Monday, February 2, 2009

Communication (Personality Talk, part 7)

Do you ever feel frustrated when someone doesn't seem to hear a request you've made? Or perhaps you have been labeled "bossy" despite your best intentions. Maybe you know someone who seems to be so passive-aggressive that you just want to shout at them "will you just ask for what you actually want already?!"

These communication issues may be explained by personality theory!

There are two styles of communication: informing and directing. And guess what? We each have a natural preference for one or the other, and it tends to coincide with our other thinking preferences (see previous personality posts for the type functions).

How do you ask for something? There are many ways to communicate a simple request. Suppose you are asking your spouse to get bread when they go to the store. How would you phrase that request?

We're out of bread.
We need bread.
Would you be able to get us some bread?
We're out of bread and I was wondering if you could get us some?
We're out of bread. Would you please get us some?
Would you please get us some bread?
Please get us some bread.
Get some bread.

This list illustrates the continuum from informing to directing style. The styles are rather self-explanatory. The intent of directing is to direct the actions of others to accomplish a task, often by telling or asking. The intent of informing is to give information in order to engage others in the process.

As with all cognitive functions, we have a natural preference for one style. We all use both styles for different purposes, but one style feels more comfortable. Often, our natural style can be heard when we are relaxed, whereas when under stress we may awkwardly use the non-preferred style. Also, life experiences can train us to use the non-preferred style, sometimes making it difficult to determine our natural style. For example any naturally "informing" person who undergoes military officer training is going to become very competent with the directing style. Likewise, many counselors are trained to use an informing style.

What can really interfere with communication, though, is how we also prefer to receive communication in our preferred style. Thus, when we are talking to someone of the opposite style, all manner of miscommunication can happen! A directing person may not even hear the request imbedded in an informer's statement. Imagine the frustration of an informing mother who tells her directing daughter that "the laundry is finished" with the intent that the daughter will fold the clothes. I can just hear the daughter twenty minutes later when mom is upset: "but you didn't ask me to fold the clothes!" And how about a directing girl telling her informing friend "Let's color! Go get the crayons." Her friend may start to feel that she's too bossy and stop playing with her.

The examples I've been using are clearly one style or the other. But, sometimes it's difficult to determine what style is being used. A directing person may try to soften their request by adding "please" or "would you mind" and an informing person may think they are being directive by saying "we need to go now!", but both are still using their preferred style. More examples of each style can be found here.

Ideal communication incorporates both styles -- it simultaneously provides information and tells the listener what's wanted of them. For example: "Please open the door because the guests are here." OR "The guests are here so please open the door." Only saying, "The guests are here" provides insufficient information, while only saying "Please open the door" seems rather bossy without the accompanying explanation.

So, have you figured out what your natural style is? Here's what personality theory predicts. If your preferences are: I/ENFJ, I/ENTJ, I/ESTJ, or I/ESTP you probably prefer directing. And if your preferences are I/ENFP, I/ENTP, I/ESFJ, or I/ESFP you probably prefer informing.

So (in my natural style), go forth using this knowledge and communicate more successfully with your friends and family! (please?)

(back to part 6)


Unknown said...

excellent blog, message


Unknown said...

That explains a lot! No wonder people won't do what I want them to! ;-)

Sarah Hina said...

Since you said please. :P

Even though I'm naturally an informer (the exception coming with my more inspired mommy moments), I can find the directing style refreshingly decisive. You guys get things done! :D

It is fascinating to see this dynamic play out in relationships. What seems obvious to an informer is impossibly vague to a directing person. And informers can chafe and feel boxed in by less diplomatic directive types.

Of course, since I am an INFP and so smitten with harmony, I love that you're trying to clear the way for mutual understanding! :) Excellent highlighting of an important topic, Aine.

(Oh, and btw, we're out of bread. ;))

Unknown said...

As another informer like Sarah, I can honestly say that I anguish over giving directions. Therefore it ends up having a whole lot more emotion involved than merely saying please. Here was a scene from mommiehood a few years back:

Me to the boys: The kitchen is a mess.

