Archive for the ‘communicating’ Category

Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children, and no theories.
John Wilmot

So I’m a parent now. Three months and counting. 🙂

During these three months, I’ve come to understand a number of “parent behaviors” that previously fell under the category of “How is it possible that…??!?!”.

For example, I can totally see how a child might end up dominating the entire household. For the first few months of a child’s life, the parents more or less have to respond immediately to the child’s demands. There’s no such thing as “just a moment, dear, Mommy will change your diaper after grown-ups have finished coffee” when there’s a screaming alert. Once the child starts to want things that are not immediately required for survival and well-being, the parents need to be very conscious of the distinction between needs and wants. It takes effort to break the habit of immediately fulfilling the request.

But there’s one thing that still stays in the “What the what???” category. Allow me to illustrate.

Let’s say it’s one of those (fictional) family get-togethers where you meet everyone who’s a second cousin or closer. I’m stuck at a table with a remotely related nephew John, 8 (fictional) and John’s parents (also fictional). I decide to make small talk.

Me: So what have you been up to this summer, John?

John’s mom: Well, he went to a summer camp for two weeks, and we’re heading off to Switzerland for a week in August.

Me: Oh, that’s nice. So John, did you watch the soccer World Cup?

John’s mom: Yeah, he and his dad watched every single game. He was so sad to see Argentina lose to Germany, weren’t you?

John: Yeah.

Me: Ah, Argentina. Who was your favorite player, John?

John’s mom: He totally rooted for Messi, he wanted us to buy him a Messi jersey but they are so expensive…

…And so on. Sadly, even though the story is fictional, it’s based on a number of real-life incidents.

Why, oh why is it ok for mothers to speak on behalf of their children? When the children are actually there to participate in the conversation? When the child is the actual person being addressed in the conversation?!!

How on earth do these parents think their child will learn the basic rules of grown-up conversation if they’re never permitted to participate in one? How will the child learn to trust his or her own opinions if there’s never any room for voicing them? I know some children are so shy that it’s a huge endeavor to answer a stranger’s question with a single syllable. In that case, the mother’s task is to encourage the child to say something, anything, and lavish on the praise when they do – or take over the conversation if they don’t. Assuming the child won’t be able to answer is a sign of mistrust towards the child.

More than once I’ve had the urge to disregard the mother’s response and wait for the “John” in the conversation to answer for himself. The problem is, most of the time the child in question is too shy to elaborate on what their mother has already divulged – or too used to having their mother to answer the questions to even bother elaborating.

The other option would be to say, “I’m sorry, I was asking John. So, John, …?”. The problem is that if I did this, the mother in question would probably get really offended. Furthermore, I’m not a big fan of embarrassing people in front of their children. On the other hand, if a parent acts like an ass, isn’t it ok to give the child a break, too?

So far my solution has been to keep asking the child questions tagged with their name, all the while maintaining eye contact with the child. My hope is that eventually, the mother will notice from my verbal and nonverbal cues that I’m hoping for the child to answer.

What else could one do in a situation like this? If you come up with a possible solution, please share it in the comments – I could use some more proverbial ammo when dealing with these kinds of parents. 🙂

Thank you for reading, again, and keep catching your own insightings!



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You can learn many things from children.  How much patience you have, for instance.
Franklin P. Jones

Encouraged by a friend who said she likes to read my writing, I’m taking a shot at dusting off my blog. For the past few weeks, I’ve been on a huge learning rollercoaster with our daughter, born seven weeks ago. At the moment, she’s sleeping in her crib, so I have a few moments to reflect upon some things I’ve learned already.

“Sleeps like a baby” – right!

One of the first things we had to learn as parents is not to jump off our seats and run to the baby whenever she makes a sound. Especially when she’s sleeping. There’s grunting, whining, snorting, moaning, and a range of other graceful and not-so-graceful sounds that reflect the different stages of sleep but do not imply anything’s wrong.

