Saturday, March 01, 2014

Nerd Rehabilitation

If you haven't gone through the Conflict Communications program or read the book, some of the language in here may be hard to follow. The concepts in ConCom were heavily influenced by interaction with criminals because both Marc and I have a lot more experience with criminals than we do with, say, office workers. It also means that most of the examples in the book are from jail. People have already suggested that there should be a business version, and Doc Coray is working on a medical version of the presentation. The principles cross over, but everyone learns better if they can identify with the specific examples.

But one of the possibilities that really intrigues me is nerd rehabilitation.
In case it's not clear, I don't think like most people. No way to tell how much is hard wired and how much is (lack of) early socialization. I was the quiet kid who preferred to run off to the desert alone and climb rocks and crawl through caves. Maybe nature. I was also raised seven miles from the nearest town with no electricity or running water and graduated with a senior class of six people. So when I went to college and actually met large groups of people I was an alien... maybe nature, maybe nurture, but I got along with books way better than I did with people.

I found that people seemed to have no idea what they really thought (measuring their words against their actions) that they were completely controlled by imaginary emotional mine fields. That everyone else had a secret understanding of what one could say and what one couldn't. Silly me, I thought everyone always wanted the truth, otherwise they wouldn't have asked.

I learned the hard way to keep my mouth shut in most situations. And with your mouth closed and your eyes and ears open, you learn stuff. And if you are curious and your brain is wired a little differently, you will make connections. You will get to understand things consciously that the others seem to have been born with. Like the smallest guy on the judo team, if you work hard and smart, you can do with skill what the others do with talent.

This process heavily informed ConCom. Since I wasn't a natural at interacting, I had to work to become conscious. Technical superiority to offset natural inferiority.

In ConCom terms, nerds (I mean socially awkward intelligent people) have a weak or deficient Monkey brain. The limbic system that controls/is emotionality and tribal dynamics doesn't work as well. And in a lot of ways, that's a superpower. When there is a concrete problem, the neocortex is good at solving that... but when the Monkey brain starts worrying about who will get the credit for solving the problem, the neo-cortex shuts down. A weak Monkey keeps the neocortex on the job. Superpower.

But a weak Monkey also means that you don't have an instinctive understanding of how to get along. You assume that being right is far more important than presentation-- because it should be. Obviously. But in a world where most people have very strong Monkey brains, being obviously right is not a superpower, because almost always, the limbic system trumps rationality. And, by the way, everyone rationalizes their limbic responses, so pointing it out doesn't help.
So if you are right, but misread someone's status; or you are right but break one of the tribal protocols in how you present the fact; or if you are right but on a subject where your sub-tribe is 'poaching' (like a tactical guy solving a budget problem) it doesn't matter how right you are. Neurotypicals (non-nerds for our purposes) will have a limbic reaction. And the rational part of their brains will not be able to engage until the tribal part has been mollified.

ConCom makes the underlying tribal processes visible so that they can be understood and even manipulated. It's about making the normally unconscious part of communication more conscious. And if it's more conscious, it becomes a trainable skill. And I think nerds, the ones who are already self-aware enough to understand there are things they don't get, will have a huge edge in applying the skills consciously.


8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I can totally relate to your upbringing. Mine was similar. Four miles instead of seven, and for only about the first half of my youth (up to about age 8 or 9) instead of through high school. Yes, the imaginary emotional minefields were a problem. I've learned more about them, though, and that understanding has helped me get along better.

Great post.

Mike

Erik Kondo said...

I think this is an important post for understanding why it is important to divide the brain into multiple parts of Neo-cortex, Limbic, and Hind (or some similar division/names).

Now you can focus on each brain individually with isolation training as needed.

If you have a strong bicep and a weak tricep, do some dips. Strong tricep and weak bicep, do some curls. Or you can think your arm is not as strong as you want it to be and do arbitrary arm exercises hoping something will work.

I think one of the tough questions is what are the specific "exercises" you can do to strengthen your limbic system.

shugyosha said...

