Every Friday I write a syndicated parenting column that appears in several papers in Canada and the States. Here’s last week’s, since I forgot to post it then! I like it better than this week’s .
Let’s say I’m visiting a friend who lives in the country, and I ask her for directions to her home. She’s likely to reply like this: “You go up the highway past the Wal-Mart until you get out into farm country. You’ll pass the cutest little horse farm on your right hand side, and not too long after that a pretty old church that’s been converted into an antique shop. That’s where I picked up that darling little curio cabinet last year! After that shop turn left. Go down that road past about three mailboxes—the last one is green with this little rooster on top—and then we’re the next house on the left.”
If I were to get her husband on the phone, though, he’d be more inclined to say this: “Go north on highway 23 for two and a half miles until you come to Blue Creek Road. Turn east for about a mile. It’s on the left.” Men would understand him. I do not. What is east and west anyway? Green mailboxes I get. Two and a half miles I do not.
It turns out that men and women give directions differently. Women tend to focus on landmarks. Men are more like compasses. And men can follow a man’s directions easier than a woman’s, and vice versa. No wonder we often feel like we’re talking past each other.
That’s not the only way we’re different, either. Women have the chocolate gene, while men have the turn-the-lights-off-before-you-leave-the-room gene. Men like to spend time with other men side by side, doing stuff, like watching a game. Women like to spend time with friends face to face, talking about something, like why men watch sports.
But gender differences aren’t the only ones that exist. If you sometimes feel like you just don’t get your mother, or your brother, or even your teenager, there might be other more basic personality traits that separate you.
Take introverts and extraverts, for example. We may think that an extravert is the life of the party, while an introvert is shy, but that’s not what personality experts mean. An extravert is really a person who gets their energy from other people. If they need to sort something out, they have to talk about it, so they’ll call a friend. An introvert needs to process things alone. I’m an extravert, and I like to say that I give approximately one minute of thought to every ten minutes of speech that comes out of my mouth. In fact, it’s often not until I’ve stopped talking that I know what I think about something.
Introverts, on the other hand, don’t open their mouths until they’re confident about what should come out. If you’re an introvert in conflict with an extravert, then, you may be offended by what they say because you don’t realize they haven’t actually thought of any of this yet. You’ve prepared this fight. You’ve planned for it, rehearsed it, got it down to a tee. You assume they have, too. But they haven’t. And they may not be nearly as wedded to the opinions that come of their mouths as you are to yours.
The lesson here for an introvert is this: let the extravert talk. Then, after a while, come back to the original question. You may be surprised at how they’ve changed their minds. And the lesson for extraverts is just as important: if you have an issue you want to talk about, announce it, but then let the introvert go away and think for a while. Don’t expect a response right away.
These may seem like silly differences, but many of the conflicts we have in life with those closest to us are often due not to any moral failing on either of our parts, but just to basic personality differences. We don’t always speak each other’s languages. So what are you? A rooster person or a compass person? An introvert or an extravert? These aren’t the only differences, but they’re a start. Maybe if we tried understanding each other better, we’d do a much better job of communicating with each other. Even if we can’t follow each other’s directions.
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