Are you a perfectionist, a victim, a pleaser or an avoider? How you handle difficult conversations depends largely on your conflict personality type. In this episode, Amber Hawley and Maelisa Hall talk to podcaster, speaker, trainer, and author Lara Currie on having clear intentions and getting them across depending on the personality type of the person you’re having a conflict with. They also touch on pre-framing high tension situations and of letting go of control. Learn about the trouble of having assumptions and expectations that lead to judgment. If you didn’t do well in a conflict, take courage. Practice is key to getting better in dealing with difficult conversations.
Difficult Conversations And Your Conflict Personality With Lara Currie
We have a fun guest. I’m excited to talk to Lara Currie. Welcome, Lara.
Thank you. I’m happy to be here with you, guys.
This is a bit of an interesting relationship we all have going on right here because Lara was Amber’s one-night stand bestie at a conference.
We have an open relationship. She was my conference bestie at She Podcasts. We had a fantastic time.
We’ve all met before at events. I remember we were all eating dinner together. I was like, “Lara is cool.” I knew of you but didn’t sit down and talk to you. You’re super fun. Lara has The Difficult Happens podcast. She is all about dealing with difficult stuff. That’s what we’re going to be talking about. Lara, why don’t you tell us a little bit about the podcast and what you do. Why are you so focused on being difficult?
I was born that way, first of all. That’s funny that you mentioned the dinner where you’re like, “She’s cool.” That’s the shift that I get with everybody I meet. They must have this assumption of what I am and there’s this moment when they’re like, “She’s not what I thought.” I could see myself through other people’s eyes sometimes.
It must not have been that bad because otherwise, Maelisa would have coined you most improved player because when she finds somebody off-putting at first or things like, “This isn’t going to be great.” She lets them know they’re the most improved player. You were refreshingly cool.
Difficult conversations have always been a part of my life. I was raised in Seattle during a very tumultuous time and my family was very multicultural with a lot of deaf and deaf-blind people. Communication was paramount. The ways that people communicated, I understood from an early age, were very different and you communicated one way in one community and a different way in another community. At school, we were in the big experiment of busing. We had every culture known to man and every language spoken. It was interesting growing up.
I became a journalist at a college. I love journalism. I dove into Investigative Journalism about the time that it was being gutted and dying. After my boss sat me down and went over my paycheck and basically told me, “You’re great at what you do, but this won’t feed you.” I morphed into going into nonprofit communities. From there, I became a private investigator and a court-appointed child advocate in high-conflict divorces. For some reason, the arc of my career has always been in a high stress, high stakes fields. Difficult communication and difficult stuff are embedded in the very fiber of those jobs.
I know we’re not going to talk about this but personally, I could do a whole episode on being a PI. It would be so much fun. It would fulfill my lifelong dream of developing my spy skills. I feel it would be beneficial. Since we’re here for other people besides myself, we’re going to talk about you have this breadth of experience in so many different venues and having to have hard, difficult conversations in very serious places. You wanted to talk to us about when people are perfectionists and how they can improve their ability to have those difficult conversations.
We all have a conflict personality type. It’s specifically a conflict personality type because it only comes up when you’re in conflict, when you get that fight, flight, freeze or appease reaction.
I have not heard that fight, flight, freeze or appease.
They’ve added that because they’ve found that all people, specifically women, when you think of the community and what we’re all experiencing. They are noticing that one of the reactions is to appease in order to deflect any danger. When you think about it, those are defense mechanisms that are vital to human surviving this long. Those are all real reactions that we have. When it comes to your conflict personality type, all of those are going on whether you’re a perfectionist, a pleaser, a victim or an avoider. One of those personality types will come to the surface during a conflict.
Are those the four conflict personality types?
I do love that because as somebody who has a Master’s in Counseling Psychology and I’m also a certified domestic violence counselor, I had never heard the appease part. I knew fight, flight, freeze, which a lot of people don’t even know the freeze part, but that’s huge because it makes so much sense. Could you repeat those four conflict-personality types one more time for people since I interrupted?
We’ve got the pleaser, the perfectionist, the victim and the avoider. We all know one of them and we’ve all been one of them.
Do you think that people have a conflict-personality type that might switch depending on situations?
