Friday, 3 May 2013

Talk To Me - 5 - Offence

You can give it, or you can receive. Both are generally optional.

To be deliberately offensive in your communication with others is a bit like shooting yourself in the foot. There is a wonderful old saying "you catch more flies with honey, than with vinegar" and on the whole it is accurate. If you want the attention of other people, if you want them to listen to you, it makes sense to be polite in the way you talk to them.

I'm currently fighting my through the Odyssey, and Odysseus, who is known for his wiliness, managed to talk himself into becoming an honoured guest in the court of a king, no less, with a bit of flattery. So clearly, Homer and his ilk, almost 3000 years ago, were well aware of the necessity to turn on the charm. This is described as "knowing your audience" and it includes an awareness that it is necessary to approach a person in the right way. You don't get favours from kings by being anything less than sycophantic, and in the general course of events good manners will get you everywhere.

The problem is that some people are easily offended, in fact it seems they seek offence. That makes things more complicated, but it doesn't change the rules. If you know you are being polite, and they are taking offence, at least you have ruled out one problem.

So let's look at why people take offence. Let's begin by turning it around. Why do you take offence?

"Because somebody was rude to me!"

Was it true? Was the insult valid?

There is no justification for insults, but if what was said to you wasn't accurate, why does it upset you?

"But it hurt my feelings!"

How does information that is incorrect hurt your feelings? Can you not think to yourself that the person insulting you has made a bad mistake? Suppose he calls you stupid, and you know you are not. He is mistaken. In fact, he may be the stupid one.

"But it's not nice being called stupid!"

No, it isn't, but if it's not true, why did he say it? Probably because of his own problems, his own poor self-esteem. Or because he's just spouting off. He may not even mean it. He may know you are not stupid. These are just words being used as weapons. It's an ugly thing, but it can only harm you if you allow it to.

This is not easy, this whole "sticks and stones" thing. It takes practice and time. But you can develop an attitude that insults are just meaningless, that they reflect only the bad attitude/intellect/temper of the individual  hanging out the insults. You can even feel sorry for him. He is lacking in something, so he resorts to this.

What if it's true?

Quite often what we take to heart are insults that are at least based in fact. These are especially true if they are based on physical appearance, but then they are usually irrelevant to a discussion. That is a whole other issue, going off topic. It is a sign that a discussion has in fact ended, or at the very least, de-railed. The problem then, frankly, is not the insult.

But within "normal" discussions, certain insults come up that are not helpful, even if they are true. An example would be the word "lazy". Good bosses know to treat words like this as taboo, but in more personal relationships, with no conflict resolution training, these are often the hot button words.

The fact that your teenager IS lazy changes nothing. It's a bad idea to confront him with that word, if you want improvement. He knows he's lazy. It's not as if you are offering a revelation, therefore it is of no value.

Conversely, if you are that person, on the receiving end of an insult that, well, frankly has basis in fact, it is probably better to accept it, and do something about it rather than take offence.

I think by now you'll see that I see offence as a negative, and something to avoid. I am not of the school of thought that believes "telling him some home truths" is particularly useful. I see it as an obstacle to communication, and NOT an asset.

Of course you will be in discussions with those who give and take offence, there will always be those people.  Not everyone is as careful or enlightened as you. But you can do your part.

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