Sunday, October 11, 2009

Doormat or Open Door?

Tomorrow I'm training at our district's Professional Development Day. My topic is Communication Styles and Building Relationships. Another center director, Wendy, and I are team teaching. She was my mentor director when I was first hired by the company (she was actually given the task of wooing me and convincing me to go with our company over the competition), and we've spent a good deal of time together since she won me over. We usually ride to meetings together and are often paired up to do trainings. In short, we've gotten to know each other pretty well over the past two years.

Last week, we got together with all of the other directors to do a mock presentation of our training. One of the first activities is having the group complete an assessment to determine everyone's primary communication style. A summary of each style follows:

Intuitors - look forward to future with a global perspective, good with concepts, able to relate diverse thoughts and ideas into meaningful wholes, think about how systems and people interrelate, display good innovative ability and skill at looking at the "big picture" (most planners are Intuitors)

Thinkers - desire to relate to their surroundings and others by thinking things through, usually develop good analytical skills, focus on being precise and systematic in their approach to problems, focus on entire spectrum and want to know about factors that led up to a situation (historical background), what is happening now, and what outcome will be (many accountants are Thinkers)

Feelers- prefer to deal with situations according to their "feeling" perceptions, respond with gut reactions, highly sociable, use empathy and understanding in solutions to problems, perceptive of others' needs and are able to discern what lies beneath surface, time orientation is primarily toward past (many sales persons and leaders are Feelers)

Sensers - practical and action-oriented, like facts but are only interested in most relevant ones, focus on present and on the immediate goal, task oriented and need to get results, speak quickly and to the point and are so matter-of-fact their demeanor can almost seem abrupt (many judges are Sensers)

I had taken this assessment once before, in Minneapolis when I attended my new center director training, but as the other directors, including my co-presenter took it, I did it again just to see if I would score the same as I had then.

When we were finished no one was surprised that I was the only one who scored as a Feeler. Wendy asked me what I thought the disadvantages were, but before I could answer, she said, "Basically that you're a doormat." I must confess, I was a little shocked that she views me this way. I quickly pointed out that Feelers are often sales persons and leaders (skills I use daily as a child care center manager), and that I have no problem standing up when necessary, like in collecting tuition. Wendy laughed and had to concede that I d0 lay the warm fuzzies aside when parents are delinquent with their payments.

But her statement got me thinking. I've thought about it all weekend, and finally had to write about it. Am I a doormat? I know I used to be one. Being a doormat for most of my adult life got me into and kept me in many abusive relationships.

As a child I remember having strong opinions on what game to play or what to do next, but I usually just went along with the other person, not because I didn't have a preference but because peace was more important to me than getting my way. But every once in a while, when my friends wanted to doing something I didn't agree with, something that was wrong, I would stand my ground. When I did, I can remember watching surprise register on their faces. The surprise would soon be replaced with something else: respect.

So even as a child, I was a fairly peaceable person who tried to avoid conflict. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't an angel, so though I seldom started any fights, I sure finished a few! I think I was born with a strong fight or flight instinct, so if I really felt threatened or backed into a corner, say by a bully (having grown up in one of the roughest areas of the city, I encountered a few), I would defend myself.

As an adult, I continued to run into boundary busters. For a while I seemed to collect them like bad pennies. More than one person told me I must have a flashing light attached to my head that reads "Abuse me." I think that's a little extreme, but I do admit it was pretty easy to bust my boundaries because I didn't even know they existed.

Nowhere was this more evident than in my marriage. When I got married, I thought the days of having to defend myself were over. Sadly, I learned that sometimes those closest to you hurt you the most. The principal of one of the Christian schools where I taught once did a chapel service on dignity and respect. These were the things that came under attack in the early days of my abusive marriage. Even though I didn't know what boundaries were, my spirit knew mine were being busted big time. My immediate response was to go into that self defensive fight or flight mode.

