You know those situations, it just feels like you’re getting nowhere with this person, which is likely true, and so the best avenue is the path of least resistance – avoid that person or retreat when you can’t. But what if you can’t avoid or retreat – the person has valuable skills to offer which you need – and interaction is necessary? Understanding why you feel as you do when you’re around this person and why they are the way they are is a big step in changing your discomfort.
Who is being described here? You might recognize him – and it usually is a male – the person that makes everyone uncomfortable, tense and rattled may not do or say anything concrete to complain about, but just being around him is unsettling. He is too close in proximity, although he may not actually touch you; his language is awkward, crude, inappropriate; he laughs at the wrong times and just misses the point in conversations; his questions are wrong and ones that no one else would dream of asking, and he doesn’t understand the answers; he tries too hard (embarrassing) or won’t try at all (infuriating); he is big, clumsy, erratic in behavior and appearance, so being out in public with him is agony; he keeps everyone in turmoil much of the time. But he is needed and provides a valuable function – he’s almost indispensible.
The hard part is that he will never change – his adult personality is locked in. The good part is that you do have a way to deal with him. This situation is simply a language difference – once you understand him better your behavior towards him will change. He is not being purposefully obstinate, uncooperative, crude, vulgar, or deliberatively uncooperative. He is simply touch-dominant in a world of largely successful sight and hearing dominant colleagues. We reward the visual and auditory dominants with good grades in school, promotions at work, and positive reinforcement to keep doing what they’re doing. Our “don’t touch!” society rejects the touch-dominant individuals and unjustly punishes them repeatedly until they are beaten down so far that they can’t change. This ‘language’ difference is the real reason for his behavior, not some inner motive to make your life miserable.
If you were to pretend that the language barrier is that he speaks little or poor English, you wouldn’t be half as annoyed with him – you would know that communicating with him would be difficult and misunderstandings were probable. You would make an extra effort with him, try harder and be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when needed if he weren’t a native speaker. You would try to work things out without having bad feelings and work to get the job done. So it can be with the touch-dominant colleague. Have some faith that it isn’t a person problem; it’s a language communication problem. Sensory language has more influence than most know to give credit for.
COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY: We all have a dominant language, which we retreat into most severely when we are upset or under stress. Touch-dominant people have little room to move because all they have to relate to is feelings and emotions. To make matters worse, they are in a minority in the general population and others have a hard time relating to their touch dominance. With nowhere to ‘go’, few others to relate to, touch dominant individuals can be at a real disadvantage in communicating with work colleagues who simply don’t like or ‘get’ their world.