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Posts Tagged ‘communication’

Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.
Plato

Background: I’m Finnish. Stereotypically, Finns only speak when there is something so important to say they just can’t bear the silence anymore. Continuing with the stereotype, a Finnish form of small talk is sitting in a circle (or a line, better yet) and silently nodding without eye contact.

I’m a relatively outgoing and talkative Finn – some might even call me social. 🙂 I’ve noticed, though, that there is something about the written nature of online communication that reduces me to a stereotypical, silent Finn. To me, that’s something worth exploring.

Silence is golden and all that

I’ve noticed this behavior in myself on Twitter, on Facebook, or when reading other people’s blogs. I even do it on my own blog every once in a while. I come up with a thought about something, I start writing, and halfway through my text a small inner critic crawls out of its cave:

“You don’t honestly think they’d want to read that?”

And then I really really have to consider whether or not this is just a random tidbit or if it’s something that Truly Provides Value.

Providing Value was something I really struggled with before I started my blog. I wanted to start writing way before Insightings ever went live, but I wanted to create something that would really have some kind of a focus.

There are a million and one blogs online. At least half of them (it seemed when I was starting out) offer advice on how to create a great blog. Rule one:  provide value. Don’t rehash content. Have a focus.

You can imagine how that created performance anxiety for a perfectionist.

Same thing with commenting on other people’s blogs. I still do it: I read an entry, love it to bits, and just before I scroll down to the comments box the critic jumps up again:

“You honestly think you can contribute?”

Most of the time, my unposted comments are along the lines of “nice post, enjoyed reading it, have had similar experiences myself.”  Not really contributing to the conversation, is it? (That’s my inner critic snarking away.)

Even scarier than the thought of not contributing, though, is the thought of downright spamming people’s comment threads. It doesn’t matter that I know my own intentions to be pure, I’m afraid my “nice post, thanks” -comments will flood the Internet and get me eternally banned from all of the cool blogs I love reading.

Getting to the root of the phobia

Just now, inspired by the fact that I’ve dug out this fear (dressed as the critic) out of its hole, I’ll follow in the footsteps of so many great bloggers (Havi, Joely, and James, to mention a few) and have a real heart-to-heart with my fear. I haven’t done this before, so let’s see how it goes. 🙂

Me: Hi, you must be my fear-of-getting-banned-from-the-internet, right

Critic / fear: Umm, yeah. You caught me. (trying to hide behind itself)

Me: Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you or drive you away. I just want to know what your job is.

Fear: My job is to stop you before you make a fool of yourself online and accidentally reveal who you really are.

Me: I see. What do you think would happen if I revealed who I really am?

Fear: I don’t know. They might see that you’re not really smart, that you just think really hard before you say something.

Me: Okay. You’re saying that people might notice I’m not really smart?

Fear: Yes.

Me: But I am smart. You know that, I know that. If I say something silly, it doesn’t instantly make me less smart. Or do you disagree?

Fear: Well… no. But people might not like you if you’re not smart all the time.

Me: Oh, honey. You want me to be safe from not being liked, is that it?

Fear: Yeah, kind of.

Me: Could we figure out some way to make sure I remind myself that people really do like me, smart or not, so you wouldn’t need to censor my online writing?

Fear: I guess we could…

And with that, the fear went away. Curiously, it took with it the need for reassurance as well. I tried to think of a way to remind myself that people like me, and I couldn’t come up with anything that would’ve made me feel any better – because the need was gone.

Interesting.

Let’s see how this conversation channels into my online presence.

If any of this sparked any ideas, have a quick heart-to-heart with your own inner critic, and if you feel safe enough, I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments.

And as always, keep catching your own insightings!

Love,

Sari

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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!

Love,

Sari

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The basis of human trust is established through play signals.
Dr. Stuart Brown

As I mentioned earlier, I’m hooked on TED.com. Since I don’t really have time to just sit down and watch the lectures all day, I multi-task. While doing the dishes last week, I listened to Dr. Stuart Brown’s lecture on the importance of play throughout our lives. Something clicked.

Doubt

Since I’m approaching the final stages of my studies and the dreaded G word (graduation), I’m inevitably thinking about what I’ll do when I no longer have the security of school and student status. Sure, I’ll be a teacher, and teachers are always needed. How long will it take, though, for me to be old, wise and experienced enough for someone to employ me full-time?

Since jobseeking is a relevant topic for others I know as well, I’ve been keeping an eye on the job market for Arts majors without significant financial or technological expertise. You know what? It’s not hot. Every now and then, I find myself thinking I maybe should have done a more marketable degree, read more relevant minors, acquired more financial expertise and so on.

During one of these soul-searches, I happened to listen to Dr. Stuart Brown’s lecture. Much of it I already knew, having studied drama education for a year and a half now. Still, there were a few points that really resonated. One was the notion quoted above that trust is established through play signals.

Another was the story about play-deprived rats and regular rats. When presented with a cat-smelling object, the rats all ran and hid, regardless of their play history. The play-deprived ones, however, never came out. They didn’t have whatever it takes to start exploring the surroundings to find out if the danger is still imminent or already gone.

