The Difference Dilemma

Andrea Chilcote, Erik's HopeWe all know the value of different perspectives and different styles, whether we’re seeking counsel from a close friend or are in need of fresh approaches to problem-solving.

You’ve probably experienced the difficulty that different styles, preferences or personalities can cause, even in the most solid of relationships.

One of my trusted and valued colleagues has a very different thinking and communication style than mine. And, our differences are what I value most about her. I couldn’t (and wouldn’t want to) do the detailed, precise and consistent work she does. And my guess is that she wouldn’t want to live in my world of ambiguity and constant change. The quality that comes from our collaboration depends upon both of our unique strengths. Sounds like paradise, right?

The trouble with stylistic differences is that we all not only have distinct modes of behavior, but we also have unique and often unconscious needs for how others behave in relation to us. When these needs go unmet, or we experience inputs counter to our needs, we risk a phenomenon called “stress behavior.”

I wrote about stress behavior in my post last year, when my “buttons” were being pushed by changes imposed on me. (I love change, but I’ll initiate it myself, thank you very much). This week, my buttons got triggered by a different need, one that followed my inability to respond appropriately to the colleague mentioned here. It was the perfect recipe for an ongoing downward spiral, something that, according to the Urban Dictionary, starts out bad and just gets worse and worse.

My colleague, whom I’ll call Julia, was experiencing a frustrating situation, one that had been lingering too long. She needed my help. My natural reflex is to approach issues in a pragmatic, objective manner. When faced with a problem, I have a bias for action – action to solve the problem. Many people – some of you as well as Julia – have a need to be heard and understood before accepting help. If you’re more like me and that sounds foreign to you, just consider someone in your own life who has that need. Chances are, you’ve offered well meaning (and sound) advice, and yet have found that the other person only seemed to escalate her feelings. To you, perhaps, she seemed unable to detach from the problem long enough to find a logical solution.

In our situation, my unwillingness to acknowledge Julia’s reality only caused the situation to worsen. My stress behavior ignited her stress behavior, and very quickly we were speaking different languages. Hers was to convey detailed accounts of the problem (which I actually needed to understand) and mine was to blow through the details in an effort to make forward progress.

Fortunately, our mutual respect prevailed that day and we got back in sync quickly. But the lesson was loud and clear. The only path to effective collaboration of any kind is awareness and acknowledgment of one another’s needs. Those seemingly subtle needs that arise from personality or style have a loud voice under stress.

You don’t have to be an expert in human behavior to put this lesson into practice. You only have to be willing to stop, observe and respond. When you find yourself at an impasse, there’s a simple way to break the logjam. Listen … acknowledge … align. Then, state what you need. Don’t be surprised when you get it.


This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!

It’s All Small Stuff

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

Have you found yourself hijacked by a moment? Reflecting back to October 2012, Andrea shares one of the many opportunities she has had to practice patience with herself – another reminder for us all to practice self-care.

by Andrea Chilcote

This week I have had ample opportunities to practice patience with myself. If you are someone who, like me, expects much of yourself on a daily basis, you might relate to the way I felt in the midst of my predicament on Monday night.

Upon arriving in Jacksonville, Florida at 10 pm, I proceeded to the rental car counter. As I have done thousands of times before, I opened my wallet to produce my driver’s license. It was not there.

Unable to believe it was lost, I began to frantically search my various bags – purse, briefcase, the pockets of my suitcase – even though I would not have put it there. The kind agent suggested that I must have used it to get through security. I replied that I always use my passport for security, so as not to ever remove my license from my wallet, risking its loss.

Eventually I excused myself from the counter to search privately, to no avail. I sat, forcing myself to breathe and think. Upon doing so I recalled that I had put the license in the zippered pocket of my hiking pants before leaving on a remote back-country hike. Presumably it was still in Arizona, provided it had not been destroyed by the washer and dryer cycles it had endured.

I made my way back to the car rental counter where I canceled my car and asked for directions to the taxi stand. My hotel was 30 minutes away and my client’s office another 30, so I was facing some hefty taxi fares over the next two days.

Once in the cab, I immediately texted my husband Arthur and asked him to find my license. It was one thing to manage without it for two days, and quite another to face the lines at the DMV to get a new one. After some grousing (he claimed there were no hiking pants with zippered pockets to be found), he located it.

Five minutes into the ride, I realized I was shaking. That sensation “shook” me awake. I realized that, while inconvenient, this was a simple mistake. No one was harmed, and no consequences would come of it, except a large taxi bill. And while I considered the bill, I also considered the fact that my very appreciative and considerate client might even offer to drive me to and from the office – that is, if I told him the story. Hmmmm. It would take a lot for me to admit this personal failing.

In his classic book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff (and It’s All Small Stuff), Richard Carlson says that when we overreact and blow things out of proportion, we literally immobilize ourselves, rendering our problem-solving ability handicapped, and diminishing our results. That principle played out during my taxi ride.

By the time I reached my hotel, I had calmed myself to the point of perspective. This so-called problem was very, very small in the big scheme of life. I decided I would take a cab to the office in the morning and tell my client. (I practiced first with the hotel’s bellman who arranged for the morning cab, and he just smiled and seemed to not think less of me for having forgotten my driver’s license). As it turned out, my client lived near my hotel, was happy to shuttle me, and it gave us additional time for working conversations.

I don’t know if leaving your driver’s license behind would cause you to experience stress and self-judgment. I do believe that many of you – us – allow those kinds of thoughts and feelings to hijack otherwise peaceful and productive states of being. Your triggers and mine may be different, but unless you’re one of those people in the post office line, you know what I’m talking about. What I learned this week is that the experience of stress and impatience with my shortcomings is a choice, and choosing to transform it leads to better results. Try it if you dare.

You will never be completely free from life’s little annoyances,                                    but you can become free from feeling annoyed.                                               —Richard Carlson

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This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger.