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On interpreting social interaction

More noodlings inspired by http://jorm.livejournal.com/94477.html

It's true that social interactions can be smoothed if people follow the same rules.

It's also true that social interactions can be smoothed if people assume good will on the part of other people they're interacting with, rather than making up other kinds of stories about them, such as that they are trying to be insulting or superior.

(What I mean by making up stories: I think that sometimes people make assumptions about what other people intend, and sometimes the assumptions aren't entirely accurate, for one reason or another. Sometimes there's not enough information available because one doesn't know the person well enough or doesn't know everything about the specific situation that person is in at the moment. In those cases I think one has a choice about what assumptions one makes, and the choices can affect one's mood and behavior.)

For example, a person can assume that someone means well but came from another culture where the politeness rules differ. A person can educate themself about other cultures' politeness rules and then use that knowledge to refine the stories that they make up about other people's behavior.

I think it's usually easier for a person to change the stories they make up about other people than to change other people's behavior. So if a person is getting upset partly because they are making assumptions that someone else is being rude or arrogant or self-important, changing the story they're making up might help them feel less upset.

In other cases, the behavior might bother them even if they know there are possibly good-will or legitimate reasons for it. Changing the stories might not help with that.

And sometimes the evidence becomes overwhelming that a person does intend to be insulting or does feel superior, in which case assuming good will might be counterproductive.

More examples (the numbers are based on the numbers in jorm's original post):

1) When a person doesn't say "Thank you" to a compliment, they might come from a culture with different rules about compliments or might be uncomfortable about what they were complimented on. It might not be because they are feigning humility.

5) If a person corrects another person, they might come from a culture where correcting a person is a sign of respect for that person. Maybe they are not trying to show the person up up as stupid.

8) If a person shares their medical diagnosis, this might be an act of trust on their part, rather than an attempt to excuse themselves from following the rules. It might be part of an apology. Some people, when they apologize, start by explaining what led to their actions, and don't mean by the explanation that they should therefore be let off the hook for bad behavior.

9) If someone makes plans and doesn't show up, there might have been an emergency that prevented them from showing up. If someone is late, they might not be very good at estimating how much time it takes them to get somewhere.

15) If someone is sitting in the corner, maybe it's because they are disabled and that's where the host put a chair for them. Maybe it's because they are temporarily taking a break from the conversation. It's not necessarily because they think they're too important to make a social move.

18) If someone uses a calculator to figure the tip, maybe they find arithmetic difficult, or maybe they are from a culture that doesn't include tipping so they aren't used to it. It doesn't necessarily mean they are cheap.

20) If someone replies tersely to an electronic communication, they might be trying to show respect for another person's time (assuming that the person gets lots of e-mail and trying to minimize the amount of effort required to process the e-mail). They aren't necessarily being hostile.

Comments

( 114 comments — Leave a comment )
on_reserve
Aug. 25th, 2008 06:31 pm (UTC)
9) If someone makes plans and doesn't show up, there might have been an emergency that prevented them from showing up. If someone is late, they might not be very good at estimating how much time it takes them to get somewhere.

If someone does this routinely, to me, it means that they don't value my time and as such I will be far less likely to share my time with them in the future.
jenk
Aug. 25th, 2008 06:38 pm (UTC)
Routinely is one thing. A one-off is another. When someone I'd invited for dinner showed up 2 hours late with a black eye, a torn shirt, mud in his hair, and rambling about getting mugged and interviewed by the police, I gave him a hug and asked if he wanted to wash up while I finished dinner, not a lecture on his lateness being unacceptably rude.
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They need to WORK on that problem - pir_anha - Aug. 25th, 2008 11:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
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on_reserve
Aug. 25th, 2008 06:32 pm (UTC)
18) If someone uses a calculator to figure the tip, maybe they find arithmetic difficult, or maybe they are from a culture that doesn't include tipping so they aren't used to it. It doesn't necessarily mean they are cheap.