This is adorable during the day, when she’s napping. At night, when I’m trying to sleep, it’s not so adorable. Call it a mother’s instinct or whatever, but I tend to wake up to even the smallest whines and grunts. From an evolutionary standpoint, it’s very useful – if there’s a sudden change in the baby’s breathing pattern, I am alert enough to check if something’s wrong. However, when there’s nothing wrong, the baby is breathing and sound asleep (pun intended), it can get just a tad frustrating. A work in progress, this one.

Motivation and obligation

A friend and I talked about the way new parents often seem like they were ‘born to take care of a baby’, in the sense that they look so natural when handling their baby. I suggested that it’s not necessarily about natural aptitude but rather about very intense practice. From the day she was born, we’ve been the ones taking care of her whatever the situation. By the time we left the hospital, we’d both probably picked her up dozens of times and changed what seemed like a mountain of diapers. She was four days old. You get pretty fluent pretty fast.

Another reason most parents become the best parents for their baby pretty quick is the fact that babies cry. It’s one of the only things they actually have control over, so they signal any discomfort by crying. And for many parents (ourselves included) there are few things in this world that spur you into action faster than your own offspring screaming inconsolably. You kinda want to find out what’s wrong and fix it. When you manage to soothe the child, the rewarding sight of a calm baby strengthens the learning experience.

It kind of reminds me of what’s been called the best way to learn a new language: get yourself in a situation where everyone speaks the foreign language, and where you have to find some food and a safe place to spend the night. Even if you think you’re really bad at languages, chances are you’d pick up a handful of key expressions in a matter of days. Again, successes are likely to cause huge surges of positive feelings such as relief, gratitude, feeling safe and connected.

Maybe the rapid learning in these cases is caused by the combination of the two: a strong initiating force and the huge emotional payoff at the end. Plus, of course, repetition upon repetition. If you want to survive a week in a foreign country (or with a newborn, for that matter), one problem-solving situation is just the start.

The whole carpe diem thing

With a newborn, the concept of “I’ll just do this, and then…” flies pretty much out the window. When the baby is awake, it often requires your undivided attention by demanding food, a clean diaper, or other basic comforts. When the baby sleeps, you need to have a slice of your attention directed towards the crib in case the baby voices a demand.

Furthermore, there’s often no telling as to how long the baby will stay asleep. In other words, if there’s something you need to get done while the baby’s asleep, you’d be wise to jump to it as soon as the baby falls asleep. This group of activities includes things like eating, taking a shower, emptying the dishwasher, and going to the restroom. Things that, pre-baby, were blissfully easy to schedule: first, I’ll do X, then I’ll do Y, and then I’ll do Z… but first let me Facebook for a moment. 🙂

Now, there’s a clear hierarchy of priorities: as soon as the baby falls asleep/calms down, I’ll get a glass of water. If I get stuck Facebooking for too long, she might wake up and demand a clean diaper, then food, then burping, and two hours later I notice I didn’t get that glass of water. This whole Do-It-Now thing is no joke.

There’s another side to the carpe diem approach, too. The moments when the baby is awake and alert are a precious few during one day. They are the moments to connect with the baby, sing, read, cuddle, find eye contact and encourage interaction. It feels like such a waste to ignore the baby when she most yearns for connection. And if I try to “get this one thing finished and then” connect with the baby, she might already be too tired or hungry, and the moment is gone.

Of course you can’t catch all of these moments. But you can try.

And you can try to catch those kinds of moments with grow-ups as well. If you feel like saying something beautiful to a friend, say it. Don’t hold back just because “she knows how I feel about her” or “I can’t just say it out loud”.

Thank you so much for reading, once again! *Blowing a sprinkling of insightings your way*



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Between friends differences in taste or opinion are irritating in direct proportion to their triviality.
W. H. Auden

Yesterday, I got to witness a meeting unlike anything I’ve ever seen. An actual, official meeting, where the chair walked out midway through. There was a lot of antagonism in the air, and a lot of it took place between two people – the rest of us were more or less indifferent. As it was my first time seeing the group and watching them interact, I had a blast observing the way the situations developed.

