Priorities change, your self-image mutates, and even things that you thought you knew become challenges. One of the main challenges that can come up for parents is the increased tension in relationships with other people.
Here are a few common examples:
- Attention-seeking and power struggles with your kids. Trying to get kids–at any age–to do what needs to be done can be crazy-making. “Don’t hit your brother!” “Please finish your dinner.” “It’s time to go to bed. Have you brushed your teeth? No, I will not get you another glass of water. Stop jumping on the bed. GO TO SLEEP.” “Put your coat on. Put on your shoes. Did you pee? Where is your lunch bag? It’s time to go. We are now LATE!” “Did you put your dishes in the dishwasher?” “Is your homework done?” It’s nutty, isn’t it?
- Disagreements with your partner. Questions like, “Whose turn it is to get up for the baby?”, “How do we handle our kid’s misbehavior?”, “What’s our plan for the weekend?”, or even, “What do you want to have for dinner?” can become exploding powder kegs of misunderstanding and conflict.
- “Advice” from your over-zealous parents or in-laws. When you become a parent, tensions can grow between you and your parents and between you and your in-laws over their apparent interference. If you count on and don’t receive support from your partner to help handle this interference, the tensions multiply.
- Conflicts at work or in volunteer jobs. Tensions, oddly, do not stay at home. If you work or volunteer outside the home, you will likely find tensions rising over politics, gossip, lack of accountability and follow-through, and lack of results.
Where have you recently noticed miscommunication, misunderstanding, and conflict? Is it with your kids, your partner, your parents, in-laws, teachers, care-givers, friends, coworkers, etc.?
No matter the source, this tension in your relationships can be draining and disheartening. As you look for ways to deal with the conflicts, you probably have tried one or more good options. You may have tried talking it out, reading books, getting advice from friends, or–if you’ve had a particularly trying day–you may even have tried “demanding rather forcefully.”
The reason these options tend not work is that they lack a way to diffuse the problems before they occur. In fact, you can prevent or minimize conflict, miscommunication, and misunderstanding with a bit of insight into how we are all wired. That insight is something we call style.
Style (also known as behavioral style) is our preferred way of interacting with tasks and with each other. Our styles are neither good nor bad; no one’s style is better or worse. You can identify your own style and other people’s styles because they are always visible in the way people act. We can see our style and other people’s styles through pace of speech, tone of speech, body language, and preferred ways of dealing with information.
We develop our style throughout our early lives. From age 0 to about age 25, we develop habits about how we respond to each other and to tasks. We also develop a keen and unconscious ability to read other people’s styles.
Why Style Matters
When another person’s style differs from our own, we try to defend ourselves from or counter them. Our reactions to others’ styles happen out of habit and before we consciously know it. Parts of the base of our brain dedicated to pattern recognition and survival will sound the alarm when it perceives someone with different style–someone with different patterns of speech, body language, and information processing. If you’ve ever caught yourself being angry or nervous around another and wondered to yourself, “Wait, what’s going on? Why am I feeling and acting like this?” as it was happening, then you have seen style in action. And even if you haven’t, we act in our styles and react to other people’s styles all the time.
And others act with and react to us, too. They will defend or try to counter us if they perceive our style is different from theirs.
These reactions are the source, by some experts’ estimates, of 90% of tension-causing miscommunication, misunderstanding and conflict.
We Can Do Something About This
The good news is that we can prevent the tensions that happen due to differences in style. The process is very simple.
- Know your style. Learn your style and how others will tend to see you.
- Read others’ styles. Learn to read the styles of the people around you. Other people’s styles are easy to read.
- Flex to meet their styles. Temporarily act the way the other person does. Try to match–for just a few seconds as you start a conversation–the other person’s pace of speech, tone of speech, body language, and the way they prefer to consume information.
When you do this, you will open doors to communication, understanding, and harmony with everyone who is important to you. In upcoming articles, we will
- Describe the 4 factors that define behavioral style,
- Show you how to figure out your own style,
- Teach you how to read other people’s styles,
- Show you of how to flex to different people in your life, and
- Give you tools and resources to support you parenting and living with style.
Michael Ehling is a father of two boys, a devoted husband, and a career and business coach based in Toronto. Contact him via email@example.com or sign up to receive his daily “Success is Simple” notes by email at http://balancecoaching.com/subscribe