Reflective Complaints

Fre­quently, I’ll be hav­ing an ar­gu­ment with some­one. And I’ll think “Grr! They are do­ing Ob­nox­ious Be­hav­ior X!” or “Arg, they aren’t do­ing Ob­vi­ously Good Be­hav­ior Y!”.

Then I com­plain at them.

And… some­times, they make the ex­act same com­plaint about me.

And then I think about it, and it turns out to be true.

Another por­tion of the time, they don’t com­plain back at me, but the ar­gu­ment goes into cir­cles and doesn’t re­solve, and we both feel frus­trated for awhile. And later, in­de­pen­dently, I re­al­ize “Oh, I was also failing to do Good Thing X, or do­ing Bad Thing Y.”

Often, “Good Thing X” and “Bad Thing Y” amount to some kind of “not listen­ing”, or “not do­ing enough in­ter­pre­tive la­bor.” It seems to me that I’m ex­plain­ing some­thing rea­son­able, and they’re not un­der­stand­ing it be­cause of some ob­vi­ous bias, which should be ap­par­ent to them.

But, in or­der for them to no­tice that, from in­side the situ­a­tion, they’d have to run the check of:

  1. TRIGGER: No­tice that the other per­son isn’t con­vinced by my argument

  2. ACTION: Hmm, check if I might be mis­taken in some way. If I were deeply con­fused about this, how would I know?

And, typ­i­cally, I haven’t ac­tu­ally been mak­ing that same check, for my­self. Or, I’ve done, it but in a kinda su­perfi­cial way.

Often, ad­ver­sar­ial con­ver­sa­tional moves beget more ad­ver­sar­ial con­ver­sa­tional moves. If some­one is talk­ing over me, I’m likely to re­spond by talk­ing over them. If some­one seems to be ig­nor­ing my ar­gu­ments, I’m more likely to ig­nore their ar­gu­ments. This means, by the time a com­plaint arises to my con­scious thought, there’s a de­cent chance there’s been some kind of es­ca­la­tion cy­cle where I started do­ing the same thing, even if they started it. (And, maybe, I started it?)

This has led me to a gen­eral habit:

  1. TRIGGER: No­tice that I’m about to com­plain to some­one about a thing they’re doing

  2. ACTION: Check if I’m do­ing that thing too.

I’ve men­tioned this con­cept be­fore in pass­ing, but it seemed im­por­tant enough to war­rant it’s own top-level post.