He Said, She Said: Understanding the Unresolvable
So, I am in the middle of an argument with my wife. It is one of those circular ones that go something like this:
Her: "What I want you to understand is …."
Me: "Yeah, I understand, but what I want you to understand is …"
Her: "I know. I understand, but what I want you to understand is …"
Me: "I know. I understand, but what I want you to understand is …"
Alas, there is no understanding going on at all. I keep pointing out what is so clear and obvious to me. If she will just acknowledge what I am saying and my point of view, we can end this ridiculous misunderstanding.
She is having none of it. By some strange twist of her misperception, she is totally missing my point and insisting on some bizarre interpretation of what is happening that is totally irrelevant to what is happening and to getting it resolved.
Like all the times before that we have had an argument like this, I can't seem to get her to see the situation correctly! In the heat of the moment, I don't understand why she seems to be so obstinate and so determined to be wrong!
Of course, the real issue is not whether I am right and she is wrong or whether she is right and I am wrong. The real issue is that, using a Perceptual Style Theory analysis of the conflict, we are arguing from completely different perspectives that are not reconcilable.
As long as we insist that the other see the world from our point of view, we can argue all day long and never come to a resolution.
Why is this? If you understand Perceptual Style Theory, understand your own Perceptual Style, and understand even a little about the other five styles, shouldn't you be able to get past the differences and avoid the type of argument described above?
It would be easy to blame it on the other's ignorance. "They just don't understand the theory, what it says about our differences, and how to use that knowledge in the face of conflict." The truth, sadly, is that even though I have been involved with Perceptual Style Theory for a long time (45 years at last count), I still sometimes find myself in these stylistic arguments.
It can be hard to wrap your head around the most fundamental tenet of Perceptual Style Theory: The six Perceptual Styles see very different realities from each other, and this is not just a surface difference.
No amount of patient explaining from either side will allow two people with different Perceptual Styles to see from the other's point of view. Your Perceptual Style defines reality for you. While you may be able to gain an intellectual understanding of how the other styles see things, it is impossible to gain an experiential understanding.
As my wife said to me following yet another failed attempt on my part to get her to see the situation as I did:
"I can't see the world the way you see the world because I can't see the world the way you see the world!"
Such a seemingly obvious statement, but one that we all ignore or forget in the heat of stylistically based conflict. We are frustrated by what we experience as the other's refusal to acknowledge what we know to be true, failing to accept that it is not true for them – that it is not part of their reality.
When my wife doesn't see the relevance of the context that I am setting up in order to make the story I am about to tell so that she will understand the point I am trying to make, she is not being obstinate.
She is telling me the truth from how she sees things: "Your context and your stories are irrelevant to what we are arguing about."
When I hear the same set of facts repeated back to me for the third time and the conclusion or understanding that they obviously lead to is beyond me, I am not being obstructive.
I am telling the truth from how I see things: "I understand the facts, but they don't take context and intention into account, and they do not resolve the issue."
It is hard to get out of a stylistic argument, and they often end with both people walking away feeling bruised, defeated, frustrated, and misunderstood. At a theoretical level, Perceptual Style Theory says: "accept that both points of view are correct and valid, but incomplete."
At a practical level, in the heat of the moment, that is hard to pull off.
Until someone comes up with a better suggestion, I will continue to utilize the wisdom of Robert Heinlein writing as Lazarus Long: In a family argument, if it turns out you are right--apologize at once!
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About Dr. Gary M. Jordan, Ph.D.
Gary Jordan, Ph.D., has over 35 years of experience in clinical psychology, behavioral assessment, individual development, and coaching. He earned his doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology – Berkeley. He is co-creator of Perceptual Style Theory, a revolutionary psychological assessment system that teaches people how to unleash their deepest potentials for success. He’s a partner at Vega Behavioral Consulting, Ltd., a consulting firm that specializes in helping people discover their true skills and talents. For more information, visit https://www.YourTalentAdvantage.com.
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