Drama as play

Essentially, drama is about play and make-believe. In English, the word play encompasses both the fun, frivolous, unorganized activity and the theatrical presentation of a drama text. All in all, one of the central concepts in drama and drama education is that of play, playfulness and a shared understanding of “creating an elsewhere”.

That shared understanding, I’d imagine, is the very thing that builds trust.

Jokes, flirtation, throwing someone a baseball or watching a soap opera all require a certain mindset both from the initiator and from the respondent. If the initiator wants to play catch as she throws the ball, and the respondent thinks they’re being attacked, there’s a huge miscommunication that might well result in bruising and bitter words. Jokes work in much the same way, only verbally. There, too, the danger of bitter words and emotional bruising is obvious.

That same trust – in oneself and in others – could again be the reason why the undeprived rats started to explore their surroundings and why the play-deprived ones didn’t.

Play is that significant.

*ding*

I’m training to be a drama teacher. That means I’ll be teaching, instructing and guiding kids, teenagers and adults how to play without feeling stupid about it. Or, better yet, how to play and feel stupid and not care.

Which will improve their communication skills, their risk-taking skills, their trusting skills, and more.

How is that not the single most awesome thing in the world?

How could that not be something people want to learn?

My goal for the rest of my studies will be to figure out and build myself a way to bring that to the people who need it most. A school is a good context for that, but it’s definitely not the only one. By focusing on my future title – teacher – I’m probably limiting my career possibilities.

I feel my dream job is getting closer and closer. 🙂

Thank you for popping by and taking the time to read this – I hope you enjoy(ed) the Stuart Brown lecture! Until next time, keep catching your own insightings!

Love,

Sari

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A good teacher must be able to put himself in the place of those who find learning hard.
Eliphas Levi

I started my final practical teacher training period today.

The teacher training system in Finland is exceptional (as far as I understand) in that we have several supervised practical training periods in our teacher studies. Supervised in that for each lesson a teacher trainee conducts, he or she returns a lesson plan to a supervisor for approval, then conducts the lesson, and gets feedback from the supervisor and any other trainees that have observed the lesson.

In addition to the teaching, the practical training includes compulsory lesson observation as well as miniature lectures on different topics. All this is fascinating, yet really time-consuming.

The fun part is that we get to reflect, reflect, reflect on everything we experience. Some reflections are relevant to the teacher profession, others are more relevant to the Insightings context. It’s a win-win either way. 🙂

Attitudes and solidarity

I had an interesting encounter today. I found myself in a conversation where someone tried to engage my solidarity by finding a common enemy and complaining about this enemy. The problem was that I didn’t really agree with this person about the enemy, and didn’t want to complain. Yet I didn’t want to invalidate their feelings of frustration, either, by saying something like “well, no, I don’t think it’s that bad”.

I’ve written about the complaining thing from the point of view of criticism and intelligence. Complaining also seems to have another function in many contexts – that of creating solidarity.

The very first summer I went on a confirmation camp as a counselor, one of the older counselors said something about group dynamics that has stayed with me ever since. To have strong group spirit, she said, the group needs two things: a private joke and a common enemy. Find both, and you’re on your way to a group that sticks together.

It was interesting, then, to find myself in the situation mentioned above. This person was obviously trying to create some kind of a bond by finding a common enemy. They mentioned having shared a bonding moment on the topic with a few other people I know and often agree with, so the assumption that I’d follow suit here wasn’t preposterous.

Still, I felt weird and awkward.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve been faced with solidarity-forging complaints. Then, like today, I felt awkward. There is a tension between authenticity – saying what you think – on the one hand, and relatedness – not wanting to reject the intention to connect behind the complaint – on the other hand.

Venturing a guess at someone’s attitudes, especially negative ones, is a risky strategy. Instead of feeling connected to this person, I felt distanced. Even if I had shared the reasoning behind the complaint, I didn’t immediately agree with the end result that they opened with. Had they been open about their own frustration without trying to attribute it to me as well, we might have had a fruitful conversation. Now, all that happened was awkward nodding and a few ‘uhhuh‘s.

Interesting. 🙂

I taught a bit of Shiva Nata!

A friend of mine had been reading my blog, and asked a few questions about Shiva Nata. Since we had a few spare minutes before our meeting was due to start, I taught her a bit of level 1 horizontals.

Sooo much fun.

I had to really think about how to instruct the transition from horizontal 3 to horizontal 4 – the one that was difficult to myself and, incidentally, the one that has caused most trouble to everyone I’ve sort-of taught.

Sooo much fun.

If I ever learn enough (whatever that is), I might really consider teaching a little bitty workshop one day. First, I’ll have to take lessons myself, to see if I’m even doing it right. It’s fascinating, though, how teaching others really deepens the understanding here, too. As if that’s a surprise. 🙂

– –

Interestingly, as I read through the previous paragraphs, I notice myself hedging and downplaying my Shivanaut abilities. It’s more obvious in writing than it is in my head, I suppose. Whether or not the hedging has any real justification, I’m not sure. Another pattern emerging here. Shiva Nata is revealing my patterns in so many ways, it seems.