Nothing happens. A day later.

Me: No one has done the dishes.

Nothing happens. Later that day.

Me: (frustrated, angry) Chris do the dishes please!

Chris: I did it last time, it's James turn.

Nothing happens except another day goes by.

Me: (really starting to get pissed off, voice raising two octaves, fists starting to clench) James, do the dishes, NOW!

James: You already told me to do that, I'll do it when I get around to it, I'm busy (playing a computer game)!

Me: Halfway up to my arms in suds, finally gets the kitchen clean and never asks again, but carries a grudge against her children.

Yes Aine, Life IS beautiful.

Aine said...

Kumarmahi~ Welcome! Thanks for the comment! If just one little thing I say makes a difference, then my life has meaning. Thank you!

Catvibe~ :)

Sarah~ Harmony! Wouldn't it be wonderful?! **just basking in the dream** Wish I could just direct everyone to do what I say (ha!)...

I hope you've restocked the pantry. Or directed someone else to do it! :)

Catvibe~ :D Love how the directing finally came out when you were stressed. Why don't children come with instruction manuals (and type labels!)??

Life is what we make it... choose wisely!

(Don't know if that's truly wise, but it sounds good.)

Karen said...

Okay, Aine, I must do that reading now to determine which preferences I have!

I think I know my communication preference, but I find that my style adapts to circumstances, especially at work. I've had to school myself to be directive, having learned not to assume that information equals action.

I truly am going to make the time to read the personality theory!

SzélsőFa said...

Mwah-hah-hah, I loved the twist at the end of your request.

I tend to be the directing type sometimes masked as informative. I mean I say something as an information, but the look and tone I deliberately choose to accompany my 'simple' information can measure up to a shouting.
At least, this is what my family accuses me of.

Charles Gramlich said...

I don't particularly like being directing, but I've found in my years as a teacher and sometimes chair of the department that informing often fails completely to achieve your aim.

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

I love these informative posts and find this highly interesting. I start thinking about all the people I know, and begin to catagorize them as directors or informers. Should be interesting to figure out which style my students are using. Never mind - they are all using the directing style of communication! lol My natural preference is informing style. Thanks!

Chris Eldin said...

I love reading your posts. They always make me feel more grounded. And since you started this blog, and I gravitate toward therapists in real life friendships, my kids have been telling me I "sound like the school guidance counselor, and please stop it."

I like all your examples because they show the variations within the two styles.

Aine said...

Karen~ I'm getting excited for you! Keep me posted on your explorations with personality theory. Just one caution/bit of advice: it can be tricky for those of us past our mid-twenties (:P) to differentiate between our natural, in-born thinking preferences and the thinking skills that we've developed through experience and training. Sometimes it helps to think about how you would've answered the test questions when you were 20.

I'm sure you'll have fun, though!

Szelsofa~ LOL! A shouting informer. Perhaps you live with a group of directing types and shouting is the only way you feel heard?!

Charles~ Just tell 'em what to do!

Kaye~ I have such fun listening and interacting with people with my "type" ears! Some are so obvious once you know the theory. It takes people watching to a whole new level!

Aine said...

Chris~ Maybe you missed your calling... You are INFJ after all...

SzélsőFa said...

I see, Aine, but the case is not this.
My son is a definite directing person, perhaps due to his age, my husband is a kind directing person, and my daughter is a helpless informatiing one.
She has been famous in the family for saying in a surprised tone: This glass is empty. When it should be full instead.
Read: Someone get me some water NOW.

Or: She stands undressed in front of her cabinet in the morning and starts crying.
Which reads: 'I can't reach the shelves to get my dresses, they are too high. Someone get me a chair now.'

While these stories serve as a fodder for laugh (and mocking, too) this is also a sign that my daughter has to learn how to express her needs more clearly and politely, but most of all, effectively.

Vesper said...

What an interesting post, Aine! I have to think a lot more about it.
I would say "Please get us some bread," but other times I could also be only informing. Can someone change from being informing to being directing according to their interlocutor? Food for thought...

