So you know how fear tends to get in the way of communication? You’ve experienced this, I assume? Where the tightening in your chest, and feeling of potential inadequacy, rejection, failure, what have you, the dangerousness of a simple communicative act, changes how you talk and what you say. It seems to me like this chemical reaction (or whatever it is that causes fear) has layered effects, most of which keep us from making successful attempts at communication. And it occurred to me that a list of bad tactics (an anti-dictionary, if you will) might help me triangulate my way toward an understanding of good tactics. it’s like trying to rationalize with instinct, and so it’s probably a task that’s doomed to silliness, but i’m down with silly. Making an anti-dictionary is one of the things i had to help do for my little work contract last week, and if it’s useful to search engine algorithms then it’s useful to me, that’s what i always say. just kidding. it’s a sneaky way to get at the question of good tactics, but maybe it will let me talk about what seem to be common communication troubles without sounding preachy (bad tactic#7). So here goes- please consider this an open list and add your own bad tactics in the comments at the bottom.
tactics for bad communication, an annotated list:
(communicating that you are big and great to others flicks a switch in their brain. it’s a turn off, which is funny, because actually being better then others at things, without trying to tell other people about it, is a turn on. this is difficult to remember, because when you think you might be good at something it’s frustrating for people to say things that suggest they don’t know it, and that the time you spent on it was of no use. so you build yourself up- and you try to just tell the truth about what’s great about you, but it’s a tough ride to control, especially when you’re nervous, so you end up sounding braggy and bound-to-fail. that’s one of the ways people end up in the trap of this bad tactic, but there are more straightforward ways to get there as well. joining a frat or a sorority seems to sometimes have something to do with it. i’m just saying.)
putting your self down
(also can be incredibly unattractive. though self-deprecating wit is appreciated in small doses, and is sometimes good for easing communicative tension, it can become a habit. and it’s a bad one to have because it lets you get away with not participating in things, not being connected to the people right in front of you. When you put yourself down, you tell others that you’re not really going to try. you rationalize this by thinking that putting yourself down communicates that you believe others are great. But in fact, in an insidious way, it actually can communicate something really condescending and superior: That your problems are so much bigger then other peoples, that you are more fundamentally troubled, and so you can’t be as good as others. You effectively communicate that you not going to try, at least not for them, because instead of trying you’re going to explain why you can’t. it comes down to an over-focus on your own life, that keeps you blinkered to the all the crazy sparks and links and potentially amazing opportunities around you. which sucks. i hate when i realize i’ve been doing this. it occurs to me when i get home from a night out that i shut the doors on certain directions that a conversation could have gone by my own thoughts about what’s wrong. I’m pretty sure everyone has this tendency to get too wrapped up in their own head, an on looking for what might explain their sense of inadequacy. i think it’s a bad tactic whether you’re doing it in your head or out loud. i try to just release the train of thought, stop yanking on that nerve, and look around. i hate to imagine how much energy must get wasted that way.)
(being late is a bad tactic because it communicates that you don’t care about how much it might be sucking for whoever has to wait for you somewhere. being late doesn’t always turn out bad, it depends on the context, but it’s not a good general rule, that’s for sure. then again, being over punctual can get bad as well. i’m pretty good at being on time (read: semi-neurotic), and it’s because my grampa once said that if you were late “because there was traffic” then you should have left earlier. basically: think about what might happen and leave more then enough time. i guess i appropriated that bit of strategic advice from him, which is awesome, but when it means your the first at a party, and that you’re alone with the host’s mum for two hours as a result, then it can get awkward. it didn’t in my case, because Mom Surette is pretty awesome, but as I grew older the punctuality problem became less socially acceptable, especially here in Montreal where every event says it will start at 9 and actually starts at 11:30. Now whenever I think it’s time for me to leave for something, i take a little nap, which helps; i was fourth instead of first at the stagette party i went to this weekend. which fortunately did not prevent me from being first to get picked up and spun around over the head of a drag queen.)