The situation was essentially that a smaller group of people had been in charge, and some group members from outside that inner circle had expressed their criticism a few days before the meeting. In writing. With a few derogatory adjectives thrown in for good measure.

The content of the text was partly accurate, partly inaccurate, but a part of it was clearly about the kinds of people these inner circle members were – according to the writers’ opinion. Understandably, these members were quite irate after being personally attacked.

All this became apparent through the status battle between the two main figures. There was only one member of the inner circle present at the meeting, although he did have some support from the sidelines. It was one of those “Ooh, you didn’t just say that to him, did you?” kinds of conversations that was painful yet fascinating to listen to.

“This is just my opinion”

Both sides did have their justifications, but both of them made crucial communication errors that ultimately escalated into one of them, the chair, leaving the meeting midway through.

Both of them expressed their own opinions as factual information, backing it up with anecdotes of experience. Furthermore, when the attacked party mentioned that they were quite insulted by the writing, the writer expressed his right to have an opinion, and that the recipients should not be provoked by it.

Wait, what?

Yes, you’re entitled to your opinion. If you think the other person is incapable of doing their duties as well as an annoying, stuck-up elitist, it’s perfectly all right to think so.

But come on, writing a memo for an official meeting and expressing your opinion about the person – not their actions or accomplishments – in no uncertain terms? When it has absolutely no bearing whatsoever to the agenda of the meeting? Oh please.

And then, when confronted with the hurt you’ve caused, defending yourself by saying that others shouldn’t be provoked by your opinion, and that it’s not about the people, it’s about the topics?

Having a strong opinion doesn’t justify being obnoxious.There are ways to criticize people’s behavior without criticizing the people themselves. And if you have insulted and hurt someone by expressing your opinion, the grown-up thing to do is to acknowledge the hurt and be sure to rephrase your opinion. Unless your original goal was indeed to create dissonance and hurt people.

Everyone’s got one, and they tend to stink

Truth be told, the person in the receiving end didn’t come through with flying colors, either. From the very beginning, he discarded the memo as rubbish, even the valid points made in it, because the ending was so obnoxious. He also categorically trumped every suggestion made by the writer during the meeting. Furthermore, he repeatedly expressed his dislike of the writer – who was present – in front of the rest of the group, calling him replaceable, stupid and incompetent.

Even when his “side” tried to get us onwards in the agenda by telling him to discard the insults, he persisted in talking about the hurtful things the writer had said. In front of more than a dozen people, who had been patiently listening to the charade for almost two hours at that point.

Sure, he was hurt. Some of the other participants of the meeting did acknowledge the fact that he was hurt. But by fighting fire with fire, he ended up making a mountain out of what could have been a molehill.

From what I gathered, these people had had some antagonism before. In that case, in my opinion, it’s even more important to settle things face to face, without an audience.

Maybe that was the point, though. The audience. If people agree with me, my opinion is more valid than the other person’s opinion. In a private situation, I have no-one else to support me, and I might even have to admit I’m wrong in something. It’s easier to keep up a tough image when there’s the pressure of other people.

Thank you for stopping by, feel free to share your opinion in the comments – and keep catching those insightings!



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Labels are devices for saving talkative persons the trouble of thinking.
John Morley

On the other day, I was having a conversation, and the other participant was talking about a person they know who is quite short: “I could start calling him big guy. You know, so that someone would.”

I really didn’t like that idea, and I started wondering why that was.

The distorted mirror

On the other hand, I do understand the emotion behind the joke. It links back to the play signals and trust aspect, at least in my mind. Depending on who you’re joking around with, the boundaries of the jokes may be quite flexible, and if all participants trust each other enough, the jokes can get quite harsh and no-one is insulted.

On the other hand, though, that kind of joking – focusing on a distinct physical, social or mental feature – is like putting a distorted mirror in front of the person. In your words, they hear themselves as nothing but that single attribute, and chances are they’re very aware of having that attribute already.

