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COLUMN: Talking: Which style is best and when should you use it?

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By John Lapp

Talking — it’s something everybody does, some too much and some too little. What is your pattern? Do you know if you actually have a pattern? If so, how did it become a pattern? If not, can you learn better ways to communicate that, in particular, helps you to better connect with your partner, family, friends? The following several patterns of communication may help you in this most essential part of your life.
First, patterns of communication change, sometimes involving several different patterns or styles during any one  day. Being familiar with each of these, you’ll be able to move with ease from one style to another, matching one particular style with your intentions for each situation.
One of the most common styles is that which may be considered sociable, kind of friendly, playful, enjoyable and essential to carrying on most ordinary activities. Your basic interest at this level is to be pleasant and courteous with no design to change anyone or anything; what is commonly called chit-chat, focusing on everyday topics and perhaps routine matters.
For example, those who talk about the weather will always have something to talk about, and often they will have different opinions about the heat, the cold, etc. Because each may have an opposite opinion about the weather, they may not move beyond that topic because neither is in charge of the other even though each may believe he or she is correct. I’ve heard people discuss the weather, and it becomes a sort of battle whether one is more correct than the other. If this is the case, don’t talk about the weather or a certain movie or type of music because each has a right to the opinion stated.
Basically this style is characterized by the absence of any weighty issues and, therefore, there is a lack of tension in the discussion that follows. Some of the ways of sociable talking include reporting events and factual information; simple descriptions; routine questions; joking/storytelling; or expressing ideas.
Another style could be your right to be in charge, sort of a control style, although there could be different levels of control presented or needed. It usually is designed when you want things to happen in a certain way, or may even want a certain outcome. It usually focuses on another person, or people and not on you. The real goal is to get the other person to agree, or to do what you want. This goal can be brief and efficient in its goal, and we probably use this quite often.
This style can be either a heavy or a light style. Parents will use both when directing the children. One way may sound like: “Mary, watch Tommy while I run down to the store. I’ll be gone about 5-10 minutes” (light style). In this regard, the goal is to have the older, more responsible child attend to the baby for a brief period of time. It actually establishes expectations, responsibility and encourages approved behavior, etc.
The overall intention of this light style is persuasion, to seek agreement, and to exercise legitimate authority, including directing, advising, instructing and persuading, even praising.
The heavy brand is most often used when strong feelings are being expressed, and can be either active or passive, but it is always aggressive. The ultimate goal is to either force change or resist changes being presented. This aggressive method is an attempt to force agreement or an outcome and is usually without regard for the other’s feelings or what that person wants or even thinks.
This pattern happens when you are arguing or fighting and has two common elements, either attacking or defending. This can get really nasty with the tone of voice, the volume being presented, and bodily gestures. This style usually has an ultimate goal: winning, hurting the other, protecting or defending yourself.
Unfortunately the nastiness can be accompanied with put-downs, threats, name-calling, all of these being active in nature, whereas the passive forms can include whining, complaining, and maybe even assuming blame, although not actually true. The pattern can also be laced with words like never, always, ought to, should, among many others.
This style is always wrong and usually produces no resolution.
I like another style, the one that is speculative, sort of searching. It is mostly an intellectual experience with not so much emotion attached, at least not expressed. Here are examples:
•We don’t seem to be making much time for each other lately, what do you think?
•Although we argue about money, I think that there may be more to it than just that.
Words that are often used in this style are probably, possibly, maybe, could, among others. This style is the most productive when there are serious issues, those where sensitivity might be one of the players.
Finally, one more style that may or may not work for you is very direct and is oriented toward action. The best thing about it is that it values both parties in the communication, and not one of them more than the other.
It places value on both you and the other, therefore leading to a more pleasant outcome if both parties stick to the main issue and don’t go off on tangents. The ultimate goal is that you both attempt to nurture and support each other although you may disagree. One of the main things I teach couples is how to disagree without being disagreeable.
This usually requires a lot of give-and-take especially when each has a very different opinion or feeling about a particular/sensitive issue. The end result when this works is there are no winners or losers ... you both win.
However, as good as this style seems to be, it could become more mechanical in nature, and it cannot effectively be used to force change in the other person. A wonderful example with this style, and one that should be practiced between couples, is something like: “Honey, I was thinking today of how much I love you and depend and count on you for many things and you seldom leave me hanging. A lot of people I know don’t feel that way about their partners. I just wanted you to know that I don’t take it for granted, but I just don’t tell you how much you mean to me, although I think about it all the time.”
Or another example could be: “I was thinking about what you said the other day about going back to school, and I know that we will have to make some sacrifices, but we’ll work it out. We have talked about it before, but I’m glad for both of us that this is about to happen.”
Notice that this style is focused, direct, clear, caring, it’s about sharing your own private world of thought with another person who matters to you.
Well, there you have it, four distinctively different styles of talking with one another. As you can see, the most dangerous, and least productive in your emotional style is the second one presented. Demands made out of a major problem relative to wanting to be in control of another is always non-productive and can and will lead to other things. Not the least could be the horrible factors of anger as it becomes violence, even domestic violence, which a couple of my clients have experienced.
Choose a style of communication that will produce the end the goal you are seeking. God bless you as you do with this the best that you can.