Geraldine gets annoyed with Joseph because he narrates what he’s doing or about to do. For example, if he says, “I’m going to the kitchen and get some crackers,” Geraldine might respond, “Why do you need to tell me that? Are you looking for permission or do you think it’s of interest to me?” “Oh, I don’t know,” he says. . . . They’ve had this conversation many times and Joseph feels like he’s doing something wrong, but he’s always done this. So why does he announce what’s he’s doing?
Joseph and I explored this question, and he wondered if there was some deeper psychological issue: Did one of his parents do this when he was growing up? Did he need permission because he is so lacking in confidence? Is he so self-centered that he believes people are interested in his every move? You can probably see where this is going. None of these hypotheses had any merit.
Finally Joseph said, “I do it for myself. I’m not really talking to anyone else. There’s something about hearing that organizes me.” “What do you mean by ‘organizes’?” I asked. Joseph then went on to describe how hearing the story is grounding and keeps him focused. He is a musician and song writer. He hears and feels the rhythm and melody in words. His experiences become organized by telling and hearing the story, something that can be hard for others to understand.
When Joseph shared his insight with Geraldine she understood better, and because she knows Joseph so well it made sense to her. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t annoyed when he announces what he’s doing. The difference now is that she doesn’t load it with inaccurate meaning as she once had. And now Joseph is more aware of it, so he can sometimes curtail it and often uses humor by rapping his actions or singing á la opera.
Using the communications styles lens to better understand our behavior and that of others doesn’t mean all troubled feelings disappear into happiness. This understanding, however, does help to unload the inaccurate, psychological meaning we’ve given behaviors, putting them in a context that allows us to interact with others more flexibly and with greater compassion.
There’s a tag to Joseph’s story. . . . While coming to understand the reasons for his narratives, he realized Geraldine’s routine of inefficiently wending her way through a parking lot to find a parking space, a behavior that drives him nuts, was routed in her not-so-strong visual-spatial skill. Joseph can size up the visual field in an instant, easily knowing how to navigate it but Geraldine cannot. The visual field is hard for her to immediately make sense of. Understanding this has helped Joseph relax and realize that it’s not important that it takes Geraldine longer to find a parking place. Whatever meaning he had given this behavior in the past evaporated and we had a good chuckle over it.