For the last few weeks, I’ve been working on completing the last of the CEUs that I need to maintain my professional project management certification. I picked a topic that seemed to be the easiest and least painful: Soft Skills Communication. Sounds pretty painless, right? And kind of warm and fuzzy like a teddy bear. Actually, this soft skills class is more like a border collie: Stares you down, points out your flaws, and then brings things back to reality.
There are plenty of things that I would rather do than sit in front of my computer, listen to a dull voice drone on about the benefits and issues surrounding personal communication in the workplace for 25 hours. Like, for example, I’d rather thatch the lawn. Or go to the dentist. I’d even rather pay bills than take these damn classes.
Nevertheless, I was hoping I’d learn something, and to be perfectly honest, I have. I know a lot more about how to avoid and confront conflict than I knew before. I haven’t known much about it before because I’ve been too busy running away from it to give it the time of day. I know I am the only person who does this. But now, I have much better ideas about how to deal with it. So there’s that.
But what I didn’t expect was to find out how horribly, terribly, differently I communicate with my husband, Gary, whom I have spent the last 32 years of my life with. It is no surprise to you that there are three primary ways that people communicate: Visually, auditorily, and kinesthetically. I think we all studied this at some point in our lives, in a COMM 101 class. We can think about how automatically we altered our communication style to try to match that of our boss, troublesome co-worker, or colleague. This is not rocket science. And if it’s important enough to us, we can even get pretty good at it. Or not.
I am a visual person. I am acutely aware of how my environment looks, how you look, and how I look. Because I process information visually, I flit around pretty quickly from thing to thing and get easily bored. If you draw me a picture, I’ll get it. I can’t run a meeting without getting up to the whiteboard to scribble on it. I’m organized and, unless it has to do with dog hair on the wood floor, I’m fairly tidy and attentive to details. I not only have voices in my head; I have millions of pictures as well.
When I simply couldn’t do another CEU module, I jumped up and reorganized my Tupperware drawer. In a recent windstorm, one of the numbers on our mailbox blew off. This is not important stuff, in the grand scheme of things. However, it should be noted that I replaced it within two days because it was driving me crazy. It’s just who I am.
Gary, on the other hand, is a kinesthetic person. In general, from my extensive training, this means that he processes through touch, emotions, hunches, and gut instinct. Kinesthetic folks are acutely aware of temperature, pressure, pain, and their relation to their environment, as well as how everyone else feels (or their interpretation thereof). Because they process via feelings instead of pictures, it takes them a little longer to process than us Speedy Visual Types, so it can be frustrating for them. They also need to be able to support their decisions emotionally; it’s all about mutual trust and respect.
A few years back, I ran a silent experiment to see how long it would take Gary to pick up a Kleenex that he dropped on the living room floor. He didn’t notice it, and wouldn’t have picked it up if he did. There was nothing for him to feel or care about with that. Me? I couldn’t stand it being on the floor for more than five seconds. For all I know, it’s still there. We finally had to move to get away from it.
But if you ask Gary how he’s feeling? Well, you’d better sit down. He’ll start at the top of his head and work his way down. The older he gets, the longer this might take. Me? It’s real simple: If I can get into my jeans, I’m happy. If I can’t, I’ll be unhappy and you will know it, 24×7, until my dimensions are acceptable again.
I may now understand why he fired the lawn care guy last summer for one snippy comment. Or why he has such loyalty to certain restaurants where “everybody knows his name.” Or why he was perfectly happy giving the obligatory two-cheek kisses to people he didn’t know when we lived in Chile, while I was barely comfortable shaking hands. Or why he expresses STRONG feelings and opinions about EVERYTHING. And why he didn’t notice my new assembly of Spring items on the mantle or the fact that I colorize my closet. Or why he is so quick to judge everything. Or why it takes him so damn long to pick out fresh produce. It’s just who he is.
So, there are some major takeaways for me from this class, such as:
- The best way for me to get him to do the dishes is to give him a hug and tell him that I trust him to get them done before I get home rather than to cause him emotional pain by threatening his life if he doesn’t.
- This explains why Gary calls me so often when he shops at Costco. He is also capable of making connections with well-priced items; he wants to establish rapport with me about them so that when he comes home with an Extreme Tools 56” 10-Drawer Top Chest and 11-Drawer Standard Roller Cabinet, I’ll love it as much as he does. As a matter of fact, he just called from Costco and asked if I wanted a lavender shrub because he knows I like lavender. Rapport, rapport, rapport!
- As a visual person, perhaps now I understand how he easily could misinterpret my glancing skyward to access my internal visual images as excessive eye-rolling. Judgment.
- Because I am not as hard-wired into my feelings, it is harder for me to express them, which may give him the distinct impression that I am a cold-hearted bitch most of the time. Especially when he is going on about how much he doesn’t trust the paint salesperson, like our waiter, or respect the driver in front of him…and I appear to not give a rat’s ass…well, I don’t. I’m too busy thinking about throw pillows.
I could go on.
For his part, I don’t know how the hell Gary could change his communication style with me because, sheesh, how do you change somebody’s feelings, emotions, and passions about things? This still doesn’t explain, however, why he is so obsessed with the cleanliness of his boat and so unobsessed with the cleanliness of most everything else. But it does explain why I can hang a picture in half the time that it takes him. Another important life skill, right?
(Gary with three cameras, holding a trout)
Most importantly, though, I think this kinesthetic wiring explains why Gary loves to fish and why I do not. He loves to fish because it’s hands-on, very touchy-feely, is deeply dependent upon gut instinct, and makes him feel good. But in my case, fishing is usually too slow and visually frustrating since I can’t see the fly. And mostly because that picture in my head of where my fly is going to land has no bearing on where my flailing arm will actually put it. My mind wanders to Belize within seconds so I probably will miss setting the hook. No amount of organizational skills can help me retain the verbal instructions Gary just gave me. But hey, I can tell you if the color of the fly is right.
So, in a nutshell, I barely squeaked by in this class. I had to score 75% on each module in order to pass the entire course. So, in the Kinesthetic module, unlike ANY OTHER module in the series (of which there are 28), I had to take the final test THREE times. The first time, I scored 0%. I have no idea how to communicate with my husband! The second time, 44%. And the third time, 69%. That was just enough to allow me to squeak out of the module with a final score of 76%. How pathetic is that?!
Well, anyway, armed with this important information, I am not sure I’ll become much better at communicating, but maybe I’ll get better at being amused by it. And being the visually-processing, unfeeling person that I am, that’ll just have to do.
Sorry, but I’ve got to sign off now. Gary just asked me what I feel about our tomato seedlings and I am pretty sure that I need to re-think my answer.
Thanks for reading. I know how busy you are.