Saturday 2013-01-12

The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense by Suzette Haden Elgin

Two difficulties arise when reading this book: 1) we need to keep an open mind about trying Elgin's suggestions, as they might work even though they sound dated, and 2) Elgin doesn't have a theory of exchange, which causes her to backpedal when talking about semi-structured relationships like doctor-patient, teacher-student, parent-child.

Conversations can be viewed as social exchanges. Regardless of how a counter-party lands in a conversation (dragged kicking and screaming, forced by social convention, serendipity, etc.), I wager that the best conversations are mutually beneficial. The more value each party derives from the conversation, the more they will seek out another conversation with you.

Some conversations are fairly scripted by social theater: e.g. a doctor will usually keep to the doctor role, and patient to the patient role. When a doctor deviates from the script and becomes verbally antagonistic, we need to get them back in character and focused on walking through the subjective-objective-analysis-prognosis script.

Depending on the attitude of the doctor, I'd be willing to trade a little social capital to get them back to the script, if needed. In any given exchange, the person with the most flexibility will be the one who comes out with the largest benefits.

I was hoping Elgin would provide some clues towards engineering mutually beneficial outcomes, however this read is still useful as it has a bunch of scenarios to work through and practice.

Women are bewildered when they see two men who have just spent twenty minutes trading the sort of vicious insults associated with lifelong hatred go off to lunch together as if nothing at all had happened. Men are equally bewildered when they find that the woman they just went through the same process with won't go to lunch because she's angry. They see it as roughly equivalent to refusing to go to lunch with someone because you were just whipped at checkers. And when their "But you weren't supposed to take any of that personally, don't you know that?" is either not believed or considered to be insult piled upon injury, they are reinforced in their belief that women have no business in business.
-- Don't You Even Care...