You Are a Contemplator
You are strong, caring, and appreciate that details matter. You like to understand what can go wrong in a situation before making a choice. You find that focusing on pitfalls and creating a dramatic narrative can help spur you on to make tough decisions and overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. You can be tough and demanding, but you’re loyal and love fiercely.
You hate watching people fail because they ignored your warnings, and sometimes you have trouble letting go of the past. Sometimes, you can fall into nagging or haranguing. While nagging yourself may spur you on, it can cause some personalities to shut down. When you communicate with other personality types, it’s important to try to find common ground, take a step back to see the big picture, and to try not to deflate the hopes of others just because you can see all of the potential failures that await them.
The best way to communicate with others depends not just on your communicator type, but also on theirs. Below, you’ll find tips for communicating with each personality.
Even when someone shares your communication type, it can be challenging to converse well and reach decisions together. You’re both focused on details, so it’s easy to miss the big picture and a host of workable solutions. You’re both perfectionists, so may not want to make a less-than-ideal choice, even when your ideal doesn’t exist. You both thrive on drama, and so it’s possible to fall into a rabbit hole of what-ifs while losing sight of what is.
When you’re helping another contemplator deal with concerns related to aging, it’s important to take a step away from your natural style in order to help them find comfort and find solutions.
Quick Tips for Contemplator-Contemplator Conversations
- DO try to avoid delving too far into what-ifs. Focus on the actual facts as you know them.
- DO acknowledge that a decision must be made. Set a deadline for the decision.
- DO work together to develop solutions to potential problems.
- DO feel free to ask a third party who is more of a ‘big picture’ type for advice.
- DO NOT allow yourselves to get so involved in potential bad outcomes that you forget to look for potential good outcomes.
When Two Contemplators Talk, It’s Important to Have Boundaries and Rules
You and your loved one are both contemplators. He gets you. He’s the only one who understands why disaster is looming and why only proper planning will avert it. When everyone else is telling you to look outside, it’s a beautiful day, he understands why you grab your umbrella on the way out the door.
The same thought patterns that help you understand each other can be counterproductive when it’s time to make big, uncomfortable decisions about his health, finances, or personal life. To facilitate this decision-making, you may have to take a step back from your natural style. Listen to his list of potential roadblocks, but don’t pile on with your own. Instead, ask leading questions like “What can we do to overcome that problem?”
Try to focus on the bigger picture. Since this is hard for both of you, consider having your discussions with a whiteboard or other writing tool in the room. You can write a description of the issue in large letters across the top. For example, “THE CURRENT PULMONOLOGIST ISN’T HELPING.” Then, if the conversation veers off into unrelated or marginally related details, you’ll both have a reminder to pull you back on track.
If your perfectionist tendencies and wont to worry are getting in the way, it’s okay to call in a third person to help facilitate the conversation and decision making. Find someone who’s good at big ideas and thinking outside of the box to help nudge the two of you out of your focused view and back on track. It can be hard making decisions as a contemplator-contemplator pair, but with extra effort, you can help your loved one navigate concerns related to health, finance, and personal life.
You love details and focusing on what can go wrong. She soars above it all, focusing on the goal and ignoring obstacles until they impede her progress. You both love the challenge and excitement of a good fight. Criticism only spurs the two of you onward. In many ways, a contemplator working with an assertor is a great team.
You want your loved one to make decisions, and you have the skills necessary to support and troubleshoot those decisions, and you both care more about being right than pleasing other people. However, problems can erupt when you and the assertor disagree about goals, or when the assertor chooses an option that you don’t like. Even when you’re working together, you may cause disunion among a larger family group, as other communication types can feel left out and marginalized when the two of you get to work.
Finally, you like to make calm, considered decisions, while the assertor can be more of a ‘snap judgment’ type. You’ll need to match your pacing and skills to hers if you want to reach the best possible decision.
Quick Tips for Contemplator-Assertor Conversations
- DO come prepared with relevant facts. The assertor won’t want to wait for you to gather information.
- DO take time to listen to their view before you launch into yours.
- DO try to make them aware of important details.
- DO think about how the decision-making process affects others in your circle of family and friends.
- DON’T try to highlight every possible negative outcome. Focus on the 3-5 most important obstacles to overcome.
Balance Personalities When a Contemplator Meets an Assertor
When you’re communicating with an assertor, your biggest challenge is to strike a balance and be prepared for quick action. Assertors are decisive. They allow a limited time for information gathering and thought, and then follow their gut impulses. You like to work decisions over, and may go back and forth a few times before you settle on your ideal solution.
To facilitate conversation with an assertor, come prepared. Gather your facts and information before you meet. Work through potential solutions ahead of time. Arrive at the conversation ready to listen, speak your piece, and make a decision.
If you feel as if your assertor is making a poor decision, outline your objections concisely, with a focus on the facts. If the ultimate decision is yours, not hers, expect pushback if she doesn’t agree with you. Explain your reasons for your decision as clearly and concisely as possible.
