When I was younger, it was really difficult for me to form lasting friendships. I used to think the problem was entirely outside of me; I had no control over other people and the fact that they were…well… flawed. But I saw other women that had these awesome, intimate friendships. Unfortunately, these popular women didn’t want to be friends with me.
So what was the common thread throughout all of these failed friendships? Hmmm… let me see… looking back, I think I’d have to say… it was… me.
Well, that is the good news AND the bad news. The bad news is that I’ve been deep-sixing my possible friendships since elementary school. I have no one to blame but myself. The good news is that I only have control over one thing in this life and that is myself; what I think, how I act, how I choose to respond in any given situation. The good news is that I had the power to change this.
I think much of it boils down to how my brain is wired. While I can’t change that, I can understand it better and make allowances for others that don’t think the way I do.
1. External vs. Internal Processors
I’m an external processor; this means that I can figure things out better when I’m talking about them. Internal processors need to think about things quietly until they get it sorted out. One thing I’ve learned is that EXTERNAL processors tend to drive INTERNAL processors BONKERS.
I’m thinking, “Gosh, I asked her a question and she’s just sitting there, staring at me! She must not understand me. I’ll explain it again in a different way and give her an example of what I mean.”
Meanwhile, she’s thinking, “Good gravy. I wish she’d shut up so I can think about how to answer her!”
2. Processor Speed
I have heard that people tend to speak at the same rate they process information. This has nothing to do with intelligence; people who talk really fast do so because their brains are zipping through a thousand thoughts every minute. We will get the answer faster than a person who thinks more slowly. However, we are also more likely to get the answer wrong.
I am a fast processor, so when I ask a question of an internal/slow processor, the 10 seconds I wait for them to answer seems like FOREVER. It has been torture for me to learn to give others the space and respect they need to formulate the answer they want to share.
I’m thinking, “He’s just staring into space. Was he even listening? And? Sheesh! What’s taking so long?! It was a simple question! Okay, slow it down… give him room… how long has it been? Somebody kill me. This is taking waaaay too long…” And that’s just what goes through my head in the first 2 seconds.
Meanwhile, he’s thinking, “That was a good question.”
“How shall I answer that?”
And that takes about 10 seconds… and he hasn’t even begun to think about the actual answer.
While this is excruciatingly painful for me, it has been a tremendous growing experience in how to respect others for who they are without expecting them to do things my way. I am still working really hard at recognizing these folks when I first meet them so I don’t overwhelm them.
3. Verbal vs. Non-verbal
I’m a WRITER. That means that I like stories. If I ask what you did last week, I’m giving you the opening to share your adventure. It doesn’t have to be an epic tale; my ex-husband can have you laughing until you can’t breath about a trip to the gas station. It’s mostly fiction of course, but it’s highly entertaining.
Then there are the non-verbal folks. I ask a question and the answer I receive is short enough to fit in a fortune cookie. Then there is silence as we glance awkwardly around the room.
I’m thinking, “Either this guy is really dull, or he doesn’t want to interact with me. This is incredibly uncomfortable. Jeez. Why won’t he open up a little? I’m trying so hard to draw him into a conversation! Why can’t he give a little?!”, and a billion other thoughts over the next 15 seconds of agony.
He’s thinking, “(nothing)”.
It sounds so simple, but if your brain is as hyperactive as mine, you have to remind yourself that silence is not the sound of failure. Just because we are not engaged in lively conversation, it doesn’t mean that the other person is thinking bad thoughts about me. It’s also unlikely that the silence is as awful for them as it is for me.
It is okay.
I’m much better about not filling up that silence now, but it still makes me uncomfortable.
4. Internal Editor
There’s that place in our brains that considers stuff before it comes out of our mouths. Some people keep theirs clamped down so tightly, virtually nothing passes their lips. Let’s give them a “1”. Then there are those folks (God bless them) that seem to be missing theirs entirely. We’ll give them a “10”. I’ve spent much of my life at about an “8”.
I’m thinking, “It’s real, it happened to me, that’s the way it is, that’s what I’m thinking, so I should just be HONEST and share it.”
Unfortunately, the other guy is frequently thinking, “Ahh! Why did she tell me that?!”
I’ve been working at monitoring my internal editor and adjusting it to the level of the other people in the conversation. Until I get to know somebody (and I can see that they want my honesty), I try to keep it at about a “5”.
All of this might sound like I’m being phony. That’s not how I see it. My goal is to create an environment where others feel at ease, comfortable, and I want them to feel good about themselves when they are around me. Don’t you like to be around people that give you the opportunity to feel that way? All of these changes I’m making in myself are founded in learning to appreciate and respect the way we are different, and to love people just as they are.
But I have to say… I have much more fun with fast, external processing, verbal people with loose internal editors.
And that’s okay.
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