Thursday, 2 May 2013

Talk To Me - 4 - Rinse and Repeat

One of the issues I've already raised is that of repetition.

Research into how people learn suggests that we often do need to be told something several times before it sinks in, and in a structured educational process, repetition is one of several methods used.

Perhaps we don't pay attention. Or perhaps we need to learn from experience. It may just be how our brains store things.

Whatever it is, there seems to be value in repetition.

On the other hand, there is an old adage that the definition of madness is repeating an action and expecting different results.

Maybe that's why so many products have the following advice written on them:

"Discontinue use if rash develops".

Isn't that rather obvious? If something is causing a problem, isn't it just logic that you should STOP?

If it's not obvious, what part of our thinking process is at fault here?

Cause and effect.

In my personal experience this is the most underdeveloped aspect of the human intellect. It does indeed cause people to repeat actions expecting different results.

The most interesting example of it occurs in the situation known as nagging.

This is widely misrepresented, the suggestion being that anyone who repeats a request is nagging. If you check the dictionary, nagging is not simply repetition, it is "persistent annoyance". If you are annoyed by repetition, there is a very simple way to stop it. In other words, it is preventable, and the onus is on the nagged party to prevent it.

In fact, in many cases where alleged nagging occurs, the repetition is justified. The way it's done of course, and what it is being repeated, are quite another matter. As in most instances of communication, style, tone, and choice of language are the real issue.

Of course, repeated requests can be unreasonable. This is especially true if the request is for money, time, or other resources that simply aren't available, or not yet.

I'll let you into a little secret here to illustrate this. My husband hates to say no to me. I am not a particularly demanding woman, and perhaps because of that he feels like an absolute rotter if he denies me anything. Instead of saying at the outset "that's simply not possible right now", he will squirm and say "we'll see". I am a very literal person who hears maybe as....... maybe. Some people even hear it as "yes", and they cause themselves much disappointment, but we'll come to that later. Of course after all these years, I am aware that "we'll see" often means "actually no, but I don't want to say that to you". But because it sometimes means yes, I am left hanging.

And this is a common reason for miscommunication. We say what we think people want to hear rather than what they need to hear. It really is better to stick to honesty right from the start. "That's not possible right now, we'll review it later". But even here, you leave yourself open to a repeated request, and not unreasonably.

So when is it unreasonable?

When the answer was a flat, firm "no". Repeating a request after being told "no" is called begging. This is never a good idea. It drives both parties crazy. There is always a reason for "no". Unless circumstances behind that reason change, it is foolish to expect the answer to change.

Before I move on from this point I must just mention those who enjoy being begged. This moves out of the range of poor communication into actual dysfunctional relationships, which is probably beyond the scope of an amateur blog series. If you have someone in your life who requires you to beg for everything, I strongly advise running away as fast as you can. That is called emotional abuse, or tyranny.

Discussions and arguments generally go downhill when people repeat themselves.

The wording doesn't matter, saying it in a different way changes nothing. If you are effectively repeating yourself, however creatively, what is actually happening is:

"It is"
"No it isn't"
"Yes it is"
"No, it isn't"

And so on. Pure, pointless repetition.

There is also another common and related phenomenon, of which I have an example from yesterday, that of arguing against a proposition that was never actually made.

Take a look at this exchange on Facebook.

Xxxxxxxxx At the risk of "not being trendy", if Adele makes music for the ears, WTF was that dirge for the James Bond movie all about!
3 minutes ago · Like

Melanie Boxall Skyfall was one of my favourites! (Of hers, and of the Bond movies)
2 minutes ago · Like

Xxxxxxxxx I disagree entirely. It was a crap song for what was an over-long dirge of a movie - the worst Bond movie ever made.
about a minute ago · Like

(N.B. I didn't respond to this, you'll see why)

Look what happened here. Person X made a disparaging statement about a piece of music.  Nothing wrong with that, per se. We all do it all the time, and he wasn't saying it to the songwriter, after all.
But what happens after that? I say that I like it. I don't say "it is good". That remains a value judgement. I say, simply, that I like it. He has already suggested, by his disparagement, that he doesn't.  So we both know where we stand. Should be enough.

He then says "I disagree". What doesn't he agree with? I did not say "it is good". So does he disagree that it's a favourite of mine? No, I don't think he means that. He didn't actually read what I said.

For some reason he then offered his opinion AGAIN. 

Instead of:

"No it isn't"
"Yes it is"
"No, it isn't"

This is:

"It isn't"
"I am"
"It isn't"

This is such a common thing, that I doubt most people ever notice it. But it is the basis of many, many arguments. Keep an eye out for this one, you will see it everywhere.

My husband made me think about it first, many years ago.

I would say: "I'm cold"
He would reply "It isn't cold".

I never said it was, I said I was.

I prefer to analyze than argue, so instead of getting mad at him, I went away quietly to ask, why would an intelligent, caring man respond to my declaration of discomfort, with a statement of opinion. It's not a logical thing to do. It doesn't follow. But it's normal. Proof again that normal isn't necessary "good". 

So we can even repeat ourselves when we were not contradicted.

To sum up this section on miscommunication, the obvious answer is that listening better would help. And perhaps saying something just once, honestly, and be done with it, could save a lot of time. So, why do people repeat themselves, considering all of that?


  1. This is a huge problem my husband and I have.

    1. You and a million other people. But if just one person is able to change it, even a bit, from thinking about this, these kind of blogs have a benefit in the world.

    2. Why do people repeat themselves, considering all of that? I don't know why people repeat themselves considering all of this...

      Sorry, too much for me - at work, lack of sleep and well, I'm just a pain the ass, generally.