I was reminded again last week about something a client taught me long ago. Some of us make our decisions out loud. Others don’t speak until they have a decision to announce. And boy do we confuse each other!
For those who make up their minds in private, a comment like, “I’m thinking about taking a watercolor painting course” (which I would consider a perfectly sane trial balloon) makes no sense. They may hear it as, “I will take a watercolor painting course, but I’m afraid to tell you this directly.” Or they may wonder why you would find just thinking about such a thing interesting or worthy of note. Some will lump you into that mystery class of people who just love to talk, even when there’s nothing to talk about.
Of course, trial ballooning friends are more likely to reply, “Really? Who’s teaching the class? My brother’s now in the advanced class with Barbara Perth at that art school on 7th. I love his paintings. She’s a great teacher.” Or perhaps “Did you change your mind about law school?” Very helpful to someone still toying with an idea, a successful balloon.
For couples where trial ballooning meets “Why are you telling me this?” a simple question like “Should we put the kids’ table in the living room?” will sound like “Put the kids’ table in the living room.” And so it happens. Or so it doesn’t. But it won’t likely land on its goal of something like, “It might help the traffic flow if it’s in the Florida room.”
And, of course, the misunderstandings happen in reverse, too. If a silent decider announces, “I put in my papers for retirement today,” innocently thinking (silently, of course), based on information not yet shared, that the only choices were this week or two weeks from now, the trial ballooner is likely to be asking (silently or very loudly with a door slam for punctuation), “What am I, chopped liver? You never even asked for my input! How can I stay married to someone who doesn’t care what I think?”
I am a trial balloon fan married to a silent decider. And I am so, so thankful to my client for sharing this curious but common distinction in deciding styles. It helps explain so many of our crazy misunderstandings. It also makes for some great TV and movie scripts. Watch for it.