What happens when you combine an impatient egotist with someone who’s overly critical? You get a relationship! (Part 2 of 8 of the relationship series.)
“This doesn’t look good.”
We’re sitting at the kitchen table with our laptops open, comparing our results from the three personality tests we just took.
Or rather, we’re comparing our results from the Caliper, DiSC, and Kolbe assessments: three “nonjudgmental productivity, teamwork and communication tools” designed to “uncover your natural strengths, motivators, and tendencies.”
(Apparently calling it a “personality test” is too low-brow.)
We took these assessments not because we thought they’d improve our relationship but because they were paid for and encouraged by Precision Nutrition, the company we worked for at the time.
Precision Nutrition helps people adopt and practice healthy nutrition and fitness habits in a way they can actually sustain for the rest of their lives. (Chelle used to work in the customer experience department; I used to help with marketing.)
Just like PN encourages their clients to grow, develop, and try new things, Precision Nutrition also pushes for the growth and development of its team members. Hence the assessments.
As CEO Phil Caravaggio likes to say:
“Self awareness is a gift. I’ve always found it best to lean on your strengths when it comes to your work and to focus on improving your weaknesses when it comes to your personal life.”
And boy do I know my weaknesses.
According to the DiSC profile, I become aggressive and overpowering under pressure and overuse “impatience, egotism, and manipulation.”
I also influence others with “charm and bold action” and judge others by their confidence and influence.
Which is to say I sound like a borderline sociopath. I point that out to Chelle, who only sighs.
“Mine isn’t much better,” she says.
I glance at her laptop.
- Overuses: bluntness and critical attitude.
- Under pressure: ignores people’s feelings and moves ahead independently.
- Judges others by: competence and use of logic.
Of course, this is stuff we know about ourselves and each other—at least in that vague, “that’s the way it is” sense—but seeing it on the screen in clear language is sobering. I am manipulative at times. She is incredibly blunt.
Dismayed yet intrigued, we continue to scroll through the assessments, looking for bright spots to make ourselves feel better.
When I pore over my Caliper results, I’m elated that one of my strengths is “creating new concepts and approaches to solve problems.”
Apparently, I’m able to “envision how different alternatives would play out, enhancing [my] capacity to be a visionary thinker.”
Me! A visionary thinker!
The real insight, however, comes when we compare the results of all our tests side by side.
“Holy shit,” Chelle says. “This makes so much sense.”
Looking at her list of strengths and weaknesses next to my list of strengths and weaknesses, two things are suddenly obvious:
- We balance each other out; her strengths are my weaknesses, and vice versa.
- It’s no mystery where our arguments stem from.
Here, for example, are the results of the Kolbe Index Fact Finder, a tool that measures how we each “gather and share information”:
The stuff that is apparently instinctual to me—the stuff I “need” to do—is the exact opposite of what Chelle needs to do.
And here’s our Quick Start assessment from Kolbe. It shows how we “instinctively deal with risk and uncertainties”.
Sitting here at the kitchen table, soaking all this in, previous arguments flash in my mind.
Like the time we were getting ready to book our trip to Costa Rica and it took forever since Chelle felt it necessary to go over every single detail: comparing airline prices, looking for hotel coupon codes, researching crime statistics and more.
It got to the point where I eventually had to leave the room. If it were up to me, I would have had the entire trip planned and paid for in about 20 minutes. (Which, for the record, is not better. Just faster.)
But now, with this new information on the screen in front of me, I feel like I “get” Chelle better than I ever have. All those times we disagreed and I felt like she was being a slow-moving pain in the ass, she was just doing what came naturally to her.
She was “being precise”, “seeking details”, “questioning frequently” and “reducing the chance of making mistakes.”
And I was stressing her the fuck out.
My “generalizing”, “summarizing”, and “doing things at the last minute” skills were definitely not appreciated in that situation.
As we continue to scroll through our assessments, more differences pop up, further highlighting how much we counter-balance each other:
Chelle is great at doing research and putting together plans to solve problems using the resources we have at hand.
I am terrible at all of that. (The running joke is that I’d rather just set it all on fire and start fresh because that’s easier than trying to figure out what went wrong.)
Knowing how we balance each other seems like valuable information, but sitting here reading it I’m not quite sure how to use it.
Luckily, the DiSC has some suggestions.
In a section called “Strategies to increase your effectiveness” it recommends ways to connect, solve problems, and resolve tension between us.
For instance, when talking with Chelle, it suggests that I give her as many facts as I can manage, go slow and avoid asking her for a decision right now, and let her take some time to think through everything I just said—she’ll come back with a well-considered response in time.
When speaking to me, the DiSC says Chelle will have more success if she presents me with alternative ideas instead of just criticism of mine, and if she shows an effort to work with me as a team and solve the problems with me instead of just going off and working out solutions alone.
And even though it feels stupid to say this, it feels like we now have permission to not take everything so damn personally or judge each other unnecessarily.
It makes it easier to accept who we are, individually and as a couple.
Now when things require attention to details, I ask Chelle for help.
When a decision needs to be made without knowing the details, she enthusiastically asks me to make the call (and relieve her of incessant worrying and planning).
It’s been a couple years since we first went over our personality assessment results, and although we have no way of knowing how “true” they really are, it feels like we’re more accepting and considerate of each other.
When things get tough, it’s helpful to remember how we complement each other.
And when we have a disagreement or tense argument, it’s also reassuring to remember that, even though it may feel like it at times, we’re not being assholes.
We’re just being ourselves.
Field notes: How we created a better relationship.
This is the second of eight short essays about relationships. I recommend reading them in order, as they’ll make more sense that way.
- Essay 1: Get two bathrooms (A constipated camping trip and the start of our second relationship.)
- Essay 2: Take a personality test (This is the one you just read.)
- Essay 3: Embrace silliness (Meet our ridiculous little mascot.)
- Essay 4: Handle money like adults (How to manage your finances without wanting to kill each other.)
- Essay 5: Renew your vows every day (Not every day is sunshine and sex. But you should still treat it that way.)
- Essay 6: Go away! And get new stories on your own. (Short solo trips give you the opportunity to miss each other.)
- Essay 7: Spend time in their world (Even if that world involves grizzly bears and ice-cold lakes.)
- Essay 8: Make “thank you” your default (A happy couple in the wild.)