Communication Tips for Parties and Family Gatherings

These tips and the story that follows are based on my experiences and how I apply what I know about Keirsey Temperament Theory to social occasions. Although I am known for generally being cheerful and upbeat, I’m not perfect, and sometimes I’m the one who snaps at someone for a minor offence.

Temperament theory helps me to understand how and why people get upset with each other; how to set-the-scene to minimize stress; and, how to manage misunderstandings…even if managing means apologizing or staying quiet and out of the way.

One thing I know for sure.

People are different from one another and no
amount of getting after them is going to change
them. Nor is there any reason to change them,
because the differences are probably good. — Dr . David West Keirsey

So…enjoy the holidays and I hope you’ll find these tips for parties and family gatherings useful.

When I’m the host:

As a Rational Inventor, I’m not overly concerned with how my home looks or if I’m ready when people arrive. I believe they are coming to visit me and getting ready is part of the visit. Of course I clean my home and get the basics ready, but there’s always some food that still needs to be prepared, furniture to move or a table to set-up.
When someone offers to help, I tell them the end result I’m looking for — I need the salads made; I need the table set; etc. — I don’t tell them how to do the job. I set my own preferences aside because in the end vegetables taste the same no matter which way they are sliced, and if I don’t like where the cutlery is, I can move it myself. An important thing you can do as a host is welcome people to your home and help them feel comfortable.

When I’m the guest (even with family):

I ask the host if I can help and then follow their instructions. Even if the way they make gravy or fruit salad makes no sense to me, I put my preferences aside. Now is not the time to add stress to my host’s party! An important thing you can do as a guest is consciously avoid upsetting your host.

Managing Conversation:

As a Rational Inventor, I’m wired to debate both sides of an issue, just for the fun of it. But, I’ve learned this isn’t fun for others and can be interpreted as arguing or worse, fighting.

Now, when someone tells me something that could really get me going, I say, “Really, I didn’t know that.” This allows the other person to tell me what they know, and stops any debate, argument or fight before it starts. Either that, or they think I’m an idiot…but hey, it’s the holidays! I can take it.

Now for a story…

The following story is purely fictional and any resemblance to the way I prepare for parties is more than coincidental.

It was Monica’s turn to hold the family dinner. She cleaned the house, set-up the chairs, put out the dishes and got the tables ready for the salads, side-dishes and desserts that her 23 relatives would bring.The easy part was done! Now, she prepared her strategy for managing all the different personalities who were going to invade her home.

First, she gave her Rational husband a list of all the tasks he needed to do. She’d learned that if she asked him to help her one-task-at-a-time, he’d disappear into his office or the garage when he was finished each task, instead of asking what else he could do to help. He was more interested in solving problems and fixing things than preparing for parties. When he had a list, he’d move from one task to the next until he was finished.

Second, she prepared the kitchen for the Guardians: the Supervisors and Inspectors who tell everyone the right way to do things; and the Protectors and Providers who often ask for instructions because they want to do the right thing. She’d ask them all to make the vegetable plates and let them sort things out themselves.

Third, she prepared the TV room for her Artisan brother. He loved to get all the kids riled up and wouldn’t lift a finger to help unless asked. He didn’t mind helping; he just didn’t think of it himself; and, he saw nothing wrong with a bunch of kids running wild through the house, screaming and giggling. She’d ask him to play Wii Sports Resort with the kids in the TV room.

Finally, she left some little tasks undone for the Idealists: the Teachers and Counselors who loved to chat about all the why’s, what ifs, and what’s possibles of life while they worked; and the Champions and Healers who were usually on the lookout for someone who’d been left out or who needed a hug. Bringing harmony to a group is their strength. Monica counted on their people-skills to keep the conversations going by initiating them and being great listeners.

With the scene set, Monica poured herself a glass of wine just as the first guests arrived. In the end, the party was a great success.

What temperament do you think Monica is?

It doesn’t really matter. The point is that by accepting everyone as they are, instead of trying to mold them to who you want them to be, you’ll get through the holiday dinners with less stress and more fun.

If you have as similar story to share with me, or if you would like advice on how to improve communications in your family, during your holidays, I’d love to hear from you. Just send me an email.

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Blind in the Hallways: Communication is Inevitable

Did you know that we cannot NOT communicate? Communication is inevitable.

Think about that for a moment. No matter where you are or what you are doing, if other people are present you are communicating with or to them.

What is the difference between with and to?

When you communicate with someone, you are usually aware of the messages you are trying to send and another person sees, hears or feels you and gives you a response.

