8/01/2008

08-01-08 - 3

The more generic and obvious and trite an observation is, the more it resonates with people. This itself is a very obvious observation. Of course pop lyricists know this well - if you write some really generic song about how tough love is, lots of people will connect with it. It's also the master trick of astrologers - if you make a bunch of nonspecific predictions, people will find ways to adapt them to fit their own life. The converse is also true - if you make actually deep complex observations that are truly interesting and required some thought, those do not hit home, people might go "hmm" but they don't seep into their brains.

All the things you learn over time that really help you live tend to be these sort of trite one-sentence platitudes. Unfortunately, they are also things that you can't really learn from just by hearing; you have to go through some long personal experience, and then finally you see the wisdom of the little saying and it starts to actually affect how you behave.

Anyway, I've been thinking through this thing I learned about communication. People don't necessarily say what they mean or mean what they say, but they are trying to tell you something, so if you think about what made them say what they did, you can see what they're really thinking. The profound thing for me was actually the reversal - when you say something, people are not in fact just listening to your words, they're trying to guess what you really mean behind those words, or why you said that. So if you're trying to convey a certain message, you don't necessarily accomplish that by making words that contain that message.

When you listen to someone, there are many levels. First, there's the actual logical content of their words. Often, you should just ingore that. Then there's what they meant to say in their words. For example, somebody might ask a question badly, like "hey cbloom, why do you like boost so much?" , and if I was a retard I would go off about how I don't really love boost, I love the STL, but if I would listen to the question they *meant* to ask, I could just answer that, which is something like "why do you like standard libraries so much?".

Then on the next level you've got not just what they meant to say, but what message they meant to convey by saying that. This is where you think to yourself "why did they choose to say that?" and of course there's nonverbal communication as well. There are tons of examples of course, but a common one is just when someone tries to make chitchat with you. The actual words are garbage, but the real message is "hey, I want to talk to you, I'm trying to be friendly". If their chitchat was lame and you don't give much of a reply, you're saying "fuck off, I don't want to talk to you". If you want to encourage the chitchat you should reply in a nice way even if its not logical in purely verbal sense based on what they said.

It didn't really hit home for me until I studied PUA a while ago. There's a lot of evil stuff in PUA, but a large part of it is just about being aware of communication and what messages you're really sending and what messages other people are really sending.

Similarly you need to be aware that what you mean doesn't come across in your words. Don't just say the words that express your idea, because people are not listening to your words. Instead realize how people hearing will take those words, and say the words that create the impression you want. A classic one of course is with guys trying to show they're nice guys at a bar, you go up to a girl and say "hi" and then get into "a like your dress" ; you may think these words are conveying that you're a good guy and you're interested, but the message that's going across is "I'm a boring loser who's uncreative and timid and perhaps just wants to bed you".

In some sense this seems too analytical and manipulative, but it sort of has to be. If you just listen and speak naively, you will be miscommunicating all the time. One of the things that's always tripped me up is the whole line of questions like "does this make my butt look fat?". God, what a retarded question, if I just listen to the words, it makes me angry and not want to cooperate, but if you stop and listen to the real message, they're saying "hey honey, I feel insecure, compliment me", and that's a totally reasonable thing to say and you should respond well to that message, and just ignore the verbal text. Also I used to get sort of pissed at people for obviously sending subtextual messages like that - I would think hey just fucking say what you want - but of course that's ridiculous, for one thing people are shy, but for another thing, everyone is operating on a subtextual level, so if you just say what you really want people will hear the subtext. Like if you just went up to a girl and said "hey we're both hot, we should fuck", what she hears is the subtext "I'm a psychopath".

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old rants