Definitely, there’s a real hierarchy in any community. I always call it the power, the peer or the pupil. In any conversation or interaction, you either have the power position or a peer, where you’re talking to one of your peers or the pupil position because I love alliteration. It depends on what your position is. You might switch between a pleaser or a perfectionist and again, a victim or avoider, but you’ll rarely switch between all four of them. You’ll have your go-to ones. Like me, I’m a pleaser. I’ll go in between pleasing and perfectionism depending on what the situation is.
It seems to be those two coupled together.
They’re antithesis to each other. It means that a perfectionist has the hardest time dealing with an avoider and a pleaser has the hardest time dealing with a victim. Those conflict personality types butt heads with each other. This is why I wanted to write the book, Difficult Happens: How Triggers Boundaries & Emotions Impact You Every Day, because I saw this arc play out over and over again. It didn’t matter if I was in the courtroom, whether I was interviewing someone, whether it was someone who was hiring me as a PI. These four conflict types continued to show up. It took me the arc of my career to be able to put it all together in a way that can help people because it’s like a bell that’s been rung.
Once you realize what’s happening in a difficult conversation, you can navigate it with so much more ease. It doesn’t mean it’s not going to be stressful because that’s the name of the game, part of the deal. You can have a plan and you can know, “This is for me. This is a victim.” I can’t fall into the people-pleasing mode like a perfectionist can morph into a controller, that’s their activated mode. That makes people step over other people’s boundaries. With a pleaser, you want to fix everything. That also steps over people’s boundaries more than likely your own.
In these communications or in these difficult situations, when you know I’m a pleaser, I’m dealing with a victim, just listen. They want to be heard. Don’t tell them what they need to do, “Try and fix it. Maybe try this or whatever.” Let them know that they’ve been heard. Let them verbally process what they need to at that moment and keep whatever your intention is at the front of your mind. Don’t have ten intentions. You can’t go in there with a whole suitcase of things you want to fix. When you go into a conflict or a difficult conversation, have one intention and get in and get out.
It makes so much sense because on the surface I was like, “How would that not work well?” That does make a lot of sense that if you’re a pleaser, you’d be pushing energy to try and do something. If someone wants to be heard and vent, that’s going to be annoying to them.
For a perfectionist, the avoider drives them crazy because they want to control the situation. They want to control being heard. The avoider when pushed with their back up against the wall, they turn into innocence like, “I didn’t get that email. I’ve never heard you say that or I don’t know anything about that.” That’s their automatic reaction to save themselves, which will only drive a perfectionist more insane. If you’re aware of that and you know you’re dealing with an avoider, you can come up with some plans in how you can communicate with them to hold your one intention in the front of your mind and hope to achieve something.
What’s coming up for me when I think about avoiders is the way you worded it sounds like avoiders tend to not take responsibility, but can you be avoiding but still be somebody who does take responsibility?
Absolutely, remember these are your conflict personality types. When your back is pushed up against the wall, that’s when this comes out because the very first thing that’s happening in your brain is your subconscious is saying, “Get the shields out there. Come on, let’s put up a front line,” so you can think. Everybody processes information differently. Some people are verbal processors. Some people need to sit and think in silence. Other people need to journal about stuff. We all have different ways of processing information. An avoider will put up those avoiding or innocent shield or armor that they need to in order to protect their ego, their self so that they can come up with a game plan.
That’s why when you’re dealing with an avoider, it is important specifically for body language. If you can walk with them side by side, that helps an avoider. The physicality of the two of you going forward in motion against the greater world out there, it automatically puts them at ease. Also asking questions like, “Here’s what I was thinking about this. This is how I see it. What are your thoughts? What do you think about this?” They can process it, maybe verbalize it a little bit. One of the best statements I ever learned was when someone says, “I don’t know,” if you say, “What would you say if you did know?” They’ll answer you. I use this on the kids all the time.
It’s funny because I give that advice a lot in workshops that I run where if you’re having trouble writing something this way, try writing it the opposite way. If you’re getting someone to stop doing something and you’re struggling with that, then think about what is it that you want them to start doing or vice versa. That’s something that we probably don’t apply that principle often enough in life and yet it can be very helpful.
There’s also something that happens when you are a perfectionist. You can get paralyzed, which may seem like an avoidant tendency or an innocent tendency. It’s you muddling your mind. You fall into that productive procrastination or that paralysis of not knowing where to go or how to move forward.
