You say Potato, I Say Potahto

Communication is more than language. It is all the meaning and expectations behind the language. Our personality and how we are wired influences the meaning we assign to words, the information we notice, what we talk about and most importantly the expectations we have of others in “good communication.”

Earlier this week I was putting my daughter to bed. It’s normally a routine that my husband and I share, but this particular night my husband wasn’t able to participate. At one point in the routine that was normally my husband’s role, my seven-year-old daughter said out of the blue, “It’s such a shame that Dad isn’t here.” I smiled and agreed with her. Then, she went on to say, “I have no idea what that means, I just like the way it sounds.” It was all I could do not to break into an outright laugh. I have been writing and training about communication styles all week and then to have my own daughter demonstrate the perfect Bridge Builder communication style at age seven!

Even at a young age our natural communication style begins to take shape. Yes, it is influenced by our experiences and the context we are in. And, we can learn communication skills that help us bridge the gap. However, when we are under stress or not really thinking about it – our natural preferences bubble to the surface.

Two things that can help us in the “potato” vs “potahto” conversation is understanding our own style and learning to speak the language of another.

Let’s start with understanding our own style – the approach for these four communication styles is based on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. Read through them, click on the video link and notice which style or mix of styles you naturally tend toward.

Problem Solvers (Sensing/Thinking)

They appreciate precise communication and getting to the point. They quickly get to the root of the issue so they can solve the problem at hand. They are quick and agile problem solvers! When presented with a plan they will ask the necessary questions to analyze every aspect and ensure the approach is the most efficient path. Their opposite is the Bridge Builder.

See video HERE

Bridge Builder (iNtuition/Feeling)

Bridge Builders focus their communication on bringing people together. They speak in the language of metaphors and analogies to create insight and understanding. With relationships as their focus and will ask questions to take relationship to the next level. They love brainstorming and enjoy tangents. Because taking the time to explore tangents creates new ideas and innovation.

See video HERE

Strategic Thinkers (iNtuition/Thinking)

They look for strategic, meaningful communication that hits the bullseye. Brief and concise, but with the invitation to explore possibilities. They will speak of their visions, the future, realities that could be and thinking outside the box. Emotions in communication are only relevant if they contribute to the idea, concept or solution. They ask critical questions to analyze not to offend. Their opposite is the Compassionate Connector.

See video HERE

Compassionate Connector (Sensing/Feeling)

Noticing the practical needs other people have, they want to connect these people to the resources they need. They are not trying to solve technical problems, but people’s problems. They see the needs other people have. It’s like a radar. Sensitive to the needs of others and proactive to gather the resources necessary to meet the need. As the keeper of information, resources, referrals – they know what they need to know to meet someone’s need. Their questions are meant to show concern and dig deeper to discover the practical needs of another in the here and now.

See video HERE

It is fun to learn about our preferences, but the trick to becoming a better communicator is actually learning a “second language.” Here is where it gets tough. We assume other people want us to communicate our messages the way we would like to hear it. If we are a natural encourager we add in words of affirmation and encouragement to our message. If we are a solutions focused person we get to the point quickly and directly without regard for how it might “feel.”

Speaking a second language means adding affirmation in when it doesn’t come natural or leaving it out and getting to the point quickly depending on who we are talking to. And, it’s not as easy as it sounds – because it is HARD to do this genuinely and authentically.

Here are a few tips to speak a “second language” to someone who may have a different communication style than your own:

When talking to a Problem Solver …

• Give it to me straight – avoid tangents

• Think it through; speak to the pros and cons

• Be prepared, give details, specific examples

• Recognize their contributions

When talking to a Bridge Builder …

• Acknowledge and include other perspectives

• Use word pictures and analogies

• Be patient with brainstorming and tangents

• Involve and affirm them – don’t “bark” orders

When talking to a Strategic Thinker …

• Support your opinions with logic

• Give the big picture, add detail if necessary

• Skip the “small talk” or redundancy

• Let them think outside the box

When talking to a Compassionate Connector…

• Offer practical solutions that help now

• Connect with them while they multi-task

• Give detail, chronologically

• Give encouragement and positive feedback

The best way to learn is to practice. Find people (family, friends, colleagues at work, your manager) who are not like you and are willing to let you “try it on.” Get their feedback and learn new ways to communicate what is important to you and increase your chances of being heard.


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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