Personality and gender differences are often referred to as a means of better understanding people. Another one is to appreciate different communication styles. Although it may be simplistic to boil these down to a mere two, the fact that much interpersonal conflict centres around two parties typically approaching life differently, simple therefore becomes helpful! So, if we consider a line that marks off the difference between those who are more inclined to talk aloud versus to process privately, we gain a helpful understanding of relationship problems.
Those who process life ‘above the line’ tend mostly to process decisions and issues in the open, as if to invite a shared journey of seeking to arrive at a final decision. Each moment of conversational intensity then becomes a ‘draft’ opinion. Those who process more privately – ‘below the line’ – can tend to feel threatened, especially if in a relationship with them, as they perceive the draft to be unnecessarily dogmatic or detailed, or to be a harsh ‘end view’ version of what actually becomes modified for others. Below the line listeners can feel nagged or pressured by more extreme statements about others people or by strong views than the more modified public stance that others get to hear.
‘Below the line’ people can tend to be so private that they virtually withdraw, especially if they feel threatened. ‘Man cave’ retreats and some women’s safe cocoons of avoidance can represent unhealthy default responses to life. These have ‘above the line’ people wondering why they can’t be allowed to process matters together, which can be frustrating in close relationships.
The goal is for ‘below the line’ people to allow themselves some process time, whilst also confronting past communication risks that have not paid off. In other words, a risk then needs to be taken to become vulnerable enough to communicate openly, whilst owning feelings and emotions as their own. ‘Above the line’ people need, though, to be aware of how their conversational pressure can push for responses from the more private communicators not yet ready to engage. They need to be appreciated for their desire to invite others on a journey of discovery, but to also realise that not everyone likes the implications of such a ride. It therefore becomes important to be aware that drawing quieter people out warrants the creation of safe conversations in which we are ‘quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to become angry’ (James 1:19).