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Communicational Pliancy

Men of the community of Pie Town, New Mexico eating at the barbeque (LOC)
1940 or thereabouts in Pie Town, New Mexico. Yes, Pie Town! Photo via the Library of Congress.

Today I had a conversation with someone to clear up a mild disagreement. The disagreement was only mild because we’re reasonable people — if either of us had handled things differently it could have been a friendship-ending incident. As it was, we reassessed each other’s communication expectations and figured out how to go forward. One way of framing this is that we informally negotiated a code of conduct to apply to the two of us.

This made me reflect on how useful it is to iterate my social techniques in response to feedback (whether explicit or implicit). What I mean is tweaking my attitude and approach depending on what works best in a given situation. People do this automatically to some extent, and it sounds banal when spelled out. But for me the practice of intentionally maintaining social flexibility has been a surprisingly radical change in how I deal with other human beings.

It’s more productive to meet people halfway as opposed to expecting them to accommodate you entirely. I wouldn’t say this is easy — I am a stubborn person and I have to be wary of the urge to dig in my heels — but so far I’ve found communicational pliancy to be worth the effort.

“If we want to understand what’s on the mind of another, the best our mortal senses can do may be to rely on our ears more than our inferences.” — Mindwise by Nicholas Epley

I cross-posted this on Facebook and two friends offered astute comments. Emily Peterson:

“But what about a situation in which you’re asking for something you think is reasonable, and the other party is asking for something you think is unreasonable? In such a case, both parties meeting halfway results in the generic You feeling cheated [sic]. Does this only work when people’s expectations of one another are already in synch?”

Loretta Carr:

“Sometimes my truth and another’s truth don’t coincide; they’re not even close. When I don’t trust that person’s words or actions, I can’t work with him/her. Toxic situation for me. Gotta move on.”

Fair enough. It definitely depends on the situation.

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