Thinking Out Loud

Reach For It

As often happens when teaching the Communication Styles Framework, someone will spontaneously say, “Oh, I just realized something I’d never thought of before.” This happened recently during a workshop with a management group.

The discussion centered on how differently we organize our workspaces, which was actually a side discussion that began when one member expressed frustration from having a messy desk. A coworker remarked that she has a messy desk, too, but “I know where everything is and can easily put my hands on whatever I’m looking for.” Someone else chimed in that she can usually picture right where she puts things.

I commented that my visual memory is poor, so I have shelves or a counter to spread out on, eliminating piles. If something is in a pile, I won’t remember it’s there. With shelves or a counter, I need to scan each item to remember I have it.

The most interesting comment, however, came from Lucien (not his real name, of course). “I remember where I put something by feeling where I put it.” As he said this he mimed with his arms moving in different directions, placing papers in different locations in space. “It’s kind of a muscle memory,” he continued. “I can’t see where I put it, but I know where it is because I remember the actual movement of putting it there.” There was a quiet pause as we all absorbed this new information.

In my usual articulate manner when something like this occurs, I said, “Wow, that’s so cool” . . . Seriously, I probably did say something like that because I’d never heard that from anyone and I hear many unusual comments in similar group meetings around the framework. Paying attention to these seemingly quirky observations is important. They are clues to our processing modalities and, therefore, our communication styles.

Lucien is strongly kinesthetic and a doer. He learns by gaining knowledge through direct experience and can seem impulsive, thoughtless, or foolish.  Now that his coworkers better understand his processing style, they are less likely to judge him and more likely to find constructive ways to interact with him when he does dive right into something.

Our discussion that day led directly into recounting a past experience (with good humor) when Lucien did something that seemed impulsive and ended up being embarrassing but was really part of his need to gain knowledge from direct experience. As the group revisited the incident and put it in a different (more accurate) context, they automatically began talking about how they all could have handled it differently. Recognizing Lucien’s need for direct experience also led to discussing how creative he is and how well he thinks on his feet. His taking direct action and adapting as needed afterward certainly suits him well—and usually benefits the whole management team.

By identifying Lucien’s strengths and how those strengths can also get him into trouble, this team engaged in a discussion that brought them greater understanding about themselves and each other. Without making judgments, they put past observations in a new context, which allows them to better support one another, problem-solve more creatively, and collaborate more productively.

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