Monday, March 07, 2011

Sidestepping the Monkey

A good person creates a shitty product, then asks me what I think. With time, I try to find the words that will get the message across without hurting feelings.

"Why?" My daughter asks, "As long as it's true, why should feelings matter?" She's wired like me, this one is, so I have to try to teach her what I learned by trial and error that other people just seem to 'get.'

"You want my answer? Or normal people's answer?"

"Just yours." Anyone else would have said 'both' almost reflexively, but her mind works with very particular and efficient logic. She knew which answer would help her most. She saw no reason to waste time on the other.

I tell her both anyway. That's part of her education, too. Most people avoid hurting feelings because they don't like getting their own hurt. They instinctively feel it is wrong to hurt unnecessarily. Even high functioning autistics need to learn this. It's not automatic. That's all good. My reason:

"If you hurt people's feelings, they quit listening."

What this gets to is a big part of Conflict Communications. People personalize the world. When you say, "Trina, you made a mistake" Trina hears, "Trina, you are stupid." What was intended to help becomes an attack, and the help won't be accepted or even heard until the social/emotional reaction is satisfied.

Part of being a sergeant was telling people they screwed up. If I was too direct about it, people would assume I was angry. They would sometimes spend weeks saying, "Sorry about that screw-up sarge, but everything is alright between us, right?" It had never not been alright. I was paid to, sometimes, point out problems. It was only after watching I realized that many people, even experienced supervisors, couldn't directly confront unless they were angry. So people expected anger.

The tribal and emotional parts of the thought process are intertwined. Maybe there is no separation at all. When you see things through tribal filters, the logical part of your brain isn't even engaged, no matter how much you think it is or how logical you sound to yourself. The surest sign of being in your tribal brain (we call it 'the monkey') is emotion. If your blood pressure goes up when you think about those bastards on the other side of the line (doesn't matter if it is political parties or religions or sports teams) the part of your brain that distinguishes you from a chimp isn't even engaged.

If you choose words that hurt feelings, you automatically put the other person in chimp mode, and all the logic in the world won't help. Worse, no matter how logical you are sure you are being, his chimp mode almost automatically triggers your chimp mode. You have lost control.

(And this is putting certain people into chimp mode right now: how dare he allege that anything I'm passionate about is coming from the limbic system! I care about TRUTH! Thing is, that whenever in your experience y0u saw two idiots arguing, both of them thought there was one idiot and one reasonable person...and that includes most of the times you were 'debating' as well. A discussion between two intelligent people working together to find a solution doesn't have the emotional aspect of two people using the argument to either establish dominance or defend identity.)

You can pick any internet dust-up or argument and analyze it: it becomes an argument because, at some point, a statement is taken as an attack, an opinion about an idea is felt to be about the person who holds the idea...

The tribal and primate roots are there to see. More importantly, they are predictable. If you can't see a thing, you are at the mercy of that thing. Once you learn to see it...

Predictable is preventable.


Unknown said...

"Don't take anything personally" seems a critical lesson to teach our kids and practice ourselves (Just because don Miguel Ruiz put it in his book doesn't make it less useful).

As I get older it seems foolish to take personally anything anybody says to me---good or bad---even when they clearly intend their words to be entirely personal and malicious.

And there is less and less to get steamed about.

Sure I listen to feedback so I can go along with social agreements to a point and hear how others perceive me.

I'll propose that not taking things personally is a core Conflict Communications skill.

You hear it coming and become more still as the voices get louder.

don Miguel Ruiz inspired CC !!!!

Gotta love your daughter.

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

Reminds me of the rhymn that one hears as a kid.
"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me"
Its a shame most people forget it and what it means.

There are also those people who want "critisism" but what they actualy want is you to say "thats fantastic. Don't change a thing"

As a teacher I am disappointed by how many "adults" don't have a clue of how to learn.

Kasey said...

My family is making me watch American Idol with them. Thats cool I like spending time with them when I can. On the Show Steven Tyler was arguing with Randy. Tyler said Randy I see your point but if I agreed with you we would both be wrong.

Kathryn Scannell said...

My wife and I have come to realize something very much like this, and it's key to keeping our disagreements from turning into full fledged, screaming fights. We both have tempers, although I think mine is worse. But when we start disagreeing about something seriously, we've both figured out how to take a sort of mental step back and sideways and remember that we don't want to hurt each other. That makes all the difference.

We usually end up starting to have the fight because I've failed at that. I think of it as letting my inner five year old out, but reading this, I think that's the same thing as your chimp.

FWIW, I'm not sure your answer is all that abnormal either. But we have a saying in my house - "Normal is a washing machine setting."

Charles James said...

Sgt Miller, thanks!

Steve Perry said...

Good point. Of course, sometimes it is an attack, and the question becomes how to tell when it is or not.

Some folks are very good at making an attack look like it isn't -- you have pointed it out consistently that such is part and parcel of the thug mindset.

Even in social situations, something that is deliberately meant to be hurtful will often be hastily amended: "Hey, I was only joking!"

I've been on both sides of this one -- heard verbal attacks when none were intended, been accused of them when I hadn't offered them.

As writers, we strive for clarity, but as every writer learns pretty quickly, no matter how clear you think you have been, there are always folks who won't get it. And good intentions aren't always enough ...

JessicaLee said...

I really liked this post.

You see stuff like this all the time - a seemly minor argument quickly expands and snowballs.

Once when I made a positive statement about myself, it was pointed out to me that how could I know it was true, and that people weren't just saying nice things just to be nice. Good question...

I've also learned a LONG time ago to keep my political views to myself. Not only is it conflict avoidance, but it maintains the ability to be social with co-workers, and more importantly it keeps me employed.

Quint Oga-Baldwin said...

"There are also those people who want "critisism" but what they actualy want is you to say "thats fantastic. Don't change a thing""

The flip side of this is that most people, when you ask for honest criticism and weak points, most people give you positive affirmation instead.

Josh Kruschke said...

Thanks Rory.

This is at the heart of a personal dilemma of my own; to blog or not to blog.
I started my own blog as a way to test and strengthen my belief system. To look for the flaws and blind spots.

As, I didn't find it on my own blog I've been trolling around on the blogosphier making a nuisance of myself, and I fear I haven't been to delicate about stating my opinion looking to be challenged.

I've come to realize that I need to be more circumspect of peoples stated goals and what they really want.

I don't know if your daughter or son realize what a blessing it is to have someone help them learn this, with out learning it the hard way.

Intellectually I've know this for quit a while, but I still not sure if the white lie is a good thing or just the easy thing. It's just so damn not the way my brain works.

I want to say to your daughter and son never change. It's not your job to help people deluded them self or build up their self-image, but that's your and their decision.

Still not sure,

Josh Kruschke said...

Quint Oga-Baldwin -



Jake said...

Very cool stuff. Not a lot to add that hasn't already been said.

The European Historical Combat Guild said...

Yes... there is always a flip side. life is in the shades of grey! 8')

Lori O'Connell (West Coast Jiu-jitsu) said...

This is very good advice. It very much applies to me being a martial arts instructor. Love your work btw, particularly Meditations on Violence. Really eye-opening stuff!

Flinthart said...

Okay. Even more interesting. You were a sergeant? Your approach here is thoughtful, and very rational. That's... not entirely what I have learned to expect from the military.