Thinking that it’s because it has to be perfect and you don’t have time or energy to make it perfect right now, you can’t do any of it.
I like that and that’s probably more accurate of what I do because mine is not taking responsibility. It’s more like, “I don’t want to open that email and see what they said to me.” What’s important to know is in psychology often I’ve heard it defined that conflict is when you have an expectation that’s not being met. We have conflicts all the time. It’s not like, “Somebody comes and they talk to you about something or they’re upset about something.” It’s a much bigger sense of conflict. It’s much more overwhelming. It’s not your everyday challenge that people go into these personality types.
In any conflict or any tense situation, there are four things going on. The first thing is that we make some assumptions. We have stories in our head about what’s happening, what they mean, what they intend. Those assumptions right away lead to expectations, “Because I assume this thing, I expect that this will happen.” We want to predict the future in some way so we can prepare and take care of ourselves. It’s that whole fear-based reaction. Conflict is fear-based. It’s not a discussion. It would be called a discussion if it was not a conflict. After you have those assumptions and those expectations, you immediately place judgment. Whether it’s good, whether it’s bad, whether it’s something you want to be complicit in or not complicit in, whether they’re attacking you at a certain level. There’s a judgment about what’s happening, which leads to the reaction that you give.
It’s this wheel that goes round and round assuming, judging, expecting and reacting. When you sit back and you question your assumptions, it was on Super Soul Sunday or something where Brené Brown was talking to Oprah about her going to speak at HubSpot. While she was backstage, she’s looking through her tweets, as we all do. She sees a tweet that says, “What is Brené Brown doing at HubSpot?” Right away she’s thinking, “What am I doing at HubSpot? This is a marketing company. I’m a shame researcher. What do I have to share with these people? James, do you want to know what I’m doing here? Fine. I’ll walk out on stage and say, “James wants to know what I’m doing here at HubSpot.”” She stopped herself and she was like, “What is happening here? What is the cycle?” Because she’s so advanced in her own self-development, she was able to stop herself and say, “I’m making some assumptions. Let me click through and read this tweet.”
It was an article in the HubSpot newsletter. As she clicked through, it said, “What is Brené Brown doing at HubSpot? Teaching us all about empathy and shame, something we can all get behind.” She’s like, “Now I’m a jerk. Don’t go down that same spiral.” Question yourself when you make assumptions, especially during this tense, defensive time because defensive behavior will only get you more defensive behavior from the people around you.
What you were describing, we often call it the crazy eight. It’s having our expectations influence our thoughts, our feelings and our behaviors. If we projected on to other people, it comes right back at us. That’s defensive meets defensive behavior and it keeps going in that same cycle until somebody does what you’re saying. That observer that’s like, “What’s going on here? Why am I having this reaction?
I sat in a courtroom once, it was in the back room where I was talking to two parents. They were sitting across from each other, which I hate. I can’t stand that setup. They were yelling at each other and I couldn’t get a word in. They didn’t even realize that they were saying the exact same thing. They had fallen into this pattern and this habit of reacting to each other in a certain way that they couldn’t take themselves out of it and listen.
I love the idea of thinking about that it is on us especially when we know if we’re feeling that tension and that stress. We need to take that step back for ourselves and look at something and say, “What’s going on here for me?”
There are always those clues inside your body. Your body keeps the score of every emotion that you have. If you know you put everything into your stomach or onto your shoulders, like for me, whenever my shoulders start going up, “Lara, you know what’s going on.” That’s why those idioms, “Pain in the neck. He makes me sick to my stomach and shouldering a burden.” They made their way into our lexicon because they’re so true. If you know where you hold your stress, shoulders, jaw and stomach, whenever you feel that, check-in and say, “What is my thought pattern? What’s going on? Why am I feeling stressed? Am I hungry?”
I would imagine a lot of people reading this are like, “I’m a pleaser or a perfectionist or whatever.” Based on those brief descriptions you gave us, most people can probably identify themselves. Knowing how you identify with your conflict personality, how does that help you deal with reacting to or responding to conflict?