If all you ever show them of themselves is that distorted, one-tracked picture, they’ll pretty soon start thinking you see them as that person. They may even start thinking they are that person.

This is one of the reasons why teachers need to be very careful when labeling their students as smart, lazy, uninterested, stupid, well-behaved, or something else.

When the student, especially a child or an adolescent, hears their teacher tell them they’re stupid or lazy, or smart and hard-working, they might respond by becoming what is expected of them anyway.

On the other hand, even if the teacher never says the label out loud, it affects his or her own thinking. When looking at the “smart” kid, it’s difficult to believe he’d do anything mischievous, since he is so, well, smart. It’s a lot easier to blame the “uninterested” kid, regardless of whether or not they actually did anything.

The teacher might not even see all the mischief the “smart” kid gets up to, because their mental filter more or less blocks out any causal relationship between hassle in class and the “smart” kid.

You mean teachers don’t sleep at school?

In social relationships, labeling has slightly less dramatic consequences, because the difference of authority and power is smaller than in a classroom. Nevertheless, labeling your friends as “the single guy”, “the party girl”, “the arts student”, “the tech student”, “the jock”, “the shorty”, “the fatty”…  Well, it leaves you with a bunch of pretty slim social relationships.

Everyone is a complex, multi-faceted person. Duh, right?

I and my friend, who plays in the same band I do, have been considering writing a satirical song in the vein of so many female artists. You know, the song about how, like, complex and, like, full of contradictions I am as, like, a person. Uhhuh, as opposed to, what, the simple, one-tracked and logical people that the rest of us are? Give me a break.

We tend to think of other people as far less complex than we are, and to me that’s pretty normal. We only see a fraction of what’s going on in their life compared to the entirety of our own life we’re participating in.

However,  it’s pretty naive to assume that just because I only see the teachers at school, they don’t have a personal life. Or that if a friend doesn’t bring a date to a party, they’re desolate and desperate to find a relationship. Or if they’re an arts student they suck at math.

Labeling, mental and spoken, does just that, though.

Another balancing act

It’s really a question of balance, like so many things in communication.

With “the big guy” case mentioned in the beginning, the two people don’t interact daily. They meet once or twice a week, and of that they don’t spend a lot of time communicating. If this person had started calling their friend “big guy” once or twice a week, that would pretty much have been the entirety of their communication.

The bigger part of our communication to that person refers to their label, the smaller part of it is spent actually finding out about the other aspects of their life. And that’s the part that builds trust – which can then be employed, in small measures, to skilfully play around with the stereotype without assuming it’s the whole truth.

Lovely of you to stop by again, keep catching your own insightings!



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The usual error is assuming people are just like you.
Pace and Kyeli, The Usual Error, Chapter I

This is my first ever book review. The brilliant Pace and Kyeli were awesome enough to give me a copy of the book to read and review, and I’ll do my very best to give them open and honest feedback in return.

This review will be chunked into sections:

The Book, where I try to describe the contents and the premises as objectively as a subjective reader can;

My Views, where I describe my own reactions to the book;

and Related Insightings, where I describe a few situations where I found myself putting these principles into practice.

The Book

The Usual Error: Why We Don’t Understand Each Other and 34 Ways to Make It Better is a title that promises a lot. The book does cover a lot of ground in its 180-odd pages, though.

The contents are divided into five parts: Communication Dynamics, Boundaries, Turning Conflict into Communication, Conflict Resolution, and Positivity. Each part has chapters addressing the issue from different perspectives, all the while keeping in mind the premise: by assuming that others are like us, we constantly make the usual error, and that often leads into miscommunication.

One of the key principles behind every approach the book is honesty. Because we can only ever see things from our own perspective, we need others to help us see what their perspective might look like. If we are being honest about our feelings and thoughts – to ourselves as well as to the other participant of the interaction – we’re better equipped to avoid conflict and miscommunication.

Getting to the root of communicational problems requires awareness and knowledge of what, exactly, is going on in my head at the moment. Fortunately, there are ways of honing these awareness skills introduced in the book as well.