When you communicate to someone, you may not be aware that you are sending messages or that another person is receiving and responding to them. The messages you send may be completely unintentional; and, they could hurt your reputation in the workplace.

Here is a story that illustrates this principle (Names have been changed, but the situation was real)

I had just started a new job and was feeling pretty comfortable with my team-mates. They had given me a good orientation and encouraged me to ask questions when I was unsure of what to do. We had a relatively stress-free work environment and often had coffee together. My boss, Doris, wasn’t around a lot but she led team meetings a couple of times a week and checked in on me occasionally to see how I was doing.

A couple of weeks after I started, I was walking down the hallway and saw Doris coming towards me. I smiled at her as we passed and — nothing. No response from her. In fact, it seemed like she either didn’t recognized me or purposely ignored me.

Did I do something wrong?

I tried to think of something I might have done wrong but couldn’t come up with anything. I didn’t see her for the rest of the day. The following morning we had a team meeting; Doris was smiling and friendly. She helped me with a problem I was having and behaved like there was nothing wrong between us. I was a bit confused, but too new to question her about the day before.

It happened again!

A few weeks later, the same thing happened we passed in the hallway. She was looking right at me but didn’t respond.

I thought about asking my team-mates about this, but I didn’t want to change our relationship by introducing a personal concern. Instead I asked someone I knew from another department. Here is what I learned: Doris had a reputation for ignoring people and for only talking to people outside her own department if she needed something from them.

This didn’t seem right.

I knew Doris as an intelligent and considerate person. I had never heard my team-mates say anything negative about her, and except for ignoring me in the hallway a couple of times, she was a great boss. Why would someone purposely ignore people who they worked with. I figured something else had to be going on. Maybe she was just really deep in thought and didn’t notice the people around her.

The next time I saw her coming towards me, instead of just smiling and nodding, I said “Hi Doris!”

I was surprised and relieved by what happened next. Doris looked at me and broke into big smile. She said, “Sorry, Fiona. I didn’t see you there. I don’t like wearing my glasses. Actually, I can’t see anyone.”

What happened next?

Now, you might be wondering what happened after that. Well, I didn’t tell Doris what I’d heard about her, but I did let her know that people might think she was ignoring them. And she started wearing her glasses….sometimes.

Does this seem familiar?

When you think about your workplace, are there people who don’t acknowledge you and you wonder why? What do you think they are communicating to you?

Are there people you aren’t acknowledging? Do you think that because you don’t talk to them that you are not communicating with them. Are you, like Doris, blind in the hallways?

Remember, communication is inevitable. We cannot NOT communicate

If you have as similar story to share with me, or if you would like advice on how to improve communications in your workplace,  I’d love to hear from you. Just send me an email.

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Is Your Choice of Words Confusing Your Audience?

Does your message get lost in your vocabulary?

I’m not embarrassed to say when I don’t understand what someone is saying, or what they have written. If I don’t understand what I read, then the writer hasn’t communicated with me; they haven’t shared their ideas in a way that I can understand.

A few years ago, I read Surpassing Wonder: The Invention of the Bible and the Talmuds by Donald Harman Akenson. This book is a historical reconstruction of how the Bible and the Talmuds may have been invented, based on available evidence. The arguments are so interesting and and I learned a lot, BUT the language was so dense that I had to have a dictionary beside me as I read it.

It’s possible that I am not the audience that the author was writing for…but I have two degrees and my vocabulary is pretty good. I love to learn new words but this book had me stumbling every few pages. My little Oxford English Dictionary with 90,000 words and phrases was completely useless and I had to go online to find definitions for words such as, tergiversation and imbrication.

In case you think my little dictionary didn’t contain obscure words, I can tell you it did. Where I expected to find imbrication I learned the word imbroglio…and that’s not a word you see every day! It’s pronounced im-broh-li-oh. It means “a very confused or complicated situation”…which is ironic because I remember being a bit confused by how many words I didn’t recognize in Akenson’s book.

Why is this important?

If you’re a writer with a message that you want to communicate to a wide audience, do you want to use words that will confuse them or make them feel stupid? I don’t think so.

You want to use words that draw your readers in and keep them engaged; words that make them want to keep reading and learning (or being entertained); words that convey your ideas with simplicity (if possible) and elegance.

When I teach writing courses, I look for words and phrases for learners to revise into plain language. This teaches my students how to make sure their message doesn’t get lost in their choice of vocabulary.

Do you think your choice of words is confusing your audience? Send me an email if you’d like help getting your message heard.

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