"Silly me, I thought everyone always wanted the truth, otherwise they wouldn't have asked."

You could be quoting me, but I'm/was a bit more assertive... As in: "If you didn't want an answer, why the Hell did you ask ?" It's a peeve, I know. Makes me feel I wasn't being taken seriously. I've learned to ask "Do you really want me to answer that?", and a good portion of people either backstep or prepare themselves enough. Also, I don't always realize the answer is a no-go (you could have cut the air before the "he didn't mean this" when I suggested, back in uniform, they could arrest the guardian dog --for biting some idiot's hand... who happened to be a Col's son and tried to pet him without the handler present--)

Also, if you start empowering the nerds... you realize the world won't ever be the same, do you not?

Ferran

Anonymous said...

As a nerd who's gone to a couple of your ConCom seminars I like the idea of nerd rehabilitation.

After the first seminar I was instantly a better employee, a more understanding son, better boyfriend etc. I was sitting at the seminar and after every slide or so I heard myself say "That's how that works...alright got it."

The nerd inside of me just needed the mechanics. Of course I was skeptical at how simple it all seemed until I started seeing it everywhere. Meetings became the equivalent of throwing poop.

I remember you saying at the end of the second seminar that this was like teaching fish about water, once you see that it's all around what to do becomes more clear. Nerds see the water but we usually just over complicate it.

Kathryn Scannell said...

Good insight. I can usually see what needs to be done/said in a social situation to make it work smoothly, but, and this is a big one, I *have* to think consciously about it. It just doesn't happen automatically the way it does for some people.

As an interesting side-note, I sat through a presentation for first responders on how to deal with people on the autism spectrum, including aspbergers. They had a fascinating interview on with one high-functioning young man who said that he'd realized as a teen that he just didn't get the social responses, and had responding by doing a very logical thing - he bought an etiquette guidebook, read it from front to back, and implemented the behavior patterns in it. As you might guess, it didn't do him much good with his peers, but it made him hugely successful in dealing with adults.

Josh K. said...

Rory,

"In ConCom terms, nerds (I mean socially awkward intelligent people) have a weak or deficient Monkey brain. The limbic system that controls/is emotionality and tribal dynamics doesn't work as well."

Superpower?

Personal experience (after the fact through reflection) has been that this has given the monkey more power to hide under logical justifications. Logical Josh, thinks he's acting rationally & in control, but it's Monkey Josh that is actually calling the shots with Lizard Josh peeking his head out every once in a while to laugh at them both.

Monkey Josh finds it funny to let Logical Josh think he's the week one, and Lizard Josh just does what ever he wants.

The previous is most probable a just a nitpick of perspective, where the out come is the same.

Rory then you said this about ConCom:

"ConCom makes the underlying tribal processes visible so that they can be understood and even manipulated. It's about making the normally unconscious part of communication more conscious. And if it's more conscious, it becomes a trainable skill. And I think nerds, the ones who are already self-aware enough to understand there are things they don't get, will have a huge edge in applying the skills consciously."

Hmmm... I'm really hoping and thinking ConCom does hold the answer to this… To a more integrated Josh, because all this self-reflection over the last few years I'm realizing I'm not as well ajusted socially as I thought. (FYI : On Section 2.6.1 You)

:-)

Rory said...

Ferran- Yes. This material has the potential to change everything. I get a tiny trickle of adrenaline when I think about it.
Kathryn- one of the powers-- you have to think about it consciously, which means that you _can_ think about it consciously. The unconscious can only learn by conditioning, they can't even consciously try, so trial and error is inefficient. But the conscious can learn and train and improve vastly.
Erik- I think for most people, strengthening the limbic system is a poor choice. I see few instances where emotional people with a strong tribal identity make good choices. Probably most effective, at least for me, is integrating the three brains, making sure that they trust each other and value similar things. That would be a long post.
Josh- You gave me something to think about. Ruminating.
Others- thanks.

Josh K. said...

Rory -

"(like a tactical guy solving a budget problem)"

Ahhh.... Section 3. So much gold.

A lot to ruminate on myself.

:-)