Being BIG ≠ Jerk & Countering The Jerk Attitude

I went to a development talk the other day and it was not what I was expecting. While it certainly was enlightening, it was enlightening in all the ways that have nothing to do with technology except that’s the context of the people involved. So, in any business you have people with attitudes that they are the master’s of their field. Whether or not they are masters isn’t the issue: it is how they approach others either wanting to learn from them or wanting to debate with them.

Generally they fall into 2 camps: those that will listen and discuss things intelligently and those that either talk down or refuse to talk to people they consider inferior. My problem is with the people that will not hear people out and make no attempt to actually communicate with people. This is commonly referred to as “people who talk at you, not to you.”

Personally, I’ve always approached people with an open mind. Essentially, if someone has something to say, I will listen to them. But some people are basically so full of themselves that they act like jerks to anyone that doesn’t agree with them. They refuse to consider other views and simply dismiss them without vetting them properly and either refuting them point for point or accepting the basis and using that very basis to tear the opinion apart.

As you might perceive, I use the latter technique more instead of the former now, much to the dismay of people I’m arguing with that will not listen to my view because either prejudice against me from previous arguments or fall into the “if I don’t listen to you, it’s not true.” The technique is one I learned from a few completely different sources: first sarcasm used for comedic effect, and second from Microsoft’s famous, “Embrace, Extend, Eliminate” strategy. (Although, I’m certain this technique has existed for centuries before it was named in the tech industry. I can think of a few examples off the top of my head.)

Here’s the short of it for those unfamiliar with the strategy:

  1. Accept the environment and the people in it.
  2. Add to it your own interpretation and get people to go along with your additional ideas because they are compatible at first.
  3. Introduce new “improvements” you control and when people go along with them, yank the rug out from under them by making your additions incompatible with the standard.

How one does this in the debate space is by accepting the conditions of a person’s argument, even (especially) if absurd. Hold the invalid ideas that are the foundations of their argument up by validating them by arguing logical conclusions to their ideas, and avoid hyperbole which will ruin your attack. Then affirm that they are right because “obviously” the thing that didn’t happen did. Or you can follow their conditions and try their techniques report your results.

i.e. If someone says, “This entity cares about people first! And they’ve done more than their fair share of sticking up for people, and their motives are noble!” Then agree and say, well that’s true because this entity supported the implementation of these “pro-people” rules or laws. (When in fact they did the opposite and fought against it.)

A good non-controversial example is seat belts in passenger cars and air bags that the automobile industry lobbied heavily against (as being either “dangerous” or too expensive) or the cancer warning on cigarette packs that the tobacco companies fought tooth and nail against (saying there was no proven link and that they never knew when it was proven). Now, if you ask a “spin doctor” (marketing/PR person) at one of those types of companies they’ll tell you they either pioneered or supported the changes to automobiles or cigarettes.

I see this done now regularly of shows such as The Colbert Report: a show that single-handedly has changed people’s perceptions of on-air talent and political pundits.

But back to the meeting: It was a talk given by a person that while being extremely knowledgable in his field, took the time after to discuss techniques with audience members and treated people with respect. During his talk, he discussed another opposing person in the field and the other person’s attitude was of the type that they don’t want to hear anything from you and if you want help, they don’t care to try.

That talk stuck a chord with me. It got me thinking about what I’ve been working on and about my previous experience with people, as well as experiences a few people I know are going through now. I thought about this and realized I have become almost an expert at being able to gauge people’s attitudes and mindset within a few minutes of talking to them.

The clues to spotting what type of people one is dealing with almost immediately is definitely worth touching upon. But I’m considering how much of the “grey area” techniques I want to reveal in the topic. After all, it is best if you are honest and straight forward with people. But at the same time, some people will use that against you and either abuse you for being open and honest or put up their mental shields locking you out of getting a discussion going. Thus, that would defeat the whole point of my communication series*. So, while you could suss out people’s disposition “naturally,” it is more error prone and a lot slower than setting up a few tests of character.

Unfortunately, “testing” people like that is very manipulative. Even if the subject never detects the presence of the test, you would know what you did, which acts against you if the person “passes” the test. So, if I do reveal a few of them, I have to caution people to use them sparingly only if they have to. (Meaning, only use them if you feel someone has wronged you, but you are unsure if it was intentional or not.)

However, if they ever get certain responses from situations they’re genuinely in (that can be a test basis), it is extremely valuable to know what certain actions tell you about someone and/or their attitude towards you or people in general. The scariest thing is if I mention character flaws linked to reactions and you yourself have reacted that way. But if you do, treat it like a bonus lesson, and then decide how big a flaw it is and whether you would like to overcome it.

‘Til next time! Thanks for reading.

(*Yes, I am still actively working on the Communication Series, but I decided to write the entire thing as a whole and release parts of it. It’s about 20% finished as of this writing.)

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