You Are an Assertor
You are an assertor! You’re an outgoing, big-picture thinker who was born to lead. You take charge, make decisions, and don’t have time for hesitation or details. In a crisis, other people often look to you to set the course and solve the problem. You favor facts over feelings, and pride yourself on your forthright style of speaking. You’re a talker and a doer. You’re full of energy and like to be in the middle of the action. You’re bold, brash, and memorable. You accept the consequences of your actions, but you never let past failures hold you back.
However, sometimes your decisive nature can leave other people feeling railroaded. It’s important to remember that your natural ‘style’ is a tendency, not a destiny, and that you can, and should, slow down, take time to listen, and weigh your responses when you’re involved in a discussion with friends and family. This is especially important for emotionally stressful issues like the financial, personal, and health concerns surrounding the aging process. Take the time to educate yourself about your loved one’s communication style, and how to best interact with it.
Below, you’ll find specific tips for communicating with each personality style when you’re an assertor.
This is one of the most volatile communication pairings. You’re both used to being in charge and making decisions. When you agree on a problem and a solution, you can implement it very quickly. However, when you disagree, a discussion can quickly devolve into a shouting match.
Quick Tips for Assertor-Assertor Conversations:
- DO remind yourself to be a silent listener for some of the time.
- DO take your loved one’s point of view and decisions seriously.
- DO feel free to treat it like a debate, with each side making points.
- DO recruit an objective ‘moderator’ if necessary.
- DO NOT treat this as a contest, where you must win and your loved one must lose. You are co-presidents here, not opponents.
Communicating Between Leaders Requires Diplomatic Skills
To communicate with a loved one who is also an assertor, it helps to wait your turn. Let your loved one go first, and explain his view of the problem and potential solutions. Then you can have a turn, explaining your view, and your preferred solution.
If you and your loved one have an especially tense relationship, it may help to recruit a ‘debate moderator’ to make sure that you each take the time to listen to the other’s observations and suggestions. Remember, your ultimate goal should be to accompany your loved one as he makes decisions, not to steer him into your preferred path. It’s OK if you need to have multiple conversations to reach a good decision, and it’s fine to get frustrated and walk away for a while. This is not a contest that you have to win.
You like quick, snappy decisions and big-picture thinking. You’re positive everything will turn out fine, and if not, you’ll deal with problems as they arise. Meanwhile, your loved one, as a contemplator, needs time to reach a decision, works through all the details, and wants to anticipate any possible failures. Together, you can be a great team, but only if you let the contemplator have her say.
Quick Tips for Assertor-Contemplator Conversations
- DO prepare for a long discussion. Quick decisions make a contemplator feel pushed and uneasy.
- DO expect a lot of questions and concerns about details that, to you, seem minor and off-task.
- DO allow the contemplator to ‘worry through’ all the decision trees without minimizing her concerns.
- DO be willing to set a reasonable deadline for a decision, but think days and weeks, not hours and minutes.
- DO NOT become frustrated with the slow pace and lose your temper. Stay calm if you want the contemplator to hear and respond to your concerns.
Give and Take Is Key When Assertor Meets Contemplator
If opposites attract, assertors and contemplators should be in great shape. However, the disparity in their conversation styles can make for a high-conflict situation, especially since neither assertors nor contemplators tend to seek consensus or back down when challenged.
When you’re on the same page, your big picture thinking can combine with their tendency to focus on pitfalls and details to craft excellent solutions to any problem. When you disagree, you may need to step back and relax so that you can sort out each other’s concerns and goals.
To communicate with the contemplators in your life, take the time to listen to their read on the situation. Try to understand why they’re so concerned with certain details, and do not downplay or minimize their complaints. See where they fit into your big-picture view of the situation. You can let their views enrich and deepen yours. After they’ve stated their case, try to help them zoom out and see how their ideas affect the larger project.
Try to avoid heated conflict, since, while you both thrive on it, it won’t help you reach a mutually agreeable decision. Navigating the issues surrounding aging isn’t a win-lose situation, so you don’t need to try to score points. Instead, try to explore options and avoid pitfalls, together.
Remember that contemplators want to be heard and they want you to understand why they are worried about specific outcomes. Incorporate preparations for their feared negative results into your plans, and you’ll both be happier with the final decision.