I would say the first thing is don’t do your activation. Don’t try to control, don’t try to fix, don’t try to be innocent or blame the other person. The meaning of your communication is the result you get. Try going about it in a different way and the best way to do that is to ask questions, to clarify and verify what’s being said. “I’m hearing this.” I know that you can say it in a less councilor-type way. My mom says that to me, “What I hear you saying is.” I’m like, “Don’t you start with me.” Ask more questions. You can even say, “Did you mean this? What did you mean by that? Can you say it in a different way? I’m not sure I got that.” There are a lot of different ways that you can ask questions.
It relates to the other point you were making that what’s happening a lot of the times is that we’re not listening.
If you’re in a place where any conflict at all is so verboten to you, where you’re like, “I’m not going down that road.” A helpful trick is to take a past conversation that you had and rewrite it in such a way that what was your one intention and how would you get that across now? What did you do that you wouldn’t do again? What would you say that you wouldn’t say again? What do you want to say? Rewrite it until it feels good to you. You’ve got a roadmap in your mind of how you can handle a situation like that the next time it happens. I can’t tell you how many difficult conversations I have where I blow it completely. That’s how it goes. We’re not perfect. It’s a practice to listen, to be heard and to get your intentions across.
What you said is important. To also honor your style because what I hear from a lot of people, I see a lot of perfectionistic types and people-pleasers but they will talk about, “I didn’t say it at the moment.” They feel like if they didn’t, they can’t come back to it, “I didn’t do it right then.” Many people take time to process. It depends on the situation where you’re on top of it, you have the response, but often that’s coming from that reactive place. Taking that space for yourself, whether it’s journaling or calling a friend to talk it out about something or staying with it, meditating on it, thinking about it for yourself, giving yourself that space and coming back to it, that’s an important piece and decreasing that reactivity.
I worked with a woman. She was a people pleaser, but she was in a high-stress job, which brought out a lot of perfectionism in her. We worked on all kinds of stuff when it came to the conflicts that she had to deal with on a regular basis because the nature of her work had a lot of conflicts. The biggest thing for her was when I said, “You can get a redo.” You can go back and say, “I know I said this. I didn’t mean that or I no longer believe that or I’m no longer able to do that.” Nothing is written in stone. You can go back and say, “That didn’t go the way I wanted it to. Do you have a minute to chat?” There’s always a way to get a reset. More likely than not, they’d like a reset too. They’d like a redo as well.
I don’t mean to keep categorizing, but I do hear it from a lot of women this idea of like, “I don’t want to appear flighty or that I’m being wishy-washy about something,” so they don’t want to come back and talk about it in a different way. Some of that can be avoidance. That’s huge to give yourself permission to be able to say like, “Even if I didn’t handle it well this time, I can come back to it and there’s an opportunity to repair it.”
I’ve become much more activist in my own as I get older. Both my parents were serious hippies, so I rebelled against a lot of the activism. One of the things that women need to claim their power and those euphemisms are used to silence you, are used to shut you up. “Don’t be flighty. Could you be clearer or repeating what you say?” These are out into the open. We see you. We will not allow this anymore. Women hold up other women. When they’re struggling, step in, help assist her out and own your power. If you want to go back and get the redo and you’re worried about being flighty, have a plan for that. If someone says you’re being flighty, “I’m being clear.” Have a plan for how you’re going to react to that while stepping into your power, while owning your power.
These are the personality types you go into when there’s conflict. Are there benefits to these personality types or good things that come out of the different personality types?
Absolutely, because it’s all part of the soup of who we are. I’ve heard you guys say it before and I also agree, I love assessments. I did a whole series of assessments. If you want to check it out, it’s at DifficultHappens.com/assessments where I broke down the FIRO-B, the StrengthsFinder, the DISC, the Kolbe, the Myers Briggs, all of those because they’re all pieces of a puzzle that make up you. Your conflict personality type, within difficult is our greatest opportunity for growth and understanding. Understanding ourselves and understanding the way that we walk in the world and embracing it. I am not who I was several years ago. We grow, we learn and we become more of who we are. The more we embrace the not so great stuff.
If we’re thinking about perfectionists in particular since we know a lot of you probably are, you talked about the control, are there other pitfalls and what are maybe some of the good ways that perfectionist tends to handle conflict or deal with conflict?
