“It drives me crazy when you tell me nothing is going on, when I can tell from your voice that something is going on!” Jeri exclaimed.
“Why won’t you believe me?” Brad pleaded, “I told you, nothing’s going on!”
And so it goes. We’ve probably all been involved in a conversation of this sort at one time or another. Brad said something to Jeri and the way it sounded was incongruent with the words he used. She thinks he’s upset because she heard “upset” in his voice, which in a sense was there.
As we teased apart the emotions and details of the conversation, what we discovered was interesting and helpful. Although Brad was not upset about the issue they were discussing, he was frustrated by how the process of the discussion was evolving. This happens frequently in conversations with couples. Brad is linguistically sensitive and logical in how his thoughts progress. For him there is a distinct difference between upset and frustration, and he was adamant in telling Jeri that it was the process that was troublesome to him, not the issue.
Jeri is very auditory sensitive. She hears the subtleties in voice quality and the emotion carried by those qualities. She listens very carefully and tunes into others by how the communication sounds. So for Brad to say he’s not upset when she clearly hears him being upset drives her crazy.
This is a good example of how differences in communication style strengths can cause friction and conflict in relationships. Brad processes a conversation with linguistic and logical strengths dominant. Jeri processes primarily in the auditory and interpersonal realms. They rely on their strengths to guide them in understanding, as we all do. Yet they focus through different elements (communication components), which creates a disconnect.
Simply being aware that these differences exist, knowing how you and your partner process information and recognizing and accepting the differences while separating the process from the content in a conversation will help minimize conflict and support an opportunity for better understanding.