The chapters are peppered with examples of successful or less-than-successful communication situations that  illustrate the concept or point of view under discussion. And while we’re on the topic of illustrations, each chapter has several cartoon illustrations by Martin Whitmore. In other words, the book caters for both the visual and the narrative personality types.

My Views

First of all, I think it took me three days to read the book. Had I had the chance, I would’ve taken a day off to just relish and enjoy the book all in one go. 🙂

Having dabbled in learning about communication for the better part of ten years, most of the phenomena in the book were familiar to me. What I loved about the book, though, was that it gives names, illustrations and explanations to previously fuzzy and/or complicated phenomena.

When it has a name, it’s easier to recognize and maybe, eventually, deal with.

I was especially delighted by the visualizations in the book. I remember several occasions where I was thinking about a complicated communication issue, when a picture from the pages of The Usual Error flashed in my eyes, and I realized this was the issue all along. Or I’d remember a story from the book that curiously resembled the situation I was in.

The approach of the entire book is very practical. At the university, I’m used to reading texts about human interaction and behavior that’s littered with source citations, concept definitions, and  theoretical framing. This is not one of those texts.

At first, I have to admit, it bothered me a bit. Then again, the purpose of this book is radically different from that of scientific articles or books. The aim is not to be a comprehensive representation of the usual error, or projection bias, although it does serve as a comprehensive introduction to different aspects of this phenomenon.

The aim is, as far as I’ve understood, to draw attention to the different kinds of problems that the usual error causes in human communication and to offer tools with which to go about addressing those problems. It’s intended as a workbook, and as such it serves beautifully.

Related Insightings

My process of reviewing The Usual Error had three stages. First, as I already mentioned, I read the book through. Then I gave it a few weeks, let the information simmer on the back burner of my mind, and went about my business as usual. I then picked up the book again to read it through once more before writing the review.

This is when I noticed something interesting. I had started applying several of the principles in the book into my own communication, especially the more confrontational and conflict-ey situations, without realizing it. In other words, I had started to spot my usual errors and do something about them.

Situation one:

I’m upset about something my fiancé has done, I’ve told him what’s wrong, he has apologized. I then start pondering the exact reason why I got so upset, analyzing the behavior out loud. My fiancé hears this as me criticizing him, and gets defensive.

Instead of blaming him for not accommodating my feelings, I pause for a minute, and tell him I’m not talking at him, I’m just trying to clarify my own thoughts, and that his apology has been fully accepted and I’m well on my way to forgiving him. He can now lower his defenses and focus his energy on listening, because he knows I’m not attacking him.

That’s Chapter 2: different communication styles for ya.

Situation two:

I’ve spent the day with my mom, and we’re going to my house for a cup of coffee after a day of shopping. For some reason, everything she says is getting on my nerves. I mean everything. I try my best to keep calm, but my jaw is clenching from the tension of stopping myself from snapping at her.

We’re standing in the elevator, and suddenly I realize I haven’t eaten anything for the past five hours. I tell my mom that I’m sorry I’ve been so cranky, my blood sugar level is low and everything is getting on my nerves right now. When we get home, I make myself a sandwich to go with the coffee. Ta-dah! No more Ms. Crankypants!

Chapter 16: The power of veggie burgers.

Not to mention countless situations where I’ve gotten quite upset about something a friend, a loved one or a casual acquaintance said, until I’ve realized that I assumed something completely different and never communicated it. Ah well, they don’t have a mind reading helmet, either.

Did I mention Pace and Kyeli are publishing this book as an e-book on their website for free, chapter by chapter? That’s how awesome they are. I love my paperback version, though –  they’ve actually written “Kiitos“, Finnish for Thank You, along with their autographs, even though they probably don’t speak a word of the language. That’s how awesome they are. 🙂

Thank you for reading, hope this helps you make up your mind as to whether or not it’s your kind of book! And, as always, until next time – keep catching your own insightings!



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