Education Week: Reconciling differences promotes effective connection with others

DialogueWORKS president John R. Stoker discussed different ways people communicate love and affection during an Education Week presentation on Wednesday, Aug. 17. (Maddi Dayton)

Understanding the differences in how individuals connect with others is the first step to improving the quality of a relationship, according to DialogueWORKS president John R. Stoker.

Stoker spoke about “the connection principle” in an Education Week presentation Wednesday, outlining differences in common ways people communicate love and affection.

“We are all uniquely different, thank heaven, but we ought to do a better job of talking to each other and understanding what our differences are,” Stoker said.

Stoker emphasized that everyone has a different communication style, which affects how people express and receive acceptance, affection and appreciation. He categorized these styles into four groups: initiators, builders, connectors and discoverers.

Stoker explained that initiators are action-oriented, often using words like “goals” and “results.” Builders are appreciation-oriented, and highly prioritize time spent associating with others. Connectors are relationship-oriented and are great listeners, but tend to shy away from attention. Discoverers are analysis-oriented and are driven by data and precision.

“The important thing is that you recognize that you’re different, and that those differences ought to be the impetus for holding conversation about those differences so that you don’t become offended,” Stoker said. “When we deal with people that are different than us, we often become critical and judgmental, and then if we don’t talk about what it is that we’re thinking and feeling, then those exacerbate over time.”

Each communication style determines a person’s values in eight categories of “interaction connections,” or methods of expressing and receiving affection, according to Stoker. These include time, gifts, service, empathy, physical, verbal, sharing and structure.

For example, an initiator using time to connect with someone would value having a plan and doing purposeful activities together, whereas a builder would prefer spending time associating with others and having fun together.

“Each of us has a different way of connecting with others,” Stoker said. “We want to deliberately and consciously make an effort to connect with the interaction style of others in those eight categories.”

After understanding differences in another’s communication style, Stoker said a person has two choices in improving a relationship: accepting the other person’s differences and not taking their behavior personally, or understanding which interaction connections are important to others and giving them what they want.

Stoker believes it is important that partners ask how they can help each other feel that they are cared and loved, as open communication can help people avoid problems in a relationship.

Above all, Stoker said it is vital to focus on shared divine potential rather than differences in a relationship.

“Even though we’re vastly different, every one of us is a child of God,” Stoker said.

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