What is it that we want from other people? One of the characteristic communications problems I find in dealing with others is that there is a mismatch between what people want and how they expect to get it. I do not consider myself a particularly difficult person to deal with for people who have any sense, but at the same time I also know myself to be a fairly prickly person much of the time, and that can lead to predictably negative outcomes when certain situations occur. If we want positive interactions with other people and want something from them, it generally behooves us to conduct ourselves in such a way that we will not hit others where it hurts and not alienate them. Yet sometimes people are looking to justify their own negative feelings by striking out against someone and then blaming them for not being friendly and cooperative, which is bad in two senses. For one, it is generally transparent that someone was being disrespectful and it is usually considered understandable to be less than gracious towards those who are impolite towards us. For another, it is just not a very successful strategy to alienate those from whom we are looking for some sort of aid or assistance.
Let us put ourselves in the position of a gatekeeper, someone who controls access to that which is wanted by people in a given situation, such as money, information, power, responsibility and the like. Most people who have political sense, and even those of us without a great deal of it, will tend to know who it is that has this particular power. Whether we are interested in gaining something for ourselves or whether we are more interested in determining who it is that has power and can give that power to others so as to avoid that power being used against us, generally speaking it is a wise thing to know who has the power to make one’s life better or worse and then respond accordingly. And if we want such people to respond positively towards us, it is particularly important that we know what it is that will lead them to think more favorably or unfavorably of us, and within the bounds of being people of high character present ourselves in the best motives possible.
It is not, apparently, all that easy for people to do this. One of the more negative consequences of the egotism and self-centeredness that is so characteristic of this present evil age is that people expect and even demand that they be as unpleasantly honest about themselves, show no concern about the sensitivities and sensibilities of other people, and yet expect those people to act according to our own interests when we have shown no care or concern for theirs. If we assume that people will be hostile to us and our interests, then it is perhaps natural that we should act without caring or being concerned about what they like, but in so doing we commit the cardinal sin of acting in ways that justify their hostility towards us after the fact. If we are spinning narratives about what we want and what we expect from other people, we need to be aware that our narratives are honest about what we have done and what factors have led to the sort of contretemps we may have other other people whose assistance may have been useful to us before we alienated them.
I do not say these things because I am somehow some sort of great communicator. In fact, I have always considered myself to struggle with communication to a degree more than most people around me. What these struggles have led me to do is to study the issue and to better know myself and figure out what aspects of communication have proven to be so troublesome. If it is difficult for us to communicate perfectly with others, there are certainly things we can do in order to avoid kneecapping ourselves when it comes to our interactions with others. Understanding what we want out of a given interaction is a good thing, and understanding as much as possible about the people we are working with or trying to build relationships with is another. If neither we nor others are necessarily going to be entirely candid about the depths of who we are, it is at least generally the case that being observant and reflective can allow us to know far more than we often do. And when we are dealing with matters of great importance and delicacy, that is often enough to make considerable difference. Simply thinking and being aware of what is beyond ourselves is often an important and necessary step forward. If we want to run circles around this town, the least we can do is avoid continually spinning our wheels.