Posted by: CJ | July 23, 2010

Knowing is Half the Battle…

I have a lot of trouble communicating with people. Usually that’s not an overriding concern in my life, but some weeks it’s just one issue after another. This past week was one of those weeks. Fortunately nothing particularly bad happened. But I was reminded again that I have a number of persistent communication quirks. Not debilitating, but different enough that when trying to communicate I need to be aware of them and it helps a lot if who I’m speaking to is also aware of them.

Personality PreferencesThere are certain personality types I just don’t converse well with. But the biggest problem I have are with a certain class of J’s, in MBTI lingo. (MBTI is Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It’s a broad personality classification system. I don’t claim it’s amazingly scientific, but it provides a framework I’ve found useful for discussing personality differences.) Being a J basically just means your worldview is very ordered, and tends, broadly speaking, towards things like lists, schedules, hierarchies, and against uncertainties and grey-areas. There’s nothing really wrong with being a J in and of itself–I’m at least as much J as not. But there’s a specific subclass of J that isn’t particularly respectful of opposing views. In essence, they believe that their particular ordering of the world is the right one and everyone else either agrees or is strange/foolish/misguided. This attitude pisses me off, to put it mildly.

I don’t care terribly much if someone has a worldview different from mine. (As long as it’s baseline assumptions aren’t false or bigoted.) Sure, I might poke and prod out of curiosity, or bat at it for amusement. But I would be disappointed in myself if I hurt someone’s feelings or slighted someone over them organizing their lists (or non-lists) different from myself. And I expect the same courtesy from everyone else. The moment someone starts assuming what I should think or believe, or, unbidden, starts telling me how to do something, or isn’t particularly flexible with their worldview in general, I get pissed. About the only thing someone can do, as a general issue of personality, that will make me angrier is if they’re an FJ. A TJ I can at least reason with. We may line up ready to strangle each other over which side of the bread the butter is to be put on, but until the nukes start flying we’re still capable of rational discussion and negotiating a deal. With an FJ I don’t even speak their language. And they likely don’t speak mine enough to understand what is making me upset or how we can productively handle it. Dealing with this class of FJ is usually extremely unpleasant for me.

EmotionsContrary to what various people I’ve known have thought, I am capable of feeling a wide range of emotions. But I am almost never touched by an emotional connection with someone. Sensory overload tends to make me withdraw, whether it’s light, sound, or too many people, and emotions are no different. If I’m around emotional happenings I’m likely to become hyper-rational and devoid of feeling. I will not spontaneously cry and meaningfully declare that I feel your pain.

Context–In any communication with people, even casual, I have an awful time internalizing the context the speaker or group is coming from. It’s not that I’m incapable of understanding it, it’s just that I might not automatically fall into whatever the context is. And I very well might not catch context changes. This is part of why, for example, the one subclass of J’s above annoy me so much. A good illustrative example is the following. To many people, probably including the J’s themselves, it’s implicit in whenever they declare that something is “the best” or “to die for” that they only mean it to apply to themselves. But that context doesn’t just naturally fall into place for me, and so I easily become infuriated at statements they didn’t even think twice about.

Similarly, not only do I fail to grasp others context, but I often fail (sometimes miserably) to communicate my own. Various things are just so obvious to me, or so clear to me, that I don’t bother to explain them. And it gets even worse when I’m leaving out context purposefully. Which I sometimes do because the entire explanation relies on a long, complicated, or pedantic chain of reasoning I don’t want to relate.

Combined with my lack of emotional response/feedback, this context problem of mine has led many of my friends to think I have a hard time understanding others. It’s also led to situations where friends misinterpreted my confusion as making fun of them, and got annoyed or angry at me.

Unlike the above, I feel like there should be a way for me to become better with these context issues. Other than just repeatedly asking people to explain what they mean, which can quickly become tedious for all involved. But I’m unsure how I would even go about that…

RuminatingWere ruminating an Olympic Sport, I’d probably be a competitor. This makes communication that much more difficult. I can and will blow utterly out of proportion little miscommunications or annoyances. I start thinking about them…and keep thinking…and playing and replaying. Until I’m so tired of it or so worked up about it that there’s a good chance I’ll make some out-of-proportion response.

My issues with context are bad enough. Ruminating has been a bigger problem that’s led to all sorts of fights, arguments, and falling outs with various people. I have some techniques to stop or derail the ruminating, but I’ve failed too many times to claim it’s not a major problem.

Overall, I feel like I need new and better strategies for dealing with these communication pitfalls. I don’t think I need to be The Great Communicator II, nor do I aspire to it. But I’ve had a good number of rocky relationships with people that just degraded over time, and those have left their mark on me. I don’t enjoy feeling like I’ve lost friends, people whose thoughts and outlooks I’ve honestly enjoyed, because we needlessly rubbed each other the wrong way.

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