On Different Communication Styles

When it comes to interacting with third parties, say hotel staff, our landlord, or a retail worker, my girlfriend and I have different communication styles. I’m always quiet, cautious, and diplomatic. “Could you please do this? Is that an option?” And so on. My girlfriend usually strikes a friendly but more assertive tone. “Please take care of this. I think it is our right to…”

Each style works in its own way, and when we are handling our individual affairs, we both make do the way we are used to. When we are dealing with a situation together, our styles can be at odds, but they can also complement one another. I remember one particular scenario involving a not-so-nice hotel room in which our good cop/bad cop routine scored us better internet, less noise, and a working AC.

The trickiest events are when one of us is negotiating on behalf of the other. It’s easy to want to impose your own style of communicating on the other person. “You need to be more assertive,” my girlfriend might say, or “You’re too forward,” I may tell her. Sometimes, of course, we are right, and then the other will adjust. Most of the time, however, what we need is to trust one another. “She’ll handle the situation her way, and she’ll handle it just fine.”

Offering this trust can be a challenge, but it helps to understand why your partner communicates the way they do. In our case, I realized our communication styles counterbalance gender expectations. As a man, I’m expected to be assertive — but so are most other men, and so being loud and demanding often only leads to conflict. For women, the script is often flipped. Society likely expects you to be shy and timid, and if you want something, you’ll have to stand up for yourself. What gets a woman respect might get a man into a fight, and what makes a man well-received could make a woman ignored — and all of it varies from individual to individual and situation to situation, of course.

One of the greatest but hardest-to-learn lessons in life is that not everything needs to be done your way in order to get done at all. Let others do things their way, and you just might be surprised. Afford them room to be who they are. The more you know about what makes each other tick, the more comfortable you’ll feel in sharing responsibility, and the more you can balance your strengths and weaknesses, the better of a team you’ll be.