I have been reading Suzanne Hadin Elgin's How to Disagree Without Being Disagreeable. I found that in order to master her points, I had to outline the book. This is not because of her poor writing, it is because my ingrained defensiveness makes it hard for me to comprehend and master what she has to say.
I found Elgin's approach easy to learn, and her book easy to read. I am recommending it to anyone who wants to learn how to be a better leader and better communicator, and anyone who wants to learn how NOT to get sucked into recursive arguments, and who doesn't believe that shouting or foul language is necessary to make a point.
(Here is Elgin's Verbal Self Defense homepage; here is the How Stuff Works start page for verbal self defense; here is an interview with Elgin about her science fiction writing . If you enjoy all this, go back to Elgin's introductory page and explore for more.)
Suzette Haden Elgin Disagreeing w/out Being Disagreeable
Part I is the Overview, in which we discuss what is hostile langugage, the cost of using hostile language, and the necessity--or rather, the lack thereof--of hostile language.
Elgin describes a seven-step method for hearing and responding to hostile language:
Part Two describes the three Fundamentals:
- Listening, and
Part Three describes are the four response techniques:
- "Satir Mode",
- Managing Verbal Attack Patterns, and
- Tension and rapport managment.
People disagree about what constitutes offensive language. I personally dislike egregious curse words and name calling. Elgin suggests the phrase "hostile language" to include name calling, ethnic slurs, and the hurtful effects of tone of voice, gesture, facial expression--as well as words.
How do we recognize hostile language?
There are two characteristics:
- It relies very heavily on personal words: I, you, our company, this family, and personal names. (Note: sometimes the personal is alluded to, not direct: People who NEVER get to WORK on time shouldn't exPECT to keep their JOBS!)
- It contains acoustic stresses--emphasis--on words and parts of words. These stresses are used only to express hostility.
Is hostile language BAD, or are you just too thin skinned?
Elgin argues that the use of hostile language "pollutes" the commons, by eliminating civility. There is no need for the extra hostility, and some real advantages of learning another way to communicate
- More safety and security at less cost--angry words hurt, and escalate into physical violence. Verbal hostilities are the root of physical hostilities.
- Better Health at Less Cost--hostile language leads to anger, cynicism, and isolation, which is associated with poor health.
- Greater Success for self and child--co-operative language (the opposite of hostile language) is a sign of higher "Emotional Intelligence"--
So the bottom line is that hostile language has expenses without benefits.
2. Is hostile language necessary?
Defenders of hostile language argue:
- You cannot deliver a negative message without hostile language
- You cannot motivate and guide people without hostile language
- Hostility is an innate human trait; you cannot get rid of hostility
- Hostile language acts as a "release valve"; without it more hostile action would take place.
Elgin says that negative messages can indeed be delivered in a neutral or even supportive manner, and that hostile speech is unnecessary.
Motivation and discipline: Elgin says we are habituated and lazy to rely upon hostile language. On the contrary, study after study has shown that punishment (which is what hostile language is) is the poorest of motivational tools.
Innate: One, humans are also innately compassionate. And we can transcend our nature--"we are also born incontinent, and we are expected to get over that by the time we reach school age."
Release valve: language is as real as fists--it is not a release, but an intensifier.
Elgin's bottom line:
We have been sold a sleazy bill of goods proposing that gentle language is only for wimps, that getting ahead in this world depends on using your tongue as a bullwhip, and that--just in case we aren't convinced by either of these arguments--there's not point in trying to behave differently anyway, because human beings are bornviolent and we can't help ourselves.
Elgin lines out four types of necessary negative messages or utterances:
- The utterance which imparts facts which are likely to be painful to the listener (bad news).
- A loved one has has died
- You have a serious illness
- Your child has been arrested
- The utterance in which "I"--the speaker--disputes the facts, or sets up an objective limit.
- You said the plane leaves at 6:15. My ticket says departure is 6:30.
- You are 5'1" tall. The minimum height for this job is 5'3". We cannot hire you.
- You have made six errors on this report; the limit is three.
- Talking about a person behind her back is called triangulating and we don't do that here.
- Your hair is touching your collar, that is against our dress code.
- You said "&$%%^&" in front of the kids, and we agreed not to use that kind of language in their presence.
- Don't tell me Ms. Jones is late. When she comes in to work isn't our business.
- I don't like to be subjected to gossip.