Thinking Out Loud

Now or Later?

It’s hard to know how and when to follow-up with someone when there is interpersonal conflict. Sometimes we put it off and sometimes we launch back into the discussion. In both instances we are hoping for something better. If we put it off, we risk the appearance of not caring or thinking of ourselves as a procrastinator. And if we follow-up right away, we can be perceived as aggressive and trying to get the best of the other.

Most of the time when I’ve delayed following up on a difficult discussion, the delay served a positive purpose. I’ve also pushed myself to follow-up sooner than later and often had bad outcomes.

Here’s a story from the communication styles perspective.

I was troubled enough about an interaction with a friend, that I needed to follow-up on the discussion. Should I call right away or wait until I see the friend another time or request a time to get together. Well, my friend is one who needs time for reflection (intrapersonal). My inclination is to talk right now and work it out together (interpersonal). I worried that waiting would communicate lack of caring (interpersonal), but know that my friend sorts things out internally in a very analytical (logical) way. So, I waited until the next time I saw him (a few days later) and brought up the previous interaction without initially expressing my feelings. This gave him an opportunity to give me his analysis (uninterrupted), so I could understand what was important to him. Then we got into an interactive discussion that accounted for both of our points of view and feelings. The timing and sequence of events seemed to work well enough for both of us.

Often when we finally take the action we’ve been waiting to take, there is relief (especially if we achieve a positive outcome), which is what happened in the above situation. Telling myself that I should have initiated the conversation sooner because we had a positive outcome would be a mistake. Just because “it all worked out” doesn’t mean that we should have had our discussion sooner.

Using the communication styles lens helped me make a decision about the best sequence of events to address a sensitive relational problem. The decision to delay the conversation wasn’t about “putting it off.” It was an effort to account for style differences in the hope of having better collaboration and a truer understanding between us. If I had only accounted for my style (interpersonal), I would have launched back into discussion very soon. But when I thought about how my friend needs time to process internally (intrapersonally), the decision to delay the conversation made the most sense.

Back to the blog