Tag Archives: communication

Short Thought 129 (verbal triangles)

Have you heard of the word triangulation? In families, it refers to the practice of one person saying something to another about a third family member, in hopes that the information Рtypically critical Рwill be relayed to the absent person.

I was thinking about this concept after someone addressed words to their cat that really were meant for me. It brought a whole new meaning to triangulation.

For the record, the cat had nothing to say on the matter.

Advertisements

“EXCUSE ME!”

People aren’t taught how to disagree well or how to effectively raise an objection (with the least collateral damage). Not from the evidence. So everyone just flounders around trying to come up with their own style. Trouble is, most aren’t any good.

“Old School” sorts who prefer directness and are not overly concerned with causing offense, get straight to it:

“You’re a dumbass.”
“Stupid bitch.”
“Fuck you, asshole!”
“Watch where you’re going, Shithead.”

I am not in ANY way condoning this particular mode of communication, but it leaves no doubt where people stand. There is no, “Hmmm, I wonder what he meant by that?”

On the other end is a trend toward vague, indirect, couched-to-the-point-of-incomprensibility speech. “You can disagree without being disagreeable,” which sounds like a politically correct koan, hails from that philosophy. People end up saying things so roundabout and passive-aggressively pissy, the listener has no idea what’s really intended. Sometimes it just makes you think, “What on earth is this person trying to say to me??” And a round of 20 Questions ensues in an attempt at clarification.

I knew a woman who said her way of non-aggressively confronting someone was to say, “Have I done something to offend you or are you just having a bad day?” As things go, the statement was pretty evolved, although someone on the receiving end might take issue with the “or are you just having a bad day” part. Not so sure how I’d like it if someone said this to me; I might wonder if the first half was genuinely a question. Doesn’t matter I guess, because I don’t think anyone has ever asked me if they’ve done “something to offend” me.

Occasionally I object by using the phrase, “I’m not happy about…(X).” I often find myself saying, both to intimates and others, “You’re not listening to me” (because they ain’t!). When somebody is truly trying to railroad or otherwise cow me with unreasonable requests or behavior, I’ll respond with a pointed, “Ohhh, no, no, no.” (Less formally in the right company/context, “Have you lost your mind?!” or less charitably, “Have you taken a blow to the head recently?”)

I’ve heard people say in situations in which they weren’t happy, “This is unacceptable.” I have never used that line as I fear it almost begs the response, “Well, la-di-fucking-DA!” Do people really hop-to when told something is unacceptable? If they do, maybe I should start saying it. Although, “This is not okay,” probably has a less stodgy ring to it – and is a sentence most of us could pull off without inciting smirks and mockery.

I’ve noticed more than a few children have made the words, “EXCUSE ME!” their go-to when doing anything that infringes on other people. They toss it off like a Get out of jail free card. They clearly don’t understand the meaning and use it as a means of getting away with stuff. Such as crashing into your shins with their bicycle. Or when running around, careening into your personal space, dinner plate, or sanity. It reminds me of Steve Martin’s old routine, “Well, EXCUUUSE me!” I’m not sure how well this bodes for the future…

What did you MEAN by that?

I think a lot about social dynamics on the internet. Strike that, I think a lot about social dynamics. I tend to vacillate between the two theoretical end poles of human relations. One says at heart people are more alike than not and want the same basic things; to be loved and needed, to be accepted, to feel they are of value and heard. Essentially, the theory goes, if you understand that, you understand other people and can apply it to anyone and thusly figure out what they’re all about. And that’s how to bring on harmonious relations.

The other end suggests something quite the contrary; namely, that people assume far too much about their fellow humans and their supposed similarities to others. That people take all their own personal, subjective, culturally-imposed notions, mores, and definitions, and – wrongly – apply them blanket-style to everybody else. And this causes a heap of misunderstanding and trouble.

My problem, if it’s a problem, is that I see the validity in both points, hence, the vacillating. I’ve got both in mind when approaching social dynamics online. On the one hand, we’re all more alike than not and one can proceed from there; on the other, we’re all quite different and bring greatly varying ideas of what’s what to our online dealings. (Best of luck!)

Language plays a HUGE part I this. Until the day comes – and I think it will – when all online interactions show an actual talking person, and even emails look like Skyped images, people will continue to be overly reliant on words alone.

In each individual mind resides a vast array of definitions and more importantly, emotions, attached to the language they use. I remember how jarring it was when I first heard that people meant different things by the word “love.” Up until that point, I’d been walking around believing we all meant the same thing when using the word love. Distressing as it was to learn otherwise, I didn’t doubt the veracity of it. Where, after all, did I think people learned this universal definition of love? Perhaps little fairies magically visited everyone at birth and whispered the meaning in their ear?

So here we all are, slinging gobs of language about at each other, and quite possibly intending very different things by the most elemental of words. Clearing up misunderstandings, clarifying stuff, is now almost as essential a part of social media interactions as voicing the initial words. There ought to be a term for that. Speaking of… to be successful or at least functional at online discourse, a whole new tier of “net speak” has to be added to one’s repertoire (even if, like me, you refuse to use much of it, it’s handy to know what it means). Which just adds another layer to the language sandwich.

Even when you know someone offline, it doesn’t necessarily eliminate the pitfalls of relating wIth them through social media. In fact, people may assume and project too much, imagining they know exactly the facial expression and tone of voice that would’ve accompanied any particular statement, or just what thought process was involved. But that’s not a given. And it swings right back around to where I started, i.e., how well people can and cannot know one another.