Discover more from Course Notes: Continuous Business Learning
4/ Your Growing Edge
The growing edge is a discrepancy between who the person is and the person they could be. This is slightly different from the common feature of awkwardness when a person compares themselves against who they’re not.
Talking about something one knows is not hard; what’s hard is attempting to have a conversation beyond the scope of what this individual knows, which would include guesswork and a lot of uncertainty leading to insecurity. People don’t want to be exposed for what they don’t know. But they’re struggling with finding what to say next.
[MK: what follows is one of the most practical advice on the topic you can find anywhere] The first step in engaging into uncomfortable conversations is not trying to persuade anyone. It’s rather trying to impartially understand another person and then trying to compare notes. The discussion becomes an opportunity to learn rather than persuade. It takes lots of emotions out of the conversation.
The “why” questions are very useful to get another person to talk about the things that interest you. Seeking common ground and then differences is helpful in determining the exact source of disagreement, which can be due to misunderstanding rather than someone’s faulty reasoning.
It’s even harder to initiate uncomfortable conversations. The traditional conditioning of “not rocking the boat” or “making waves” sits very deeply inside us. At the same time, it’s unreasonable to expect that a single conversation will make a lasting impact: at least, there have to be several of them, if not more. It’s a natural instinct to avoid follow-up uncomfortable conversations.
5/ The Awkwardness Vortex
2/3 of Britons surveyed feel awkward or uncomfortable around disabled people. Younger people are 2x likely to experience this feeling, and avoiding the interaction altogether is common. The able-bodied’s scare to be offensive to disabled people leads to the social isolation of disabled people.
The awkwardness vortex occurs when a person gets stuck in the irreconcilable gap between the perception of oneself and the others about them, and the extreme self-consciousness leads to nervousness leading to more self-consciousness, and this loop (vortex) goes for a long time.
Too much self-focus will cause you to screw up. This means focusing on the physical activity (golf, tennis) or a social interaction (matching the words to one’s facial expression). There’s a curve, of course: at some point in one’s life it’s worth being conscious about the swing of about a spontaneous smirk, but once the person becomes skilled enough, the usefulness of self-monitoring dissipates. In a business setting it’s not worth trying to look good and pretend like one’s listening if there’s not actual listening going on.
Worrying about one’s performance is an emotion- and memory-draining activity, taking away resources from the task at hand. [MK: on a completely different note, this is the reason why a person shouldn’t try to look better than they are on the first date: it’s better to spend attention and emotions on another person than oneself.] Thinking about a facial expression (and the hand positions!) during photo shoots makes one freeze in completely unnatural poses. Nervousness and anxiety narrow one’s attention, directing it towards oneself.
Disabled people want civil inattention – acknowledging each other’s existence with quick eye contact and politely going back to ignoring one another – rather than forced unnatural attention.
This may sound cliché (which it is), but an effective way to reduce awkwardness of any reasonable conversation is focusing on the outcome, not the show. [MK: this doesn’t help when people are browsing through the topics to touch on during random encounters.] The following advice is very helpful: “learn one more thing about the other person”. It only feels weird the first few times, then it becomes easier – and many people are indeed interesting!
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