Sunday, June 01, 2008

"Aggravation" in Communication

Communication is, perhaps, the most important game of all of the “Games of Life” that we all play. And it is a game that perplexes and befuddles most of us throughout our lifetimes. Yet, it need not be so. For there are some very simple and basic tools of understanding that will enable us to engage in the “communication game” with a satisfactory, if not enjoyable, level of competency. Today, I offer but one of those “tools” for your consideration. I will illustrate it with a vignette from my experience. Please read with patience… as I must explain the details that demonstrate the point.

We would invite guests to our home for an evening of dining and playing well known board games. One of everyone’s favorites was a game involving marbles and a round board. The idea of the game is to use the roll of the dice to generate numbers to be applied to the movement of one’s marbles from a starting point to a finishing point (home.) Each player has their own beginning point and ’home’ point. An exact number must be rolled to start each marble (each player has 5 or so marbles…as I recall) around the board… and an exact number must be rolled to move each marble from the circuit into the “home base.” Hence each player could expect to have one or more marbles waiting on the circuit for an exact number to allow entry into “home.” And those waiting marbles are vulnerable to another player’s passing marble’s landing on them while they were waiting. This would send the waiting marble all of the way back to the start point. ("Aggravating!")

I tell you all of this so that you will have some understanding of why each player would have a degree of anxiety as they tried to roll the exact number to allow the entry of their marbles into home…and away from that place of vulnerability. Thusly, as the game reached its final minutes, the play would consist of all players having all of their marbles lined up at the entrance to their respective home points… no one going around the circuit (the circuit having been completed by all)… and each player, in turn, rolling the dice in the attempt to get the exact number required for entry to home. BORING!! (Or so I decided.)

I, therefore, chose to move my marbles right past my Home Place entry point, continue around the circuit, and land on each of the other players’ marbles waiting for entry to their respective home… thusly sending them, in turn, back to their start point. (The name of the game being "...." [smile]) Oh My! The emotion that I stirred! You would think that I had committed some heinous crime. “You are not playing fair!” these grown adults would cry. “You are not following the rules” they would protest. Whereupon I would demonstrate, by reading the rules (an exercise guaranteed to try the patience of any but the most saintly of persons) that I was fully within the rules to opt to pass up my own opportunities to “win” the game in favor of spoiling others’ chances of winning. (In the truest "spirit" of the game! [I see now that I was such an ass!])

The degree of fury is beyond what I can adequately convey in words here. So incensed would the others become that they banded together (without fail) in their genuine anger against me. This I took as an amusement for I was amazed that these supposedly rational people were putting the placement of a few marbles on a playing surface, above the tangible reality that we as a group of friends were “enjoying” an evening together. And I continually held the genuine belief that they would see the silliness of the moment and join me in a good laugh at ourselves (this NEVER happened.) I was disappointed in the values demonstrated by my friends… and they were disappointed in my obvious willingness to be so “mean-spirited” as to spoil the game for them all. Needless to say, the playing of that game was short-lived.

So what… My Dear Reader… was happening there that offers us some understanding of and means to improve our accomplishment of meaningful communication. Simply this… we are sharing our world with people whose basic and innate temperament and personalities differ from ours. We really do “see” the stuff of life differently. We all have the same “stuff” (circumstances, situations, data, events) presented to us. But we, by nature, PERCEIVE those elements in completely different ways. Those friends, with whom I played that game, were responding to their sense of “begin, play, win” as presented by the rules of the game. They were acting on their natural inclination to follow the CONCRETE structure of the exercise. They were part of the 78% majority of the population (Left-Brain-Dominant) of the world who see all of life’s “stuff” in very immediate, defined, and absolute terms.

What we were up against was my predisposition (by natural design) to look for the spatial, potential, conceptual possibilities (Right-Brain-Dominant) presented by the game. For me, this was just as legitimate and valid as their perceptions… and I couldn’t understand their refusal to recognize and even respect my perceptions. They interpreted my behavior as me being a total Jerk. And I interpreted their animosities as them being more interested in WINNING a game… than us PLAYING a game together. I saw their behavior as a rejection of our personal interaction. They saw my behavior as a refusal to be part of the community of players. None of us had a clue as to what the actual dynamics at play were. We had no basis of understanding necessary for successful communication.

You may say “That is such a small thing!” To which I would respond that our lives are made up of far more “small things” of daily life than relatively “large” things to be dealt with. I have intentionally chosen a seemingly insignificant life event to illustrate this communication conflict because it is in our mundane and routine interactions that we rehearse and reinforce our habits of thinking about and responding to all of the world around us. It is with repetition and practice that we establish our ways of living among each other. And it is my desire to offer what I consider to be the cornerstone of all successful communication… the absolute reality that we are living amongst folk who have, as their own natural gift, a perspective that may well differ from our own. This is a fact of our creation. It is a wonderful truth of the balance and harmony offered by Life.

So what to do? Simply… inquire! That’s it! Question and listen for indications as to how your interlocutor is perceiving the subject being dealt with… then accommodate their view of the matter by tailoring your presentation of your view in a way that compliments theirs. Determine the tone of their view… and harmonize with that tone. Though you may not understand… respect… their right to their view. In all of the seemingly small things practice this methodology… so that in the event of the larger things, you will be well rehearsed. I can offer no more valuable a treasure for your happy coexistence with your world than this. I present its simplicity… and its wealth as I remain (hopefully far less aggravating), as always, Your constant Friend and willing Servant.


lime said...

this reminds me very much of the cross-cultural training i went through prior to moving overseas. basically, in a very general sense, it boiled down to observe carefully when you enter a new culture because the rules are not the same as your own. enter the new culture as a child and learn it as a child observing the "rules" of interactions and trying them out, without labeling them as wrong (even when it feels strange). the responses to your attempts are the feedback needed to know if you've succeeded and how to adjust and fine tune yourself.

thanks for such a great example in the game. my word, i can just imagine the ire you stirred up!