There are two sides to it. With each one of these conflict-personality types, you have to be aware that you don’t punish yourself when you don’t live up to your own standards. There’s also a joy in seeing natural consequences play out. I believe that natural consequences are the gift of the universe. If we don’t walk through our own natural consequences, we don’t learn the lesson that we needed to learn and we will continue to pull those towards us, those same situations, those same relationships until we learn the lesson that we need to learn. For a perfectionist, part of that lesson is to know that not only is it good enough, but it’s also better. It’s best. It’s the way it should be. It’s exactly how it should be. Who you are is exactly who you’re supposed to be. How you act and interact with people is exactly how you’re supposed to because it’s how you have. When you know better, you do better. Perfectionists too, they keep everything moving. I think all three of us are ENFPs here. We need some perfectionists to keep the cats herded.
I was like, “You’re not a perfectionist because I definitely have that trait.” Maelisa is not. It’s so annoying.
Internally, yes. Externally not so much.
It’s true, especially if you’re identifying yourself as that perfectionistic type. It’s such a punishing road because it feels like I wouldn’t have these bad things happen if I had done it better. That’s not realistic. First of all, it’s life. Second of all, we’re human. That’s the wrong species for perfectionism. There is no such thing as perfect, but I know a lot of people cause them a lot of stress and strife around the idea of to be on top of it means to be doing everything right. What would you say to them about how should they approach that when they’re having those conversations with people, where they get into that place where all of a sudden, they’re in that control space?
I would start before that and speak kindly to yourself. When you don’t do things to the top where you know you could have done better. We can all do better. We can all not sleep, try and get as much done as possible, retouch graphics until the end of time and no one will notice. Did you do the best that you could with the time that you had, with the sleep that you got, with the meals that you had? Were you doing the best that you could? No? Try better next time. Yes? That’s what it is, don’t punish yourself because that punishment keeps you small. It keeps you down. It disallows internal perfectionism to blossom and grow, the internal skills. You start judging yourself too harshly in what you can and can’t achieve.
Also, know that everybody is walking around all day long with a story of who they are and what’s happening in every situation. You don’t know what that person’s story is. You have no idea what they’re experiencing or thinking during any conversation. They don’t know what you’re experiencing. They don’t know your struggles internally or externally about your own judgment on yourself. Try to go in a little more innocent to everything. Don’t have assumptions and judgments. Afterwards, don’t judge the way it went. You can go write it down, but don’t judge it. Don’t think about it. Put it aside for a minute. Usually what will happen is two or three days out, you’ll go, “It wasn’t that bad.” I wasn’t as angry outside as I felt inside. Next time I won’t take the paper and pen away and do it myself or whatever it is that you’re struggling with in that specific perfectionist cyclone that overtakes our mind.
That’s such a good point for all of us to remember. Being an ENFP, it’s so easy to get caught up in the moment and live in the moment, but it’s true. You’re never going to improve how you deal with conflict, how you deal with anything that’s high stress, anything like that unless you’re working on it when you’re not in high stress, when you’re not in conflict. It is something that has to be worked on outside of that scenario.
I read this interesting book called Predictably Irrational. It’s a good book. It’s a behavioral economics book. They did a study at MIT with college-age men. During times that they were normal every day, they were asked questions about their sexuality, what they would or would not do, whether they would try to sleep with somebody who had too much to drink, all these kinds of questions. They answered them the way that they thought that they would respond. They tested them in a highly sexual nature and retested them during that. They did not respond the way that they had initially thought. When you are in that heightened emotional state, no matter what it is, whether it’s stress or joy, we don’t know ourselves as well as we think we do. His whole journey is to become who we were meant to be, to be better people. Personal development and professional development go hand-in-hand and they all will help build up our self-esteem because I don’t know what it is about us humans, but we came out of the womb with some seriously low self-esteem that seems like we spend the rest of our life trying to get some. I married a unicorn who’s always had great self-esteem. He said, “Everything works out for me.”
Maybe it’s because we were all ejected from the womb. We’re like, “They want me.” It all starts there. I remember that time. I was so happy. As you’re saying this, I’m thinking for a lot of people, when we’re talking about our businesses, two things I hear people having is one, how to have difficult conversations with their clients and with their team. Those are the two things that come up a lot for people because obviously, it’s the people they’re dealing with the most. You could pick either one of those or address both, but do you have strategies on how you set the tone or how you go about improving, especially if you’re avoidant or if you are trying to control everything?
