Ever met someone who likes to keep decisions open? WAY open? My friend Jordan is like that. No decision can be complete unless we have a dozen options to choose from. He enjoys the options-generation process itself. Especially for small things, I’m one of those people who just likes to make a decision and move into action. Options are only necessary if the initial options don’t meet the needs, and the fun is in choosing an option and acting.

Stever: Let’s grab lunch. How about a sandwich at Dave’s Fresh Pasta?

Jordan (thinking): Oh, Stever’s thinking of having some lunch. What fun! Stever’s tossed out the first idea. Now I’ll toss out some more ideas, get Stever’s ideas, I’ll react to his ideas, we’ll have a bit of a back and forth, brainstorming possibilities which shall surely result in a delicious lunch.

Jordan: Ok. We could also go to Maria’s. Or maybe there’s a new Mexican place down the street. Or maybe Harvest…?

Stever (thinking): Why does he always do this? Every time I make a decision, he has to suggest something else. Why can’t we simply go where I suggest once in a while?

Stever: Look, why don’t we just go to Dave’s Fresh Pasta.

Jordan (thinking): No! There might be something else I want to enjoy. Stopping the options-generating process means we now stop enjoying different possibilities.

We both end up in a downward spiral. Besides lunch, there are two sets of needs on the table: I need to move into action. Jordan needs to spend time generating possibilities. When we do it in that we both end up frustrated, and we do it that way every time I start off the conversation. The solution is surprisingly simple:

Change the order of the interaction.

If I’m starting the conversation, I normally start with my favorite option. But Jordan’s response will always be to generate alternatives. So how about this as an opening gambit:

Stever: Let’s grab lunch. What are some of the possible places we could lunch?

Jordan: How about Carberry’s? The Mexican place? Harvest?

Stever: Or maybe Dave’s Fresh Pasta? It’s close, inexpensive, and super-yummy.

Jordan: Sounds great! Let’s do it!

By recognizing that Jordan’s natural strengths operate at the start of the decision, I can kick off with a question that engages him appropriately. Then when he’s had his fill of options, I can put mine out and we can make a decision and move forward. In practice, he’s usually quite amenable to whatever I want anyway… as long as he’s had a chance to generate options first. We’re both happy.

This also applies to Dreamers vs. Critics

Another common order-dependent interaction is dreamers vs. critics. Some people are great at finding the holes in a plan. Others are great at dreaming. You want both in a decision, only often they happen in reverse. The critics get involved at the brainstorming phase, and knock ideas out before they’ve even had a chance to be fully generated.

When you have a dreamer and a critic, put forth some ground rules. Decide in phases. Make sure both people understand the ground rules and the reason for them. Then brainstorm first, with the critic muzzled, secure (hah!) in the knowledge that they will have a turn. After brainstorming has generated lots of options, let the critic find the problems with the options. During this phase, the brainstormers get to sit quietly, nod, and smile (through gritted teeth). Lastly, the brainstormers take the critic’s list of concerns and brainstorm answers to those concerns. The critic can review the answers and the group decides whether the final solutions meet the needs.

Often, differences in personal styles are points of conflict. But all the different styles are strengths in the right time and place. One path to harmony (not to mention better results!) is to change the order you interact to insure everyone has a chance to use their style in a place that makes sense.

Some Communication Problems are Just Who Talks Fir…

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