John-Michael said...

"Stirred ire," indeed! And genuinely so naive and oblivious that I was honestly hurt that the Others could be so "aggravated" with me (on the purely human and personal level.) I now look back at myself and cringe. So, I know that if I could be so injurious to the 'sensitivities' of others with a complete absence of malice, perhaps some Reader will benefit from my clumsy behaviors of the past. (Hopefully!)

Thank you, Sweet Lime, for your perfect enlargement on the point. I love You dearly!

CrazyCath said...

Hmmm - yes it makes you think! Perhaps we have a tendency to assume that just because we all play the same game, we all know the same rules. It's a bit like revisiting a childhood game. We all remember slightly different versions of the rules. If we did not communicate those rules and agree them at the start, we would end up with disagreements. (This could happen a lot with pool games for example - 2 shots on the black or not? etc).

I wonder, if some one at that time had NOT been upset but had suggested you were perhaps bending the rules by not playing to what was (silently) agreed (through traditional play), how would you have responded? Would you still have insisted on your right to give up your chance of winning or would you have acknowledged that others had assumed you to follow the traditional rules?

One lesson from this is to "assume nothing"!

Anonymous said...

Its all about strategy when playing games. However this game of "life" reguires we listen not only with our ears but our heart & speak softly to convey our message. All the while hearing the message from others. Its very complicated until perfected. And frankly I'm not there yet. But YOU John-Michael communicate extremely well.

John-Michael said...

I welcome You, dear Anonymous Friend, to "settle in and sit a spell" whilst You and I allow this "communication thing" to develop and mature between us. I do believe that this could be a very good thing!

Loving regards ...

John-Michael said...

In matter of Fact, CathDaughter, we were ALL playing the Game entirely within the confines of the game's governing rules. I was using the games "defensive" strategies to excess whilst the Others were focused entirely on the "offense" strategies. The rule that I was 'abusing' is in place to allow for a player to enhance his/her chances to 'survive' if somewhat behind the Others in readiness to finish. The 'winning' rule was opted for by the others to their intentional exclusion of any recognition of the defensive provisions of the game.

The effect was equal to a soccer team playing an entire game without trying to score ... whilst employing all of their focus on the prevention of their opponent scoring. Methinks the Fans would be less than enthusiastic about the game. And the opponents would have some difficulty enjoying the encounter. Once again, "Balance" comes into consideration. The "Purpose" of the game must be understood and respected by all taking part.

In the Business world of Investments and Financial Planning, I was an irritation to the "mainstream game" of "generate commissions!" My focus was always on the joy and satisfaction of puttng my Clients into programs that gained them the greatest returns for the lowest risk to their capital. This ALWAYS generated the LOWEST commissions.

I was barely earning a living ... whilst having the highest numbers in invested funds. Life for me in that environment was an ongoing Hell! (And was not so pleasant for those with whom I worked.) We were all "playing by the rules." But the intent of our "games" were never mutually supportive. This is but one of many such examples that I could relate. (This could become a rather lengthy post all on its own. [smile])

I thank You for your thoughts.

Suldog said...

I can't add much to that, John-Michael. It is so often in how we look at things that we decide what emotion to invest. Most times, we could be happier than we choose to be, I think. Too bad.

aims said...

You see. I would have laughed at my loss instead of pouncing on you.

I've learned many a new way of being since the illness struck and I have crawled out the other side. Perhaps everyone needs to go through this sort of event to see the world and others in a different light.

Totally inspirational!

Sandra Ree said...

You're a southpaw. :)

John-Michael said...

Choosing that happy 'option' sure seems to me to be the way to fly SulDog. I find it to be 'unfortunate' that such a large number of folk feel that 'happy' is not a 'serious' enough demeanor to validate their lives. As though being happy is to trivialize life. Without the happy option I surely would not care to participate in the living gig at all. But then, that is yet another demonstration of my own choice and temperament. Not the standard for anyone else.

Knowing You, My Friend, certainly makes the happy thing a natural choice. Love Ya Jim.

John-Michael said...

Wow! Your "crawled out the other side" portrays the experience of surviving some of life's 'stuff' perfectly, Aims Darling. How I do appreciate your perspective (and enjoy your Person [smile].) I would hope that however we played any of life's games, You and I would have laughter as our soundtrack. Sharing laughter with You, My Friend, seems like a good thing to anticipate.

I do love You, Sweet One.

John-Michael said...

In so very many metaphorical ways, I certainly am a "southpaw," my Dear Sandra Ree. Though when I pick up Friend Waterman to write, 'tis with my right hand. I thank you for your willingness to be that involved, as to consider the question, though. [smile]


nitebyrd said...

The devil in me sometimes enjoys "not playing by the rules" just to make people a bit more animated by rattling their "marbles." Many times it leads to lively communication, if it doesn't the angel in me will kindly beg forgivness.

Corey~living and loving said...

You always seem to say what it is in my heart and mind so much better than I ever could. When dealing with a difficult time in my life, I learned that people often assume that YOU will need or want what THEY would need or want in a time of need, and that is not neccesarily so. I learned to ASK people how they want to be supported instead of assuming I would know what would be helpful.
I had to constantly tell people, "it is okay for you to be angry....but don't be angry FOR me, as I am choosing not to be angry. If you want to help me, please just listen....and let me lead the way." It took people aback, but in the end, I felt better supported because I helped THEM help ME.

Great post! Thank you for sharing it. From the looks of your most recent are doing well. I am happy for that.

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