Anonymous said...

Being half of the inspiration for this post, I'm thankful for all of Aine's insights she's now sharing with the rest of the world! Yes, I'm the opposite communication style from Aine. As an INTP, I'm informing, and yes it really fits me. As everyone has pointed out, we do learn to communicate in both forms, and often choose the right one for the right occassion. However, we can't underestimate our preference. That always creeps back and is often the quiet source of communication frustrations.

Thanks for helping me understand better Aine!

Kim said...

Since I am a mother, I have learned to be directive, but I am naturally an informer. Nothing frustrates me more than being ignored when I inform or hearing the words, "Well, why didn't you say so?"

Aine said...

Szelsofa~ I see. She is a great example of informing!

Vesper~ We all use both methods depending on the situation, but as Jason pointed out, we'll always have a natural preference. So, giving and receiving messages in the non-preferred style always feels a bit less comfortable.

Jason~ You're welcome! And thanks for being a willing participant in my personality explorations! :)

(And please forgive me when I don't seem to hear your requests...)

Kaycie~ Motherhood certainly requires directing style often, doesn't it? :P

Karen said...

Aine - I've done my reading! I am ISFJ:
"Quiet, friendly, responsible, and conscientious. Committed and steady in meeting their obligations. Thorough, painstaking, and accurate. Loyal, considerate, notice and remember specifics about people who are important to them, concerned with how others feel. Strive to create an orderly and harmonious environment at work and at home."

This nails me, both in my personal life and my work life. Now I have to get my husband to do this!

Aine said...

Karen~ Wonderful! A Guardian type! ISFJ's acronym is I Serve Family Joyfully (does that sound right?) And they are the "Protectors" according to Keirsey. And Linda Berens calls them the "Protector Supporters." The dominant function is Si (introverted sensing) and auxiliary (or 2nd process) is Fe (extraverted feeling).

I hope your husband is interested too. I'll wager that he's either a guardian or artisan (based on statistics...) But one never knows... :D

There is great fun and amazing insight ahead for you-- especially if your husband is a different temperament (not a guardian).

Unknown said...

Aine my dear personality person, I am bestowing the Fabulous Blog award to you. Please come by my site to pick it up.

Karen said...

Thanks for the further information. It does, indeed, sound like me. I don't think my husband is an artisan, but he could well be a guardian. We who nest and guard our nest and guard all of the little ones who've flown and the old ones who need a soft piece of hay. I think that's us. If that doesn't fit the profile, I'd be surprised.

laughingwolf said...

good stuff, aine...

cat, i solved that prob with my three: you use it [plate, cup, whatever] wash it and put in up to drain... since i did, the cooking, i cleaned the pots and pans, etc

no more: i did it last time... you use it, you clean it ;) lol

Vesper said...

Aine, there's a little something for you at my site... :-)

JaneyV said...

As if I needed more proof of my INFJiness, I'm a director. I use information all the time as I find it improves communication and my objective is to get things achieved. I'm so glad to have read this because I have always found purely informative types to be passive aggressive and I have misinterpreted their honest communication as being manipulative. I know better now.

It's good to learn new stuff.

Aine said...

Catvibe~ Thank you!! :)

Karen~ I am fond of Guardians as my parents both behave as Guardians (though my mother actually tests as an idealist.) I love the security that you guys provide!

Laughingwolf~ Good to see you! I like your approach!

Vesper~ Thank you!!

Janey~ Yes! That's the same reaction I had. I am so thankful for this information (which is, of course, why I share it with everyone I meet...) I'm glad it has given you a new perspective too.

Aniket Thakkar said...

Nice touch there in the end, Aine :)

My mom and dad both are informative :) (I can understand Catherine's frustrations :) :))

And I seem to be directive in general with everyone with a few exceptions. With my mom I too am informative. Guess i just learnt to reciprocate in her case. :)

Aniket Thakkar said...

Was this the last one? I want more... :)