Directing—Informing, a Powerful Polarity

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Last night I had a dream in which I was trying to get the attention of a large group of people I was supposed to be training. Finally I was so frustrated I yelled, “What I’m going to tell you, will change your life forever!” (or something like that). They all quieted down and I proceeded to tell them about the impact that recognizing their unconscious preferences for either Directing or Informing communications could have.

Directing communications are aimed at getting something done in a timely way. The consciousness behind Directing is one of either wanting to achieve a result or manifest an envisioned result. Consequently, there is comfort telling people what to do, or to do something, or ask directly. There is a sense of urgency that is communicated in voice tone as well as choice of words. The closer to a deadline the more likely the language will be forceful. Directing communication serves the drives and aims of the In-Charge and Chart-the-Course Interaction Styles so people with these styles may unconsciously apply some version of Directing communications even when it is not called for.

Informing communications are aimed at getting buy-in and leaving the option to act open. The consciousness behind Informing is either one of wanting to get involvement or more information. There is a comfort with just giving some information with no urgency for others to act. Openness is communicated in voice tone as well as choice of words and phrasing. When there is deadline pressure, the tendency is to repeat the information, only a bit louder or more often. Informing communications meet the drives and aims of the Get-Things-Going and Behind-the-Scenes Interaction Styles so people with these styles may use Informing communications regardless of the situational need.

Clearly some situations really need Directing communications and some need Informing communications. And there is the rub. We have a preference for one kind of communication over the other so we tend to be blind to the situational need and do what we naturally prefer. We unconsciously project our own preferences on the situation, then when others don’t act according to what we expect we get impatient or angry.

Sometimes we don’t differentiate what we want from what we intend.

Here is a recent example from my own life. I am in a nine-month program called Generating Transformational Change and in a sub group charged with a task to present something at our next retreat. We are spread all over the globe and were communicating via email. Typical of me in my Behind-the-Scenes Interaction Style, I held back and waited to see what others wanted to do. This waiting involves more that my Informing preference, but the way I communicated it didn’t. One person posted an idea and got a little feedback. I posted a couple of times that my time was limited closer to the event and we needed to get started. No one came forth with an idea or a suggestion to get started. Then I created a straw man suggestion for people to respond to and there was no response other than one person wanted to have a conversation via Skype. That was all she said, so I got a bit angry, set up Doodle scheduling for when I thought people would be ready. No one replied, but another person said, let’s just schedule a call rather than see who can be there. Then action got started, finally, the call was set up and we had three productive calls, but still aren’t done and the retreat is next week. It will all work out and I’m pressure prompted so that is fine. Yet, was the frustration necessary and the waste of my time setting up the scheduling?

In relation to my own Informing preference, I’ve known about this for a long time. Why didn’t I act differently? The big learning for me was as I became aware of my anger and frustration and realized that I could easily have tuned in to the task and made a suggestion sooner rather than just repeating the information about my situation. I just didn’t even think about what actions to take or what to communicate to get to the task sooner. That was outside my awareness and my intention wasn’t clear. So lesson learned.

Now to balance that out, I’ll share an old story of working with a colleague with an In-Charge style. We had adjoining rooms and in the morning we would open the door to communicate our ideas and when we were ready etc. I hear her say with a rather crisp tone, “Are you ready yet?” It wasn’t the words that prompted me to think I should hurry up, it was the tone of voice. I was almost ready so I went in to her room and she wasn’t ready. Now I’m thinking, “So why did she rush me?” It turns out that her intention wasn’t to rush me, but to get information so she knew how much time she had. But the strong time and task orientation was still in her voice and I interpreted that instead of her intention. As we worked together, this kind of thing happened frequently and sometimes I called it out and sometimes, she moderated her voice tone. Since we teach these differences, adjustments to each other came fairly easily.

Neither of these situations caused deep rifts in the relationships, but imagine what would happen if these kinds of misinterpretations and miscommunications kept occurring over and over. What if I didn’t have the language and framework to take the heat out of them? In the first situation, that group doesn’t have the language for me to discuss it with them, but I could quickly reframe it. In the case with my colleague, I did that reframing and we also talked about it and had a good laugh.

My insight from the dream is how understanding this polarity could make major shifts in relationships. We need both sides of the polarity and we can learn to blend our communications so information is provided and timeliness is emphasized. Or we can become aware of what the needed intention is and communicate in a different manner when the situation needs it. It is a simple concept to understand on the surface and yet there is a lot of depth behind it. We can use it to become aware of our projections as well as how to change our behaviors. We can pay attention to group norms that have emerged and recognize how we are contributing to maintaining them or if the group would function better if we changed those norms.

Yes it can be the leverage point for some significant change. And those people in my dream were better off for listening to me.

Note: This is not a simple task vs people orientation as one might expect. There are those with Directing preferences who are also people oriented (INFJ and ENFJ in type terms) and those with Informing preferences who are oriented to principles which may seem not people oriented (INTP and ENTP in type terms). See my blog post on Task vs People