Communication Quiz Results: Your Loved One Is a Contemplator
What Is a Contemplator?
Contemplators pay attention to detail and love to make sure that everything is just so. If your contemplator hosted Thanksgiving, he had the whole meal, who was bringing what, and even the seating arrangement planned ahead of time. In the workforce, your contemplator may have worked in a lab or as an accountant. Contemplators thrive in fields where attention to detail and planning is rewarded, and where facts and analysis triumph over feelings and impulse.
In retirement, if your contemplator has a hobby, she’ll focus on it and impress you with her skills—not because she cares about impressing you, but because she cares about getting things right. She holds herself and others to high standards, and is wounded to the core when those standards aren’t met. She likes to prepare for the worst so that she can succeed in difficult situations. However, sometimes this mental preparation can seem like unnecessary worrying or brooding to an observer.
Contemplators have a vision and work to make reality match it, but they can get discouraged when life doesn’t go as well as they hoped. Once they’re disappointed, they have trouble moving beyond the hurt, and may need you to help them refocus on the big picture. Because they try to focus on facts and avoid emotion, they may store up bad feelings until they explode into a torrent of tears and accusations. You may feel like the explosion has come from nowhere, but contemplators aren’t hasty people. By the time a contemplator lets you know what he’s feeling, he’s been steeped in that emotion for a very long time.
Communicating with a Contemplator
The following are a few general tips to keep in mind in any conversation with your loved one.
- Lay out problems in a detailed and orderly manner. Contemplators like to wrestle with difficult problems, but they need all the data first, and they prefer that information to be organized and logical. Avoid tangents, and focus on the details your contemplator needs to solve the problem.
- Be truthful and forthright in your conversations. Don’t dance around the point or attempt to spare the contemplator’s feelings. They find these sorts of evasions aggravating and would rather you just get to the point so that they can think about what you have to say.
- Give breathing space before you expect a response. Contemplators need time to take in information, examine it, and then formulate a response to your questions or concerns. If you rush them, you’ll leave them stressed and unable to think. Giving them time and space can help your conversation go more smoothly.
- Ask them what they’re thinking and feeling. Contemplators tend to lock feelings away until they can’t hold them in anymore. Then all the feelings come out at once, in an exhausting and damaging torrent. Ask your contemplator how they’re feeling often, so they remember to express their emotions before they reach a crisis point.
- Show empathy when they share concerns and worries. The constant stream of concerns and worries voiced by a contemplator leads some people to try to brush off their concerns or to tell them to look on the bright side. Contemplators don’t need cheering up, they need empathy. Their worries are a way of preparing for an uncertain future. Let them know you share their concern, and let them give voice to the details of their fears.
- Try to bring a big-picture view to the discussion. Contemplators tend to focus on details, and they’re great at handling them. Sometimes this strength can be a weakness. When a big decision needs to be made, your contemplator may need help in moving beyond details to the bigger picture. Try to remind them that if you work out the broad lines now, you can fill in the details later.
- Use humor to bring them out of themselves and their worries. Contemplators need time to think, but focusing on the little things can sometimes drag them down into a fatalistic world view. Gentle humor can draw them back to the present without belittling or irritating them. Keep humor focused on the situation, not on the contemplator.
- Speak in ways that show your appreciation and affirmation. Contemplators can be hard on people who don’t live up to their expectations, but they’re hardest on themselves. They often brush away compliments because they feel that they’re underserved, but they still need appreciation and affirmation. Help your contemplator know that they are loved and appreciated, even when things aren’t going according to plan.
While these tips and tricks apply to any conversation with any contemplator, they’re especially helpful when you need to communicate with an aging relative or loved one about difficult topics. Retirement gives contemplators more time to focus on the places where reality doesn’t match their expectations. With fewer distractions, they can have the time to delve into long forsaken hobbies or new endeavors, but they may also find themselves brooding about the state of their health, relationships, and incomplete plans.
You can help your contemplator by representing the big picture when they’re bogged down with details. Give them the love, affirmation, and the perspective they need to thrive and develop realistic expectations.
The links below explore how you can communicate effectively with your contemplator about the following specific concerns:
Institute on Aging Blog
Karyn Skultety, PhD
Executive Director, Openhouse SF