It’s easy to simply make a decree and expect the peaceful, consensus-loving demonstrator to accept your decision, but that won’t lead to healthy long-term outcomes. When your loved one is a demonstrator, you need to make a special effort to hear his point of view and to understand his emotions.
Quick Tips for Assertor-Demonstrator Conversations
- DO ask questions that let the demonstrator express opinions without feeling boxed in.
- DO wait for the demonstrator to express a preference before stating your own.
- DO stay positive, and compliment the demonstrator throughout the conversation.
- DO find a third party to help you focus on details, since the two of you are big-picture people and might miss something.
- DON’T try to force the demonstrator to immediately accept your preferred solution.
Assertors Need a Light Touch to Avoid Pressuring Demonstrators
Sweet, sunny demonstrators hate disappointing people. They seek consensus. In a high-stress situation, they tend to put the other person’s needs and wants ahead of their own. As an assertor communicating with a demonstrator, your challenge is to keep them on task yet give them a safe space to express their own concerns and preferences.
You can help a demonstrator stay focused on the current discussion by asking open-ended questions that let them express their opinions and feelings. For instance, instead of saying “Do you want to eat Thai food or Ethiopian food tonight?” it’s better to phrase the question as, “What sort of food are you in the mood for?” While you may eventually narrow the decision down to the same two choices, demonstrators feel more valued when you leave room for spontaneity.
If you express your own preferences for an outcome at the outset (for instance, “I want you to move into my condo development”), you may never hear the demonstrator’s reasons for his preferences or even learn what his preferences are. Let him explain his position, then suggest an outcome that takes his needs and feelings into account. Stay positive and avoid language that sounds like you’re making an attack. Demonstrators go to great lengths to avoid conflict and prefer situations in which everyone wins.
Finally, since you’re both big-picture thinkers, consider bringing in a more detail-oriented person to help you consider your options, especially for important or life-changing decisions. This will help balance out some of the natural weaknesses of an assertor-demonstrator team.
You care about the big picture. She wants to discuss details. You thrive on conflict. She strives to build consensus. When your loved one is a narrator, it can seem like she’s opposed to everything you stand for. Or she would be, if she wasn’t so darned conciliatory all the time. However, if you’re willing to hold some of your gut reactions in check, you’ll find that your contrary communication styles can lead to a strong decision-making process.
Quick Tips for Assertor-Narrator Conversations
- DO begin the conversation ready to take your time and talk through details as well as larger goals.
- DO respect the narrator’s love of strategy and long-term planning.
- DO avoid confrontational language. Instead, use praise and supportive language.
- DO expect the narrator to examine the same issue from many different angles before reaching a decision.
- DON’T urge the narrator to hurry up or to do things your way. This will bring the conversation to a halt.
When Assertors Meet Narrators It’s Important to Take Time to Talk
You tend to see decisions as an obstacle course. You look at roadblocks, take the fastest route over or around them, and voila, you have the perfect plan. Meanwhile, narrators are all about details and strategy. They treat major decisions as a game of chess, mentally playing out the available options until they find the best way forward.
You’re willing to take great risks if there’s a chance of great gain; narrators are almost pathologically risk-averse. You want to lead and have everyone else fall into line, the narrator prefers to gradually build a consensus before acting. How on earth can such wildly disparate personalities hope to communicate well and make a decision together?
When you’re trying to talk with a narrator about important decisions, it’s important to take your time and to give them time to analyze the options. Ideally, you should think in terms of several ‘meetings’ (narrators do well with meetings). Take the first meeting to state the problem and the roadblocks you see, the second to discuss what you see as acceptable solutions and what paths the narrator sees forward, and the third to come to a decision.
You can’t force a narrator to act faster, so your best bet is to plan for a decision to take a while. Think of the first two meetings as the ‘information gathering stage.’ You can act as project leader, but until the narrator has a chance to complete her research and strategy, it’s impossible to proceed.
For more urgent decisions, you can still follow this strategy. Just compress the timeline into hours instead of days or weeks, and give the narrator a clear deadline. Narrators work well under pressure, but not if the people around them insist on creating drama. So give them a goal and a schedule, and then respect them and their space.
If you enter the final conversation ready to listen to the results of the narrator’s information and thought processes, you’ll be able to choose a course of action that empowers the narrator, satisfies you, and is ultimately better than what you would have come up with on your own.
Institute on Aging Blog
Karyn Skultety, PhD
Executive Director, Openhouse SF