The best one for a perfectionist is to pre-frame. When you go into any new situation with clients, with team members, if you pre-frame for them what’s going to happen, how to work with you, what they can expect. A lot of the people that I work with are realtors or divorce attorneys, people who are in high-stress jobs. The more pre-framing you can do, the better. The people that you’re working with, they don’t know what to expect, what the whole process looks like. There’s a lot of fear and uncertainty. The more that you can pre-frame and let them know what the whole process is going to look like, the better.
The other one is we all have an appreciation language that’s different from our love language. This was another book that was written by the same guy who wrote the Love Languages book. The way that we feel appreciated at work is not the same as we feel our love languages at home. Get to know your employees, your staff. How do they feel appreciated? Is it words of encouragement? Is it time together? Maybe a happy hour, bowling or plan events with your group. Is it acknowledging them in front of everybody else? Think of ways that you can appreciate them because a perfectionist will often go through and think to themselves, “She did a great job,” and not say anything. Find ways that you can say, “You know that X, Y, Z Pinterest thing that you did, that was phenomenal. I love that.” Let them know that they’re appreciated. It goes a long way.
We talked about love languages with your partners, but we even mentioned like, “I wonder if there’s a book out there for employees.” That answers our question. People know they can go out and grab that one.
There’s always a reading list after talking to me. I feel bad.
I feel the same way. I’m like, “This is great.”
Speaking of that, in your book, do you go through these different personality types? Are you digging more into what we talked about or is it a little bit different?
I go through all four of them. How to handle different situations in your social setting, in your familial setting and in your work setting. It is a journey. These patterns and habits of interactions that we have, they can see rote and they can keep you where you don’t want to be. How do you move past that? I go through in the book how you recognize your own personal triggers and your own heritage emotions that you bring. That’s the shame stuff. What shame stuff do you bring with you? What’s your luggage look like? You can identify that. How your interactions with other people can trigger that in you and what to do about it.
Clearly, this is a must-read for people. Are there any last thoughts you would like to leave with people as far as something that they can do to strengthen that muscle? Especially for a perfectionist, working on self-compassion is what helps them get out of that stuck place when they’re in that. Do you have any other suggestions for the other types for people who identify?
Did you guys read the four agreements?
Yes, I was like, “That’s a little Don Miguel going on right there.” I love him. Don Miguel Ruiz, he’s my spiritual advisor.
I reread it coming back from the She Podcasts. Be impeccable with your word. It resonated this time with yourself. Listen to how you talk to yourself. That’s the first place to start. Are you waking up every morning going, “I’ve got so much to do?” No matter what you have to do, you’re going to have so much to do. Before you go to bed, are you beating yourself up for not doing X, Y and Z and sending this email? You did as much as you could do. Be mindful of your body and where you’re at and the time of year where the time it impacts you. Be impeccable with your word, with yourself. Also, when you are out in everyday life, ask as many questions as you can and listen. The girl at the grocery store, the kid on his bike, start asking questions and listen. See if you can perceive how people see themselves, how people see their day when we’re both walking around in the same space, but we’re living our own lives as many questions as you can ask. It will peak that in you so that you see things a little different way.
Those two things in and of themselves are enough. If people wanted more, where could they go to find out more information about you?
Frankly, we all need it so we all can improve our management abilities. Thank you so much, Lara, for coming and for being my conference one-night stand bestie.
I had a blast. Thanks so much for having me.
ABOUT LARA CURRIE
Lara Currie has over 26 years of experience in high-stress, high-conflict fields where she developed her signature system that help people communicate clearly, build strong boundaries, identify and understand triggered-reactions, and identify responses that lead to conflict. Especially those Leaders & Bosses whose success is dependent on their ability to communicate effectively. When you work in a high-stress, high-stakes, purpose-driven field, such as those in Finance, real-estate, coaches, civil service and corporate leaders, who are operating and growing their own businesses yet struggling with moving forward, sometimes feeling stuck, or are unsure of how to handle a difficult situation.
Learn to recognize, navigate or even avoid those cringe-worthy interactions and soul-sucking clients that are costing you time, money and energy!
Break free from old patterns and fall back in love with your work and life again.