Communication 5: Matchers and Mismatchers

Communication 5: Matchers and Mismatchers

Date: 10/1/2000

It really was a bold move and I doubt that any successful company in a Capitalist country would even consider making such a move. Perhaps it is typical of the sudden dramatic shifts that often happen in Israel. Of course, it doesn't really make any difference. When you have a monopoly you can paint your busses with red and white stripes or solid green and people will still travel on them.

The previous change that the Egged Bus Cooperative had made was from red stripes on white background to purple stripes on white background and this is more typical of what one would expect. Purple is a softer color than red. Furthermore, they kept the stripe design but modified the stark straight red stripe to a more graceful, curving purple one. Purple is not a completely different color either: it is half red. That was evolution. Changing from a red and white stripe design to solid green was revolution.

Most advertising follows the evolution pattern. Companies will make minor changes in their packaging or in their products so that the consumer will (1) recognize the product and (2) notice that it has been changed for the better. There is a subliminal message: "Our product has always been terrific! There has never been a need to make any major changes in it. Now we have discovered a way to make it even better!" It's "new, improved Tide laundry detergent"... "get one third free in every bottle of Trakleen floor wax"..."extra-strength Tylenol"... "now you can enjoy our ice cream in six new delicious flavors"...etc.

Why do most advertisements follow this pattern? Surveys in the United States show that 50% of the population thinks in this fashion. The percentage is probably about the same in other Westernized countries. There are five basic groups: people who tend to see sameness only (10%), sameness with some difference (50%), sameness with difference equally (10%), difference with some sameness (25%), difference only (5%).

When you are communicating with someone, this can be a very important consideration to bear in mind. How much difference does your listener see (mismatchers) and how much sameness (matchers)? Many people are matchers in one context and mismatchers in another. And you will want to adjust your communication style accordingly if you want to get your message through and reduce conflict.

Let's say you want to discuss with a friend or employee or child about making a certain change in their life. For example, you've decided that a child should change to a different school. The child, let's say, is happy in the old school. If the child is a matcher you would certainly want to point out how the schools are similar. For a mismatcher you would want to emphasize some of the differences and how he might like those differences.

Often, the mismatcher will tend to disagree with you even if you point out the differences and how he might like them. You can circumvent this problem with the proper wording. You might want to say something like "I don't know if you disagree with me or not--why don't you think it over and let me know." With a strong mismatcher you might even have to say, "You probably won't agree, but think about it and let me know." If you feel uncomfortable speaking in this manner, keep in mind that statements like these can actually assist the mismatcher. They neutralize his impulse to disagree and thereby help him to see things more impartially and make a more objective decision.

Sometimes in seminars I will ask a comparison question to help the participants understand more fully. For example: "How does Los Angeles compare to New York City?" (Note: not how are they the same or how are they different. Rather, how do they compare.) Some people will respond: "Los Angeles and New York are very different. Los Angeles has a tropical climate compared to New York. Los Angeles has a more relaxed life-style. It is also much more spread out. New York has a much larger Jewish population and is much more of a religious center than Los Angeles."

Other people, however, will respond differently. They may say "Well, there are a lot of similarities when you think about it. They're both large American cities. And they are both coastal cities. Both of them have a wide spectrum of ethnic groups. Property values run high in both cities as does the cost of living."

Then there are people who will point out both the differences and the similarities. Some will put the similarities first (sameness with difference) and some will put the differences first (difference with sameness).

Many of us find it challenging to communicate with mismatchers. It can be exasperating to have someone constantly disagree with you! You say, "It's hot outside. Did you know that it is 37 degrees (98.6 Fahrenheit)?" They respond, "It's not that hot--it's only 36 degrees." A matcher would probably say something like "Yes, it really is hot outside"--even if they know that it is "only" 36 degrees--because he matches your main point. The mismatcher naturally gravitates to the one thing with which he can find exception.

Two ways of smoothing out your conversations with mismatchers are (1) mismatch them back: "I just saw the thermometer outside--37 degrees." By mismatching their mismatching you are pacing them (see Article  "Disagreeing without Arguing"). However, if you do this too much there is a risk of getting into an argument. To avoid a confrontation (2) chunk up to a higher level of abstraction (see Article  "Avoiding Misunderstandings"). The more abstract and general your statement, the more difficult it becomes to argue with. You could say, "One thing is for sure, it is not cold outside!"

It is a mistake to think of mismatching as "wrong". In education as well as in other areas it is important to be able to see both similarities and differences. For instance, in learning Talmud one needs the ability to see how things are different in order to understand the question and how they are the same in order to understand the proof. Some students have difficulty in seeing either similarities or differences. These thought processes can be taught to them.

I read about an American corporation whose board meetings are exceptionally productive. There are five partners. Four of them are matchers and one is a mismatcher. First, the four meet to brainstorm together and build on each other's ideas until they come up with a concrete proposal. Then, they invite the fifth partner in. As a mismatcher he easily finds faults and problems the others may have overlooked. Then they work on how to correct these.

To match or to mismatch. You might say that it all boils down to a question of what works and what doesn't.

Or, you might not.....

Please email me your personal experiences relating to this article.