Thinking Out Loud

You’re In My Space

Julian is a high energy guy who speaks quickly because he has so many thoughts occurring simultaneously. He is also quick to react emotionally in highly charged situations, no matter whether what is happening is good or bad. In his role as an EMT (emergency medical technician), Julian stays very focused—calm yet intense—and draws on deep knowledge and experience in emergencies. He is admired for his knowledge and ability to respond effectively in very complex situations, and his co-workers learn a lot from Julian, although sometimes feel intimidated by his intensity when he speaks to them.

It’s not Julian’s intention to be intimidating. In fact, he very consciously lowers his voice and speaks carefully to avoid being intimidating. This does, however, often have the opposite effect, much like the teacher who lowers her voices and speaks in a measured tone to an unruly class. The measured tone also makes Julian’s co-workers feel that they are being patronized. Learning these reactions distressed Julian. He only wants to do what’s right and to be helpful to his coworkers and their patients. His manner is reassuring to most patients but not to his co-workers.

Another struggle for Julian is the way he faces (literally) conflict. When someone challenges him, questions a decision or makes a criticism, Julian walks toward them and gets physically close as he speaks in the quiet measured tone of voice.  While Julian feels that he’s staying calm, faces problems directly, is willing to talk, and is demonstrating appropriate concern and seriousness, the other person often feels that their personal space is invaded.

Of course when Julian got feedback from his supervisor about the impact he was having on others, he was devastated: How could he be so misunderstood? Weren’t his intentions obvious? Wasn’t his calm voice evidence that he was not being angry and hostile? Well no, not exactly . . .

Julian is very kinesthetic (hands-on learner). He needs contact and direct experience to know what’s going on. He is also highly verbal with good speaking skills and a rich vocabulary and he has strong logical processing skills. So, when he moves toward someone in an emotionally charged situation to face the problem, he is perceived as a force. Getting close is a way he connects to others, but his need for closeness does not correspond to the needs of others, who can feel threatened.  Once Julian understood the effect he had on those he worked with he experimented with staying put when responding to someone. Understanding that his lowered voice could be perceived as holding back a torrent of anger was easier, and once he practiced using his normal tone of voice, it was automatic to do so.

The feedback he needed to truly understand the impact he was having on others hurt him, despite their effort to support his good intentions. Through role play and understanding his communication style strengths and challenges, Julian made the adjustments he needed to put others at ease, including providing feedback about his communication style as needed. As he accounted better for his communication style and the effect it had, he discovered that not only were those he worked with more comfortable, he was too. This was an important realization and reinforced his determination to improve his communication behaviors to better match his intentions.


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