Conflicted Communication: Why is this so hard?

Communication gets tricky as we navigate both the similarities and differences in the way people communicate. Everybody defines “good” communication differently. Unmet expectations and different goals can be a source of relationship tension and thwart our efforts to work together. We often assume people need the same thing in communication that we need. We offer what we think they need, only to unintentionally create tension on the team and slow forward progress. 

In this blog series we have been talking about the four different communication styles: Problem Solvers, Bridge Builders, Strategic Thinkers and Compassionate Connectors. We moved into discussing the challenges of interacting with people who easily connect to us with and those who complement us. Today, let’s discuss the most challenging communication >> with those who are our opposites. 

Problem Solvers and Bridge Builders

The Challenge

Problems Solver’s shape every action with an emphasis on results and efficiency. Bridge Builders architect each action with an emphasis on relationships and impact. Problem Solver’s focus on  “feet on the ground” thinking, noticing facts and details, while Bridge Builders emphasize a “head in the clouds” mindset, working to communicate the interconnected patterns in ideas and concepts that exist. When working together they balance each other out to achieve well rounded results. However, the “relationships vs. results” tension can cause them to lock horns and stall over which actions to take. 

Tips for Problem Solvers

When talking to a Bridge Builder, don’t lead the conversation with your proposed solution. Give a measure of space for the Bridge Builder to talk through their observations and ideas, asking open ended questions and checking in on feelings. You are quick to see problems or take action so tuning into what a Bridge Builder needs might help you see an angle you could otherwise miss.

Tips for Bridge Builders

When talking to a Problem Solver, notice when you ramble. Start with the conclusion and then work your way to the thinking behind it. The process of talking it out often helps you get to the conclusion, so write it out before the conversation OR ask for 10 minutes to talk it out without deciding anything and then “bottom-line” your conclusions derived in the process of dialogue. 

Strategic Thinkers and Compassionate Connectors

The Challenge

Compassionate Connectors live in the moment, noticing and meeting people’s needs around them. Details matter, especially the details about people. Strategic Thinkers think big and see far into the future. They speak intuitively and assume everyone can translate vision into actionable steps. When Compassionate Connectors don’t get it, they will translate unclear ideas into their own approach. If the idea is getting off track, Strategic Thinkers may dive into the details to “get it done” their way. Feelings get hurt. Vision gets sidetracked. With this “conceptual vs. practical” tension more communication is better! When communication missteps are minimized this pair can rock the house with a big strategy that becomes a reality in a way that celebrates the journey toward goals AND honors the people in the process.

Tips for Strategic Thinkers

Watch your tendency to be overly critical. Instead, look for ways to celebrate accomplishments and offer positive feedback. Ask Compassionate Connectors what they need. Invite them to influence your thinking. Then, ask them again, what they need.

Tips for Compassionate Connectors

Let the Strategic Thinker talk through their ideas without pointing out the impractical. Notice what is important to them >> ask about it. Step back, remember not to take things personally. Don’t be intimidated >> ask for what you need from them throughout  the process. 

Overcoming the Opposite Challenge

Communicating with your opposite is your greatest and most difficult mission. Your goal is not to create the kind of connections you have with others who are like you, but to do the work it will take to create an understanding that will help you live and work better together. Think pace and grace!

  1. Pace the conversation: Slow down. Pace the conversation. Check in to see what the other person is thinking and hearing.
  2. Revisit your Pace: Debrief after the conversation or the decision in order to understand what communication may have been missed. 
  3. Extend Grace: Offering grace for missteps in communication is a MUST. Go back and and clarify expectations, but also notice how your differences make you better together.  

Communicating with your opposite can’t be viewed as a problem to solve, but as a reality to lean into. Lean into your pace, lean into grace and remember they aren’t out to get you >> they just don’t fully understand you.

What’s Next

After reading about your opposites, what new insights did you pick up? What tensions are you noticing as you communicate with your opposite? Where do you need to give grace to others? To yourself? Comment below on one strategy that worked to keep communication open with people who are different than you.

Join me next week in the last blog of the series as I explore the specific contributions each communication style brings to meetings, problem solving and setting expectations and why we are better when we are together. Wondering what your communication style might be? Download my Communication Style Assessment.


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Annie Perdue Olson

Annie is founder of Leading Better Together, guiding leaders through the relationship and people challenges that sidetrack ministry. With 20+ years of experience in nonprofit management and pastoral ministry she equips people and teams to work better together. She holds a Master of Arts in Human Resources and Change Leadership from St. Thomas University and received her coaching certification from the Center for Coaching Excellence.

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