In person-to-person communication, patterns of all kinds abound, but templates are special. They're widely used within the culture, and cultural norms re-enforce them. For instance, in my culture, when I hold out my right hand to someone and say, "Hello, I'm Rick Brenner," a very common response is to take my hand and say, "Hello, I'm George Bush." Well, only if George Bush is your actual name — otherwise most of us would expect to hear your name.
Did you find the above example a wee bit humorous? If you did, perhaps you expected the person's actual name, not "George Bush." The strength of that expectation reflects the strength of this template.
Although templates aren't problematic in themselves, how we use them can be, if we use them to manipulate others, or if we reflexively adopt an offered template. In this Part I, I'll examine how we use templates to manipulate others. In Part II, we'll look into some more toxic examples.
In the workplace, some common manipulative uses of templates are persuasion, controlling others' emotions, and stifling criticism.
- Persuasion: "You wouldn't want us to do that, now would you?"
- This template makes objection difficult. It rests on a previously constructed patently unappealing scenario, which isn't usually what the anticipated objection was about.
- To respond to this tactic, try replying in the form, "I certainly would not, but I think we have other options. I'd like to explore them."
- Controlling others' emotions: "Now, now, no need to get so hot under the collar about this."
- Although templates aren't
problematic in themselves,
how we use them can be
- Here the manipulator tries to force a denial of the form "I am not angry," which usually makes the denier look foolish. Remaining cool at all times does help, but even that won't prevent some manipulators from using this template.
- To respond, step out of the template. Humor is especially effective, because it demonstrates that your emotions are under control. For example, if you aren't wearing a collar, try, "But I'm not wearing a collar, or at least, I wasn't when I walked in here."
- Stifling criticism: "Be reasonable; trust me on this."
- In this template the manipulator attempts to equate disagreement with distrust. Since most of us are reluctant to express distrust, expressing disagreement is difficult within this template.
- Reject the template: "I do trust you. I also disagree with you. It's because I trust you that I hope you'll want to explore our disagreement."
The strength, variety, and prevalence of templates vary with culture and microculture. Within cultures, there are variations with social status and gender. And although a template is present in your culture, you might not ever use it. Do you see any templates in use in your own life? Which ones do you use yourself? Top Next Issue
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For more on Communication Templates, including some that are even more problematic, see "Communication Templates: II," Point Lookout for February 13, 2008.
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
- And on August 1: Strategies of Verbal Abusers
- Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers rely on to avoid disciplinary action. Available here and by RSS on August 1.
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