Summer is about to get into full swing, and there are a lot of things to look forward to. Days at the beach or pool. A more relaxed schedule for the kiddos. Vacations. Cookouts with extended family. Wait…did I just hear a fretful gasp? If that last one makes you grimace rather than smile, perhaps you are recoiling at the potential for conflict when everyone gathers around your grill.
Fear not! As a life-long conflict-avoider and peacekeeper (column 2 specialties), here are some tips I’ve learned along the way, with the help of Omnia, that can make your family gathering less tense and more relaxing. (Sorry; I can’t help with the mosquitoes.)
Everyone has a unique way that they interact with others. If you don’t consider that when speaking with someone, it could result in negative assumptions and possible conflict — or at least some irritation. Many people are naturally gregarious and outgoing. They enjoy conversations, weaving stories, and generally being around people. Others are more reserved and concise when they speak. These individuals often listen more than talk and may be careful with their choice of words. They are not necessarily unfriendly, but they might need time to warm up to new people.
Imagine a socially expressive person (let’s call her Brenda) and a socially discreet individual (we’ll call her Amy) trying to have a conversation. If Brenda and Amy do not take each other’s communication style into account, then some friction could occur. Extroverted Brenda might think introverted Amy is aloof or uninterested. Reserved Amy could feel overwhelmed by outgoing Brenda’s attempts at drawing her into conversation.
Now imagine if both participants considered the other person’s natural way of communicating. Gregarious Brenda could talk with Amy one on one to avoid making her feel put on the spot and to give them the opportunity to get reacquainted in a low-key way. Succinct Amy might ask Brenda questions during the conversation to show that she’s interested in what Brenda is saying. And they would both feel that their unique styles were understood and respected, which can help stop conflict long before it begins.
There is another dimension to consider that affects communication style. Though “assertiveness” sounds like a type of communication style itself, it actually impacts how strongly someone will come across in their interactions with others. An assertive person who is socially outgoing might be the life of the party but might also have potential to dominate conversations. An assertive individual who is socially reserved, while not reluctant to offer their insights when asked, might sometimes come across as blunt or very direct.
Conversely, a person who is unassertive but socially oriented might be friendly, though a little less boisterous in how they interact with others. Someone who is both unassertive and socially subdued could find it challenging to engage in conversations, especially with people they don’t know. They may prefer listening in on discussions more than actively participating until they become more comfortable.
These traits — or combination of traits — have the potential to come across in both positive and negative ways depending on who is at the receiving end of the interaction. But acknowledging and understanding these differences can help mitigate interpersonal conflict. From my experience, discerning the different communication styles and the various personality aspects that impact them has saved me a lot of frustration and potential offense when speaking with people through the years. The benefit of the doubt goes a long way too. Your uncle who responds to your question in a straightforward way might not intend to be curt. Or your aunt who goes on and on probably isn’t trying to talk you out of the conversation. It’s just the way they communicate.
Just like someone’s level of assertiveness impacts their communication style, it also affects their comfort level with conflict in general. Assertive individuals are competitive and win driven; they can handle contentious situations with confidence and not bat an eye. They may even enjoy a little back and forth and find minor squabbles entertaining. Cautious personality types do whatever they can to avoid conflict; they thrive in harmonious, supportive environments and feel drained and sometimes stressed when even a hint of dissention is in the air.
When thinking of yourself and your family members, you can probably easily identify who is comfortable with conflict and who avoids it at all costs. So, if you’re someone who enjoys a spirited debate, stick to likeminded personalities with your verbal sparring. If you prefer the harmony and ease of family unity, perhaps spend some quality downtime with similarly low-key people. Of course, you can’t dodge everyone — nor should you — but be cognizant of the interactions that energize you as well as the ones that deplete you and choose your conversations wisely.
All this presupposes that everyone at the barbeque wants an easygoing time, and let’s be honest, some people just like drama. Unfortunately, I don’t have much advice on dealing with those personalities other than giving a lot of grace and a wide berth. For the rest of us, though, understanding these personality dimensions can go a long way to ensure a peaceful kick-off to the summer.
And wouldn’t it be great to know the communication styles, levels of assertiveness, and other personality traits of your employees and colleagues to minimize conflict on the job too? Omnia can help with our simple, quick, yet incredibly insightful behavioral assessment. Contact us today, and let us help you bring this summertime ease into your workplace. Happy grilling!
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