Thank you for stopping by again! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments, and as always – keep catching your own insightings!

Love,

Sari

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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!

Love,

Sari

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Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company.
Lord Byron

I assure you, Havi is not the only person in the world to inspire me. But she does it so well, and so often, that the traces of that inspiration sometimes find their way back here. This time, her post about writing a personal letter budged me. All that mixture of intentions, communicating with yourself and – when writing it out in public – communicating with the entire world really struck a chord.

Seeing as I’m studying to be a teacher, I’ve obviously got a hunch of the things I’d like to do when I grow up. However, I feel I have more to give than just (and by just I don’t mean I don’t respect the awesome professional skill of teachers) my teaching side. So let’s see if we can get something rolling here.

Dear Dream Job,

I know you’re out there, and we’re looking for each other. You give me a chance to be creative in several ways – writing, singing, acting, communicating in both of “my” languages – and yet you provide a reliable framework for me to build my life on.

You lavish me with loving individuals and a supportive work community, while allowing me all the independence I need. You give me responsibility in suitable doses, and I get to share that responsibility with my colleagues. You are fun.

When I go home, you stay at work and don’t follow me. You allow me to have plenty of free time.

You give me a feeling of security, emotional as well as financial, and allow me to flourish to my fullest potential. You appreciate my talent and intelligence. You resonate with my values: love, respect, learning, honesty. You make me happy to wake up in the morning and energized after the day is done. You inspire me to develop my skills further without pressuring me to change who I am.

Is this you? Is this a job you know? Pop me a comment or a Twitter message, and we’ll see if we’re meant for each other.

Eagerly waiting to fall in love with you,

Sari

Writing this has suddenly spurred up an “isn’t it preposterous to think I could have all that?” reaction. I’m sure that’s only natural, and I will keep gently reminding myself that yes, honey, you can have all that. It’s all out there, waiting for you to find it. Or better yet, making its way to you as we speak.

(…that’s still preposterous…)

Yes, you deserve to have a wonderful job that makes you happy.

Yes, you do.

… I guess this might take some time for some parts of me to believe. [Deep breath.] And that’s okay. This job will be there for me once I believe it. 🙂

Thank you so much for popping by. If this inspired you to write your own personal letter, I’d love to hear about it in the comments, and until we meet again –  keep catching your own insightings!

Love,

Sari

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It is easier to be critical than correct.
Benjamin Disraeli

Today’s post is fueled by the need to understand my own annoyance about something I encountered today. I try to avoid channeling that annoyance and aggression into my writing, but I might fail. Bear with me.

Is criticism truly a sign of intelligence?

I attended a study-related situation today where I was truly put off by the behavior of a few people. I don’t know them, but I’m assuming they’re sane, intelligent human beings. My perception was probably warped, so I’m exaggerating, but it felt as if their every comment was aimed at criticizing something – the tasks at hand, the people we were talking about, the actual skill set we were practicing.

The most annoying thing was that they didn’t really offer any suggestions as to the improvement of any of these situations. No, I take that back. The most annoying thing was that they spent most of the session giggling and whispering like teenagers, but that’s beside the point of this post.

Now, I’m all for a critical attitude towards life, in the sense that it’s not very wise to accept every phenomenon in life without questioning. If we never question our own behavior, we never get the incentive to change it and to  develop, to grow, to evolve.

Inside out vs. outside in

The key point for me, though, is to criticize from the inside. To be able to really see the things that work and don’t work in any given approach – in teaching, in communication, in relationships – I’ll have to give it a try more than once to weed out the random beginner results.

Let’s say I’ve never taught anyone to read, and I find out about this method of teaching kids to read with the help of typing on a computer screen. Before I can say anything about this method from my own experience, I have to get that experience by trying to teach at least, say, five to twenty kids to read with the help of typing.

The annoying thing about these whiners I came across today was that they were definitely not experts in what we were practicing. Fair enough, they didn’t need to be, since we were practicing.

Yet they complained about how this kind of approach makes no sense, that using this tool would completely undermine the specialized skill set they’ve acquired from other contexts.

Um, how do you know this based on three exercises? Furthermore, based on three exercises you didn’t even do properly, seeing as you were gossiping with your friends and reading other stuff? (This was the aggression-venting part. Now I have it out of my system. 🙂 )

As to the real reason behind their complaints, I won’t venture more than some wild guesses. Maybe they were frustrated with the work load of the studies. Or with the fact that they were not doing as well with the tasks as they thought they should have. Or they were tired. Or they felt that the way to display intelligence and insight was indeed to criticize the actual task itself. Who knows.

Fortunately, I had another group experience today that contrasted this one completely. Insightful conversation on important topics and a supportive, inspiring teacher leading the conversation. Conversation focusing on the topic instead of technicalities or undermining the teacher’s expertise. If I hadn’t encountered these whiners earlier that day, I probably wouldn’t have appreciated it as much as I did now. Turned out all right after all. 🙂

Thank you  for stopping by again – keep catching your own insightings!

Love,

Sari

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