Perceptual Style, Communication, and Ego
Like many of you, my wife and I enjoy watching series on one of the many available streaming services. Getting involved in a story with interesting characters that develops over time is an enjoyable distraction from life's daily challenges. While we have seen many good series over the last five years, what has become apparent to me is that even though we are sitting on the same couch in front of the same screen, we are watching different shows.
I don’t mean that we have a split-screen television; what I mean is that we watch shows differently. I become immersed in the story itself, how well it’s told, the psychological meaning and impact, etc. My wife is busy attending to the technical aspects of the show, the scenery, the quality of the costuming, the factual accuracy, how well an actor has aged, etc.
Simply stated, I have less difficulty suspending disbelief than she does. I enjoy fantasy, science fiction, and “weird” stories. She prefers documentaries and docudramas.
So, what does this have to do with Perceptual Style? Everything!
My Perceptual Style is Activity; hers is Methods. We are opposites on the Perceptual Style wheel, and my example above highlights some of the differences in how we communicate. As we talk about what we have watched, I want to discuss the emotional impact, the deeper meanings, and how what we saw relates to our lives. She wants to talk about the quality of the acting, the cinematography, and how believable it was.
This communication difference comes up regularly in our conversations. As Activity, I must set a context before I communicate my point, and I need a context to understand what is being said to me. Frequently my wife will respond to some aspect of my contextualizing comments before I get to the point I am trying to make. The whole conversation devolves into a comedic “who’s on first” routine that leaves her bewildered and me frustrated.
As Methods, when she communicates to me, I often experience a list of facts without context, and I am left trying to figure out what point they are leading to. Again, frustration on my side is because I hear no point, conclusion, or connection. Frustration on her side because she has no idea what I am looking for or asking for. She is providing me with the data of her experience, not telling, or preparing to tell, a story.
You may have noticed that my explanation of the communication between my wife and me is a bit one-sided. I have attempted to describe, from my understanding, how people with the Methods Perceptual Style communicate, but that understanding is theoretical and not experiential. It is impossible for me to experience the world from any Perceptual Style other than my own. No one can! As my wife once said to me, “I can’t see it your way because I can’t see it your way.” Literally!
Another reason that we all have difficulty bridging the communication gap that exists between us and those with different Perceptual Styles is ego.
It is easy to get caught up in the ego validation that comes from discovering your Perceptual Style and how well it describes you. It is a wonderfully gratifying experience to watch people read their PSA results and see the looks of recognition and the relief they experience when they realize that there is not something “wrong” with them.
After all, there’s an 83.33% chance that anyone you meet will have a different Perceptual Style than you do. When the evidence is so strongly weighted that most people see the world differently, it is hard not to believe that your way of seeing things is “off.”
The first power discovering your Perceptual Style is the validation it provides. People have frequently expressed that reading their Perceptual Style description was the first time they felt that someone else understood them. We discovered that the power of this validation was at the core of people’s experience when learning about Perceptual Style. It is so strong that we named the results booklet Celebrate You!
It is easy to get caught up in the personal celebration and forget the second power of Perceptual Style – the ability to understand yourself and understand others. Without looking outside of self to understand others it’s all too easy to celebrate you and forget that “all Perceptual Styles are equally valid ways of perceiving the world and that no Perceptual Style is better than another.”
Understanding others and celebrating their differences from you is a tall order, and because of our egos and need for validation, it is one that we all fail at periodically. That’s because one of the most challenging aspects of improving communications and understanding others is that it is hard work! To bridge the communication or value gap with someone who has a different Perceptual Style than you do means you have to attempt to understand their viewpoint, what they are trying to communicate, or what they value without any guarantee of reciprocation from them.
Sometimes people try to short cut the process or take an ego-centric “easy path”, like one workshop participant who declared, “This is great! I am going to have all my direct reports read this so that they can understand me better!” After all, it was all about him!
Explaining your perspective and expecting others to understand and immediately agree usually comes from an ego attitude of “once they know how I see things, they can adjust how they interact with me.” That approach is understandably most often met with the attitude of “what you don’t understand is that I don’t want to understand.”
Many years ago, I formulated what I have jokingly labeled Gary’s rule of relationships: whoever has the greater psychological awareness carries the burden for making the relationship work. When you know your Perceptual Style, and understand the other five styles, you automatically have greater psychological awareness than most people.
This means you cannot sit back celebrating yourself and your self-understanding and expect those who have no awareness of either the Perceptual Style Theory or their Perceptual Style to adjust to your communication style. You must do your best to accommodate theirs, to speak to them in their language. Once people feel heard, they will often be more receptive to other ways of viewing things.
So, back to the couch with my wife watching TV. My desire for her to understand the complexity, multiple layers, subtle and clever plot twists that I see is not about increasing her enjoyment of the show; it is about validating my point of view. What does increase her enjoyment of the show is me listening to her experience, being genuinely interested in the differences between her experience and mine.
After all, I know my experience. What I don’t know is hers.
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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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