If it’s the Psychic Network why do they need a phone number?
Interpreting what a speaker means from what they say – not always an easy task. Pragmatical interpretation has sometimes been dubbed a relative of mind reading in the sense that we use hints and clues from the other person’s behavior – verbal or otherwise – to collect information on what the person is saying.
As a disclaimer, I have no opinion whatsoever of people who seem to possess actual psychic abilities, and whether or not they use the same senses all of us do or something more.
A lot of indirect communication takes place through flouting conversational maxims – those of Quantity, Quality, Relevance and Manner.
Combined with indirect speech acts, you can end up with seemingly incoherent conversations where everyone is on the same page. Alternatively, you can have a very frustrated listener and a very annoyed speaker who are in different books altogether.
If you really loved me…
Stereotypically, women are the ones often accused of expecting that everyone else knows what they think. Depending on the culture and the person, I’d guess there are a number of men with this tendency as well.
That may very well be a politeness issue: if a person thinks it is rude to flat out ask for what they want, they might drop careful hints and then be disappointed when their hints are ignored.
The other classic example is the “if you don’t know why I’m mad at you, I’m not going to tell you!” -phenomenon. You know, claiming that everything is “fine!” and then sulking around, very clearly demonstrating that this is not the case.
In both of these phenomena, the indirect communicator puts the responsibility of the communication on the other person. If they don’t pay enough attention to infer the right meanings, the message will not come across.
I know I’ve been guilty of repeatedly saying that everything is fine and nothing is wrong, and then getting upset when the other person walks away, frustrated by the lack of feedback. Similarly, I’ve been disappointed I didn’t get what I clearly hinted about for my birthday.
Maybe the illusion of “great minds think alike” is too strong. Of course, it’s scary to admit your true feelings – I want this, I’m upset about that. Maybe it’s easier to reveal just a tiny bit of skin and hope that someone catches the hint instead of flashing your entire emotional arsenal and hope no-one shoots you down.
So now we get to why I’m sometimes very annoyed by indirectness in close relationships. Politeness reflects distance. Indirectness reflects boundaries. Boundaries and distance are all well and good, but there’s something to be said for closeness, trust and honesty as well.
Some time ago, a friend of mine said she needed to talk with me about X, a matter that was troubling her about our situation. We agreed to talk, and I spent a lot of energy processing X, my feelings about X, all the guilts and the what ifs and the other stuff.
We got together, and started talking about X. As we reached an agreement, I saw she was still not all right. As it turned out, X was not the actual problem at all, it was Z all along. Furthermore, Z was something I had never even considered, and was really surprised that Z would even be relevant to her.
We finally reached a consensus about Z as well, but the incident troubled me.
I felt offended that she didn’t tell me Z was the problem to begin with.
I felt hurt that she would think I was a Z kind of person.
I felt annoyed that I had spent all that time processing X, was really proud of myself for figuring it out, and was slapped in the face with Z out of the blue.
And I felt frustrated because I had to fish out the real reason after a reasonable amount of conversation, when she was the one with the need to clear the situation.
A big huge trust issue about a relatively small indirectness thing.
What I learned from this, though – getting the grief and the messy out of the way the first time is well worth it. Politeness and indirectness in big relationship matters might mean that you have to go through all that nasty stuff twice.
Thank you for stopping by, and until we meet again – keep catching your own insightings!