn’t sure what to make of the HEART principles found in my own employee handbook. But when you put directives out there in print and expressly say, “When dealing with people, think about this,” it actually makes a dent. One of those aforementioned values statements says directly, “We want to know what others think.” It doesn’t eliminate disagreements, but it does help you navigate them better when they occur.
Even better, it translates to playing off of each other’s strengths because it gives everybody permission to speak their minds. My particular department might be called a perfectly assembled jigsaw puzzle, with each of us occupying unique mental real estate. And it works because the culture encourages people to think about how to navigate those divides. This is a loooong way from my first job experience that saw inter-office communication broken into two general subsets: screaming and crying. Not surprisingly, that company no longer exists.
Does this mean we’re all always in sync? Nope. But it ensures that we’re respectfully speaking our minds. That value statement gives us not just the permission, but the responsibility to actually do so. My coworkers will still probably laugh at me when I display complete uselessness about judging a design concept.
But they’ll completely respect why I wasn’t able to oblige.