I’ve written about communicating with general authorities and others in a hierarchy, and about understanding people who have spent most of their lives spending most of their time deferring gratification and caring for others. The last significant post in that series was “On Being Heard.”
This post takes up where that left off, years ago, when I hit a writers block in trying to address the various things that will cause the people to tune you out when you try to talk to them.
This is a summary, in bullet points, of what to avoid (I’ll explain each at length later).
- Leading with a litany or a check list. Litanies are generally used to self-identify a speaker as superior. E.g. “I’m an xyz, and I’m concerned with — check list of things that identify you as a member of a group — and [at this point you’ve been tuned out.]”
- Sounding privileged or petulant. Leading off with the language of entitlement is a powerful negative.
- Sounding mentally ill.
- Borderline, unusually intense sensitivity in relationships with others.
- Obsessive, unable not to obsess over a particular point or problem.
- Narcissism, or self focus.
- Histrionic, or attention seeking.
- Coming across as critical rather than caring.
- Seeming not to care how anyone else is affected.
When there is a large amount of emotion or pain, or a real feeling of a need to communicate, one of the greatest risks is that the speaker will gaslight themselves. While “gaslighting” was originally referred to as a process others do to someone to make the victim feel that the victim is mentally ill, the term has evolved.
Gaslighting now is often used to refer to a process by which a speaker is made to look defective, either from imputed mental illness or other incompetence. “Gaslighting yourself” occurs when the way you present a point causes others to conclude that you are incompetent, either from mental illness or some other reason.
This essay is about how to avoid doing that when you are trying to communicate and addresses ways people do that without realizing it.
There are two different ways to “Gaslight” yourself.
One is to come across as entitled, the other is to come across as incompetent or meaningless. Those are the various mannerisms or approaches that are in the bullet points.
- “I’m a dittohead and concerned about the way feminazis seem not to be challenged …” or
- “I’m so concerned about social justice and the way that …”
As Nate Oman has written, a litany serves as a social and status marker. You will often see people lead off with a litany before they get to the point. In general, anyone who leads off with a litany has identified themselves as both entitled and incompetent, and signaled that whatever they say will be meaningless background noise. Starting with a litany is a good way to cause the listener to decide to move on to the next person or speaker with their attention.
Agendas and litanies are so close to each other that it is hard to distinguish between them without taking significant time.
Privilege and petulance
A number of writers have noted that there are two child rearing strategies in America today. One is cultivation, the other is natural growth. While cultivation leads to improved outcomes as measured by wealth or social status, part of it involves creating a sense of entitlement. This sense of entitlement becomes important in institutional settings because American middle class children question adults and consider them relative equals. However, it also creates a sense of entitlement without any basis for it being earned.
It results in behavior that some may consider courageous, but that looks more like the petulance of the privileged. Acting or being perceived as petulant or privileged will get you noted rather than engaged (regardless of what you are really doing, if you create a perception of petulance or privilege it will block communication).
Mental illness often does several things.
- It drives people into behavior outside the social norms.
- It drives behavior and belief not tied to reality.
- It drives people to attempt to communicate directly with “celebrities” (including social group celebrities or leaders). President Obama gets a flood of crank letters. So did every president before him.
If you communicate in a manner that fits one of the patterns above, you will be drowned out by the chorus of mentally ill people who communicate in those patterns. You will not be able to easily distinguish yourself from the background noise.
Harshness and critical communication, especially constant critical communication, is the specialty of gadflies — people who seem to exist to criticize. The difference between a critical lover and a constant critic is that one starts as someone you know and whom you know loves you. The other is just hostile noise.
It is easy to frame things in a critical fashion. For example. Children who are subjected to severe discipline are much more likely to lie. In a very real way, harsh and strict disciplinarian upbringings train children to lie, first and foremost. What you do with that fact, that reality, in communicating with those who are responsible for disciplining children can cover a huge variety of styles.
But if you are caustic or catty, you are likely to be perceived as a source of attack rather than a source of help or advice that should be followed.
I had a friend, FreTag, whom I blogged with. I still miss him, though he died some time ago. One thing we discussed was the issues his church (Community of Christ) had due to having a large African membership plus a very liberal American membership.
In Africa, belonging to a church that supports gay marriage means, in some areas, that you are not entitled to be considered one of the peoples “of the Book.” [If you check wiki, you will not see 12 apostles listed. He assured me that they have twelve apostles, but that for reasons of the personal safety of some of them, they are not publicly listed.] Such a determination means that you are subject to slavetaking (there is a steady slave economy in Africa), and not entitled to having a number of your civil rights respected by very significant portions of the population.
There are many other “narrow picture” vs. “wider picture” issues like that where a change in one location can affect the lives and safety of those in other locations.
Even something simple like paying bribes, and what kind of bribes you pay, in order to implement charitable projects can have huge effects.
Engaging from a frame of a narrow picture will often cause you to be noted, but not listened to.
Communication is difficult. It becomes more difficult when you are trying to communicate with people who are very busy and who have a flood of people trying to contact them. If the Church had only three million members, and only one in thirty tried to say something once a year directly to a leader, that would be about a hundred thousand messages to filter through.
If you are seriously trying to communicate, it doesn’t hurt to avoid gaslighting yourself.