Monday, 28 October 2013

Why We Argue

One of my pet topics here is communication, and there's a reason for that. Communication is a double-edged sword. It allows us to problem-solve and it causes no end of problems. So, as you know, I am very keen on good communication, and I observe bad communication. I have theories about bad communication. You're going to hear one of them.

What comes out of our mouths, and what gets heard by the listener are two different things. And this is not a hearing problem, because the same applies to what we write.

I know I'm not mistaken here because (and you've heard me witter on about this before) there are so many times people object to things I haven't said. So they are hearing/reading something else. Why?

It's simple. All of us have a different "angle", a different outlook, a different Weltanshauung. When we cooperate, this is really useful because they combine, they cover lots of bases, they give a more whole, rounded way of doing things. This is why we have juries, committees, parliaments, etc.

But when we don't agree there is discord.

In theory, by compromising and working together we can overcome this, but in practice stubbornness and misunderstandings often block a solution.

And I say misunderstandings because of this particular problem, this hearing something other than what was actually said.

I'm going to return to an argument I've already touched on in a previous blog, but didn't give you details about. It's a religious question, but don't let that become your focus, or you will get distracted from the problem in hand.

In this argument, which was on the topic of creationism being allowed in public schools, I made the assertion that the Bible was mythology. I've made that assertion once or twelve times, and I know exactly what the reaction will be. So I'm well-prepared for what follows. Even this.

Because what follows sometimes, is exactly what followed in this instance, where the person arguing against me said "But you don't believe in God". I then asked him to show me where I said that. Unable to find it he ignored the question and went on a different tack.

Now, I repeat, don't get bogged down in the God question. It's pointless. But there is no link, no connection between a person's attitude to a book, and a person's theism or lack of it. That relationship is caused by the listener's own beliefs (i.e. he believes God, specifically his God, wrote the book.)

This happens in far more mundane situations, I've mentioned before that frequently, when I say I'm cold, my husband says it isn't cold. I never said it was, I said I was. He's referring to the temperature, I'm referring to my comfort level. This is the exact same problem.

Friday morning, we went to buy a new dryer. Home Depot could not sell us one, only order one for delivery in 7-10 days with a $50 delivery fee. Future Shop sold us a floor model, covered the cost of the tax, and helped us get it into the back of our truck.

Quite why Future Shop can do this and Home Depot can't, I don't know, company policy obviously, but what it means is that regularly, the sales clerk in Home Depot has to disappoint people by telling them they have to wait. My reaction to that was to smile and say thank you and goodbye. I was very nice about it, she was very apologetic, but I guarantee there have been problems over this. I guarantee that at least one potential customer, possibly frustrated by being without an appliance they rely on, has torn her to shreds for not saying right at the beginning, that nothing in stock is actually for sale.

You may say, well this is different to the other examples, but it isn't. The responsibility for clear communication lies at both ends, in fact. Sometimes you may feel it lies more at one than the other, but that's just your angle.

If I speak clearly, and I'm misunderstood, I will blame the listener, oh yes. No question. If he tries blaming me I will object. I may well be right, both in what I said, and in standing up for myself, but there will still be an argument. It's virtually unavoidable.

And if there were 100 witnesses, who all agreed that I spoke clearly, and honestly, he may still see it differently. Because what we hear isn't always what was said, and something else. We just don't like what was said.

I'll give you another example from my family, because the pettiest arguments often come from family, with people we love and care about.

It is normal, when I tell my husband something has happened, that he says "What do you mean?" For example, when I said "The washing line is broken" he said "What do you mean, broken?" to which I replied, perhaps a bit too sharply, "I mean broken". And he glares back. The silliness of this is obvious, but some of you are nodding your heads.

And you could explain it. You could take his "side" and say "What he is asking, is "is it snapped" or has it just fallen off the fittings, or has the pole fallen down". Which is quite a reasonable thing to suggest. Except it doesn't take into account the two personalities involved. Or to be precise the fine details of the two personalities involved, the fact that he ALWAYS asks "What do you mean?" to any announcement like this  - if I said the cat was dead, he'd say "What do you mean, dead?" where there is no possible ambiguity. It's how he reacts to news. And that I am rather more clear in my choice of words. Had the line slipped off, I'd have said so, if the pole was down I'd have included the word pole etc.

People have quirks, some people have more quirks than others, and without knowing them thoroughly, it's impossible to say who is responsible for the miscommunication. Maybe both sides.

My point is that it's inevitable. These miscommunications happen in the best of circumstances. Add in variables like hearing problems, language problems, memory problems, emotions, stress, illness, weather, history, and the price of bacon, and quite frankly, it's a bloody miracle we get along as well as we do.

To prove my point, right now some of you are still bothered that I said the Bible is mythology, some of you are considering buying your next dryer at Future Shop, and my husband is saying "but I don't....."

Once again, not reading what I wrote. I even specified "my point is" and marked it in bold. This is a simple answer to the title of the blog, but you, dear reader, have gone all round the houses in your opinion of my attitude over the examples I gave, and gone off on tangents over the blog. It happens all the time. People take all sorts of things from my rambling style of writing, rather than the point I was hoping to make. And it's inevitable. It's so inevitable it's not wrong. It's human nature. But it still causes problems.

A variation on this explains why employees and kids do a poor job of tasks.

You ask your employee or your son to clean the sink.

When you clean the sink, your objective is a clean sink.
When he cleans the sink his objective is to get his boss or parent off his back.

Consequently the sink is not cleaned properly.

Although your communication of "clean the sink" is quite clear, his angle, his attitude to cleaning, is quite different. You can try all sorts of things to improve his work, but until he wants that sink clean, it will never be quite right.

Then, added to that are your expectations. These aren't met, and you get upset. AND, you feel you are justified in getting upset. Layers and layers of being "right".

While your employee or son, who sees it differently, feels nagged and irritated.

And no amount of insisting that he "should" do a better job will help. I'll talk more about "should" tomorrow.

We communicate badly, both when we speak and when we listen. We could try harder.

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