not asking personal questions
(this bad tactic is ripped straight from Grey’s Anatomy. doctor Burke tells his hot lover intern, Sandra Oh, that she doesn’t ask personal questions and is difficult to get to know. it’s funny, but asking personal questions can be scary- i guess because we sense that in the personal there is the possibility of hitting a sore spot and getting punched. but braving that possibility is what makes it past people’s social surfaces and into the land of real friends. not asking personal questions communicates, again, a sense of superiority or disinterest, or that you are not willing to deal with the humanness of your interactant. if you are removing the humanity, mess, sorrow, tragedy, triumph, secrets, of your interactant from your portion of the communication exchange then it’s bound to fail, either because you’ll be biased or because you’ll have biased the other person against you with your coldness and removal. or both, if you’re unlucky.)
asking questions as a defensive tactic to avoid talking about yourself
(this is annoying.)
(ohh, a tough one, but again, very annoying. it communicates that you’re listening to your own ideas rather than listening to the other person and trying to add up what they are saying. it is difficult to do both at the same time, and as we embed communications that were previously oral into written media we may be getting worse at it, and worse with the interrupting as a consequence, because we forget that oral communication is time-bound and that if we take up the time, the other person won’t get heard.)
(yet another way of filling up communicative space, and not leaving room for a negotiated understanding. it communicates an authority’s answer, which is actually an individual’s choices and interpretations and mediations of authority, instead of finding an original answer. i think religion can be good for helping us fashion the tools we need, but i think adapting preaching is a bad tactic. too one-sided, not much room for subtleties.)
selling what’s already sold
(this is boring, and again it flips a turn off switch. and again, it’s tough not to do- once you start trying to convince someone of something you get rolling with reasons and variations, get caught up in the train of thought, and can trample over the quiet answer ‘yes’. once trampled, yes frequently turns to no, mostly because a trampler seems like they might be untrustworthy in delicate situations. note: i ripped the phrasing for this bad tactic from an episode of the Apprentice, where the apprentices went to see some kid who was like a baby business guru and this 8 year old told an over-eager marketing major to stop talking and not sell what’s sold. very weird. are there secretly kids at the tops of major corporations? i’d be kind of fearful for their little minds, but ok with it, i just want to know…)
(pretty bad, and the bigger the lie the more impossible it is to sustain it over time, and the more unpredictable and far reaching it’s collapse will be, and even little onesdamage you in little ways, and remove a little bit of truth from the commons and impoverish us all. it sounds terribly dramatic when you put it that way, doesn’t it?)
graham fisher and coldplay
(similar to the bad tactic above, this one has outwardly unfolding bad effects. it changes your interactant, and changes the basis of your interactions with others afterwards. creating a context of fear around your interactions- with intimidation or violence- it can make it impossible for you to have good communication. people do not like to be intimidated, and it can drive them to develop angry formations of thought and social networks which are biased against you.)
relating to others only with reference to your own experience.
(though referencing your own experiences can seem like a rational way to find the things you need to understand a situation (what else do i know for sure besides what i have seen?) this is actually a bit of a trap. One individual’s life experience cannot supply adequate information to be able to build conceptual understanding that’s complex enough to account for billions of individuals life experiences, and the emergent properties of those infinite interactions. So we need to try and take into account as much evidence as we can from outside ourselves to serve as a counter to our own limitations.)
relating to others without reference to your own experience.
(communication that doesn’t rest on some self-knowledge is super prone to Bad Tactic 9. i think that i do best in negotiating the balance between these last two bad tactics when i remember to mentally make reference to what i would be feeling if i were in another person’s position- lets call the position X. to do this, i need to call on memories of past experiences so i can remember how crappy X really is. but it’s not the same X, your X is not my X, so i imaginatively factor in details from the other life, and try to see how i would feel. it’s like math with emotions, and the results are fuzzy, but good for finding direction, and the more you practice the better you get, I think. like with anything.)