“Why are you getting hung up on just one word?”

July 16, 2013 by Joshua
in Blog

I saw two people debating some point at a cafe. The dynamic between them seemed common enough to examine for future reference.

One kept saying to the other “Why are you getting hung up on just one word?” I couldn’t hear other details of their conversation, but I could tell enough to tell this:

  • The person saying “Why are you getting hung up on just one word?” was trying to act like they were more laid back and accommodating.
  • That person was also not trying to understand the other person. They were acting like the other one had a problem and should fix it.
  • The other person looked to be trying to communicate constructively

It seemed clear to me the person asking was both disrespecting the other person and trying to seize some high ground while not listening or understanding.

If we like anything in life, we want to feel understood. To imply someone’s meaning hinges on some simple word choice ignores that meaning comes from the combination of many things, many nonverbal.

The two people had different values. The person asking clearly didn’t value what the other person said, but instead of respecting their values, they put them down. Personally, I saw the person asking as disrespectful and not even realizing their disrespect — a tough combination to handle interacting with, like a bull in a china shop.

I could see the other person as justified in getting infuriated at the first, although I didn’t see it happening. Of course getting furious or losing your cool in an argument generally means you lose it. I was impressed by the other person for staying cool in the face of that subtle and veiled but aggressive antagonism portrayed as calmness.

Since then I’ve tried to think about how to handle someone talking like that — not caring about the other person while acting and probably thinking the other person was creating a problem. You could stop the other person and explain to them about values and respect, but that would take a long time, distract from the rest of the conversation, and make you lecture, so I don’t see that way as effective.

You could just exit the conversation, but you can’t always choose to exit conversations.

I’m curious if any readers can think of effective things to say. Please let me know if you have one. What would you say or do?

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1 response to ““Why are you getting hung up on just one word?”

  1. Pingback: More ways to annoy someone you’re talking to » Joshua Spodek

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