Both contemplators and assertors value being right more than they value reaching a consensus. If you and the assertor can’t agree on a decision, it’s a good idea to ask a third party to act as a moderator to help you both express your concerns and wishes, and to suggest possible compromises. Remember, when you’re dealing with aging loved ones, the ultimate goal is not to be right or to win, but to meet their needs respectfully and lovingly.
You want to take your time and work through every possible pitfall to ensure that you’ve made the perfect choice. They want to decide quickly and move on. You’re focused on learning from past experience; they live in the moment. You’re desperate to convey just how bad the situation could turn out to be; they’re telling you to cheer up and look on the bright side of life.
When a focused, perfectionist contemplator has to deal with an easy-breezy demonstrator, expect frustration and hurt feelings. You can help the conversation along by taking a deep breath and a step back as you try to see the situation from their perspective. At the same time, your focus on details and deadlines means that you can ensure a decision gets made now, instead of being kicked down the road until the demonstrator is forced to focus.
Quick Tips for Contemplator-Demonstrator Conversations
- DO give the contemplator time to ramble and express emotion before you get to the point.
- DO expect grand plans, brainstorms, and tangents. This is how demonstrators work through a decision.
- DO remind the demonstrator of important details and try to make sure the decision is somewhat grounded in reality.
- DO try to balance your worries with their eternal optimism to reach a realistic view of the problem.
- DON’T start out by stating your preference forcefully, or the demonstrator may be reluctant to express their preferences.
Contemplators Need a Light Touch When Dealing with Demonstrators
If you’re a contemplator, dealing with your demonstrator can be maddening. They won’t stay focused, stick to the schedule, or even acknowledge how bad things will be. They don’t just tell themselves that everything will work out for the best—they actually seem to believe it. As a contemplator, you may feel like it’s your job to get them to face the harsh realities in front of them and to admit that the future is full of negative consequences. But don’t.
Trying to make the demonstrator see things your way won’t facilitate communication or decision making. It will just create a dynamic where the demonstrator feels the need to cheer you up and accentuate the positive. You’ll both become mired in a cycle of “Yes, but…” and no decisions will be made.
If you’re trying to help a demonstrator make a major life decision, it helps to see your role as advisor and facilitator. You don’t have to introduce everything that could go wrong. Instead, focus on major issues and roadblocks and encourage the demonstrator to come up with a plan that deals with them. You may need to refocus the conversation several times, but the plus is that the demonstrator will make a decision and move on.
Keep the discussion light and low-drama. Resist your tendency to try to make things more exciting or to give the discussion more weight. Avoid talk of looming deadlines or urgent needs. Demonstrators hate being boxed in, and the more you emphasize urgency and severity, the harder it will be to get them to buckle down and make decisions.
Once a demonstrator has made a choice, resist your urge to keep talking it over and dissecting it. If the demonstrator is satisfied, that’s good enough. It doesn’t have to be a perfect solution as long as it’s an agreeable solution. Finally, if you want the demonstrator to express their opinion freely, let them speak first. Because demonstrators prefer to avoid conflict at all costs, if you voice your preference first, the demonstrator may simply shut down and agree with you to head off a potential argument.
You both like to take your time, contemplate facts, and look at possible problems. However, while you approach potential problems as warnings, the narrator sees them as engineering challenges. This can be frustrating, since the narrator keeps trying to fix things that, for you, are more expressions of uncertainty and worry as you work towards finding the ideal course. Narrators also enjoy perfection, but they’re completely happy to readjust reality to achieve it.
When you’re working well together, you can conquer obstacles and transform a mediocre plan into a great one. However, you both like to take your time and work through every possible option, so you may need a big-picture person on call to help you keep your conversations on target.
Quick Tips for Contemplator-Narrator Conversations
- DO try to keep you both focused on the present, not past mistakes or future strategies.
- DO use praise as a motivator.
- DO set a deadline for a decision so that you both have to reach a conclusion.
- DO expect them to see the problems you highlight as puzzles to solve.
- DON’T criticize or make personal attacks. Negativity can make a narrator shut down.
When Contemplators and Narrators Communicate Well, Solutions Happen
When you need to communicate with a narrator, it’s important to think before you speak. Negative and accusatory language won’t motivate a narrator. Instead, they respond by putting up walls and withdrawing from a perceived confrontation. To keep narrators engaged and interested, focus on the problem to be solved, not attacks on people.
You may have the tendency to list the negatives of a potential action as a way to show that it’s not a workable option. Be careful. A narrator will take that list of negatives as a challenge, and try to engineer solutions to each of them. Because narrators value consensus, you’ll reach an agreement more quickly if you just state your preference, rather than if you try to convince them that your way is the only right way.
You both love facts and research, so when you approach a problem together you’re likely to enrich and deepen each other’s understanding of the issues. Narrators are especially strong at planning and strategic thinking, which can be especially helpful when you’re dealing with the financial concerns of aging.
When the two of you see the same problems and are willing to work through them, a contemplator and a narrator can become an extraordinarily strong team. Your one weakness will be a tendency to focus on details and lose sight of the larger problem. To keep the big picture in mind, consider setting a deadline or bringing in a third party to help you remember the ultimate goal of your discussions.
Institute on Aging Blog
Karyn Skultety, PhD
Executive Director, Openhouse SF