As I grew in the Lord, however, my desire to stay married caused me to go too far for the sake of keeping the peace. I really did become a doormat.

Over time, as the abuse escalated, I sought counseling and was introduced to the concept of boundaries. When I attempted to set them in my marriage and with some other toxic people, the reaction was very different from that of my childhood friends when I stood up for what was right. Instead of respect, when I stood up for myself and requested that I be treated with dignity and respect, I experienced anger.

A counselor explained their reaction this way, "Of course they're angry. It took them a long time to train you to accept their abuse. How dare you decide to get healthy?"

In the book Boundaries in Marriage (Cloud and Townsend), the authors warn that when you choose to set boundaries in relationships that have been abusive, the abusers may choose to walk away from the relationship.

Am I a doormat? Quite the contrary. I'm not divorced because I'm a doormat. I'm divorced because I decided to get up off the floor. My abusive wasband didn't like that, so he chose to walk away. As did some others. There was a time when I would have been devastated by the loss of those relationships. But what kind of relationship is it when all you are good for is to be walked all over?

The thing is, I think they mistook my meekness for weakness. It was never that, it was strength (the Lord's working through me) under control.

Beside the fact that the training guide stated that Feelers are often taken advantage of, I wondered, Why does Wendy think I'm a doormat? I admit that as a manager, I am very approachable and transparent, and I do try to consider the feelings and needs of my staff, but I manage them well. Our center functions well. So I continued to wrack my brain with the question all weekend. Why does Wendy think I'm a doormat? Then I heard a song that answered it. I respect Wendy, and I look up to her as a director. We are alike in many ways (she grudgingly admits that she's a bleeding heart), except for this one. Francesca Batistelli says it for me in her song, "It's Your Life".

It's your life

What you gonna do

The world is watching you

Every day

The choices you make

Say what you are

And who your heart beats for

It's an open door...
This is your opportunity
To let your life
Be the one that lights the way

Our training doesn't just deal with communication, it addresses building relationships. I'd like to think that's what I am: a relationship builder. And an open door. In utilizing my Feeler communication style while interacting with others, and in this case with my staff members, I try to communicate with as much dignity and respect as I can. I'm trying to leave the door of my life open so that the light will shine through and make others want to take a peek inside and learn why I'm so kind, sweet, considerate, etc. (words they use about me). And I see evidence that it's working.

So am I a doormat? Or an open door?

~Truly, Tammi

Tell Me Truly

Do you think Christian are called to be doormats? Have you ever been one for the sake of keeping the peace? I'd love to hear. Please post a comment on the blog. I will write back. Blessings!


  1. Interesting Tammi. While I have not taken the assessment, I too seem to relate most to the "Feelers" description. Believe me, if I line up my friends they would tell you that I am DEFINTELY not a door mat, and I don't get that impression from you. Perhaps as "Feelers" who have the Spirit of God living within us, we have been given His power through grace, and that alone, makes us a force to be reckoned with. Speaking from one "Open Door" to another: Loved the post!

  2. As a fellow blogger, I'm sure you know how much the comment and feedback is appreciated. Thank you for reading and your input. Though you haven't taken the assessment, I'd say yours of how Christian "Feelers" are filled with power and grace is accurate. If only people knew how "undoormat like" that makes us! Glad you enjoyed the post.

  3. Tammi, this is always an interesting test. It seems that any characteristic God gives us, if taken to extremes, can be detrimental. But, allowed to grow as He intends, it is a great gift. "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made". Or, as the little red guy says, "God made you special, and He loves you very much!" ---Annette

  4. Hello, Annette. Thank you for visiting my blog and for your comment. I agree with you that maintaining a healthy balance with all of our God-given characteristics is important. When we allow Him to develop them to the degree that He desires, our gifts are best used for His purposes and glory. That scripture is one of my favorites (I just used in my last post- All the King's Princesses). Also, your reference to Bob the Tomato made me smile. :) Hope you visit again and consider becoming a follower. Blessings!