Guest Post: Acceptance by Association

Contributed by Brett Hunkins

I recently watched a group of students conduct a feedback exercise and I was struck by something I consistently heard in their discussions.  It’s something I’ve heard before and therefore it may just reflect an emerging speech pattern, but I’m suspicious there’s more meaning to it than that.  If I’m right, it can serve to hinder meaningful communication.

What I heard was an explanatory statement beginning with the words, “I’m the type of person that . . . ”  to explain something personal.  At times this was followed by something extremely generic that anybody could say, almost as broad as “I’m the type of person that likes to breathe.”  At others, it was a far narrower observation almost like, “I’m the type of person that prefers crunchy peanut butter to be spread by a fork using the left hand while standing on the right foot.”

The striking part of this approach is that it sidesteps offering a statement that is truly personal which makes the substitution of “I’m the type of person…” a highly ineffective interpersonal technique.

At the generic extreme, the approach provides almost nothing of use to the recipient because the Hiding behind a mask statement is so broad that it reveals nothing personal about the speaker.  The interesting thing in the feedback exercise is why the speaker would not make that a personal statement because of its broad appeal.  “I like to breathe” isn’t all that different from “I’m the type of person that likes to breathe”, except for the fact that it strips away the sense of a group association.

At the narrow end, it’s inhibiting to communication because the listener likely has no idea what TYPE of person is being described…who, after all, would have known anyone who exhibited that behavior?  And the sender’s apparent belief that there IS such a “type” simply functions as a kind of preemptive validation, likely showing that any response has to get through some walls.  I notice that students sometimes present themselves to me in similar ways. 

I’m working on finding responses that cause the conversation to get more personal and to the point, like “tell me more about that,” or “I’m not sure what type of person that is…tell me what it means to you.”

In any event, it is important for leaders to not fall into the speech pattern themselves, and to help others communicate in more personal ways.  A culture that lacks communication is bad – -one that lacks communication while appearing not to is worse.

Let me know what you see on this topic.  I’m the type of person that is interested in your thoughts.   Brett


Brett Hunkins is an Associate Professor at the DeVos Graduate School of Management at Northwood University in Midland, Michigan.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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