Pardon me for sounding like an asshole, but calculating 10% is very easy - you move a decimal point. And then you double - and that's 20% - why does this need a calculator?
innerdoggie
Aug. 25th, 2008 06:37 pm (UTC)
You might if you have to subtract the tax from the total mentally (some restaurants don't give you the pre-tax total).
(no subject) - elissaann - Aug. 25th, 2008 11:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
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calculators - betonica - Aug. 26th, 2008 03:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
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innerdoggie
Aug. 25th, 2008 06:36 pm (UTC)
On #1: What are the cultures where you aren't supposed to say "thank you" to a compliment? I've heard of cultures (Caucasus? Middle East? Don't remember) where if you say "I like your [whatever]" that person thinks they now have to give it to you.

Ditto #5. I have not heard of that.

I agree with #9. Especially in Chicago where public transit can be iffy, and the roads may be jammed. Walking is the only reliable way, and sometimes even then sidewalks are closed and you have to re-route.

firecat
Aug. 25th, 2008 07:15 pm (UTC)
http://www.geocities.com/japanfaq/FAQ-Manners.html:
"Japanese often compliment eachother to promote good will, but it is polite to deny how well you speak Japanese, how nice you look, etc."

#5 is common in SF fannish subculture. I have trouble with it, myself.
(no subject) - innerdoggie - Aug. 25th, 2008 07:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
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karenkay
Aug. 25th, 2008 07:31 pm (UTC)
I am totally impressed with your postings on this topic (these topics). Really nicely done!
firecat
Aug. 25th, 2008 08:29 pm (UTC)
Thank you! :)
cakmpls
Aug. 25th, 2008 08:30 pm (UTC)
[applause]
firecat
Aug. 25th, 2008 08:31 pm (UTC)
[*takes a bow*]
redbird
Aug. 25th, 2008 11:21 pm (UTC)
Further to #5: The person giving the correction might feel that it's important to get the information across quickly. If someone thinks this train is going to the Bronx and it's really going to Brooklyn (or, worse, it's going to Boston and they think it's going to Virginia), I'm more concerned with getting the information across before the doors close and the train leaves the station than with careful phrasing. (That doesn't mean I'll insult them, it means I'll say "No, this is the Boston train" and not "Excuse me, I couldn't help overhearing that you're going to Washington, and this train is heading in the other direction.")

Some people aren't merely correcting transit directions, they're handing out health and safety advice, like "don't touch that downed wire" and "no, you should not mix those two medications."
surelars
Aug. 25th, 2008 11:27 pm (UTC)
Interesting post. I went to read the referenced post, and, umm, let's just say it reminded me why I quite USENET.

Your points are good and well made. There's lost of reason people find it difficulty doing "simple" things. For example, with #1, some people have been socially conditioned to see themselves as insignificant or not worthy, and cannot without major effort (or even therapy) accept a compliment; the disconnect is just too big. Yes, doing the work to rectify this is probably a good thing, but just saying "you should say 'thank you'" is not going to do it.
firecat
Aug. 25th, 2008 11:32 pm (UTC)
Yeah, his writing style reminds me of many Usenet posters. The OP did mention in comments that his presumed audience was male Silicon Valley engineers, and that he tends to use strong language.

I think it's helpful for people to know that "Thank you" is often an appropriate response to a compliment. This may be less helpful worded as an absolute rule.
(no subject) - surelars - Aug. 25th, 2008 11:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
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elissaann
Aug. 25th, 2008 11:43 pm (UTC)
I finally read the original post.

I loved it. It covered so many issues that the nerd I was in my teens and twenties needed help with. I had to learn many of those things the hard way. Looking back, I'm amazed anybody could stand me. I was conventionally cute and well-meaning, determined to be right about everything, inconsiderate, and self-centered.

I don't see the original post as a way to judge other people's manners; I see it as a way for those wishing clues to brush up on their own. It's not right for everybody, either. Young Elissa could have used it, if she'd been willing to admit she was wrong for the few minutes it took to read it.

Middle-aged Elissa could stand to read it a few more times.
pir_anha
Aug. 25th, 2008 11:59 pm (UTC)
Re: On interpreting social interaction
very well said.

as usual i am finding the musings by people on my flist much more interesting than the OP. *little grin*.
firecat
Aug. 26th, 2008 12:00 am (UTC)
Re: On interpreting social interaction
Thanks! Yeah, this is a good distributed conversation.
beaq
Aug. 29th, 2008 06:16 am (UTC)
I like the way you think.
firecat
Aug. 29th, 2008 06:26 am (UTC)
Thank you!
( 114 comments — Leave a comment )

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