Most flame wars are triggered and fueled by what Elgin calls a ‘reality gap’. All of us need to learn better ways to build bridges across those gaps.

Verbal Self-Defense is a bit like judo. It can be used to fight, or it can be more like a formal dance, where the goal is exercise and fun, but not “victory”.

If you get mad, however, you’re toast. Let your anger signal you that a problem exists, but before you speak, do a reality-check.

Tools and techniques after the fold…
George Miller’s Law:  
In order to understand what someone is saying, you need to

  1. assume that it is true, and
  2. try to imagine what it could be true OF.

Semantics are more important that we realize:
Two or more people can take a word and give it attributes that further define it–and then check to see whether both of them agree on the attributes.

For example, most people might agree on the following basic ideas for “Failure”:

  • +negative (it’s bad)
  • -concrete (it’s abstract, you can’t touch it)
  • +goal not reached
  • ?final (well, just how final is it?)

The next three examples typically cause friction between men and women. I can’t speak for men’s viewpoint, but I recall heavy social pressure while I was going up to internalize the  women’s definitions.

Men | Women
+force | +force
+intense | +intense
+deliberate | +deliberate
+negative | +negative
+avoidable | +harmful

Men | Women
+other    | +enemy

Men | Women
+do your assigned part | +do whatever you see that needs doing

(This last one is a big culprit when it comes to “helping around the house” disagreements.)

Primary metaphor/frame for task-oriented interactions:

Big gender split here:
Men:  Games
Women: School/learning lab

All of us know that learning a second language after age 10 or so is much harder than learning it while younger. The ear is less attuned to the new sounds, and the phrasing is always a bit awkward.  For example, the German word Gift means “poison”. Now, imagine the very first instinctive reaction of a German exchange student to a buoyant “Close your eyes…. Hold out your hands…. I brought you a gift!”

It isn’t that men and women can’t learn each other’s definitions. But because the words are the same as words that they learned as small children–but the meanings of those words are not quite the same–they essentially have to make the same kinds of mental corrections as our young German friend.

I’m pretty sure that lots of men have not-so-happy memories of school–they’d be happier with those memories not being triggered.

Unfortunately, because women assign different attributes to Games, using the Games metaphor brings up some major Reality Gaps between the sexes.

For men: if it involves negotiation, and is not life-or-death, it is a game.

For women, a game is
+governed by rules

As soon as a game metaphor surfaces, so does the Reality Gap. Over and over again.

A woman’s native reaction to men using a game metaphor is “Come on, guys, get serious!”  Alternately, she may realize that they are serious and keep losing her awareness of the game-like aspects that still hold. Many women have learned to “play the game”–but it is always learned later in life, as a second language.

And, not surprisingly, Time Out has different meanings in the First Language, as well:

Men–football (short break before returning to the fray)
Women–siblings (cool off and don’t resume fighting at all)

To see just how crucial this sort of thing can be, Elgin presented a business example.  With a few minor changes, it could have been used to avert most of the pie wars. But to pull it off, one of our women, already under stress, would have had to shift into her second language frame.

Elgin’s example:

Mary (employee): “John, I’m here because I have a problem that I’d like to talk to you about.”

John (boss):  “Good enough.  What’s on your mind?”

Mary: “I feel as if I were the only person on the team who didn’t get a uniform–that’s what’s on my mind.”

John: “I don’t follow you.”

Mary: “Suppose you worked in an office where you were the only man, John. Suppose that when you walked into a room where people were talking, there was an immediate silence–and then one of the women told you how handsome you looked and everyone else snickered. Suppose that when you were entitled to hear that you’d done a good job you were told that you owed your success to the shirt you had on. Would you be comfortable in that situation?”

In light of this information–do you see parts of the pie fight differently now?

Are there other times here at dKos when this sort of information might be helpful?

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