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This is one of a
of brief articles on how to respond effectively
to annoying social behaviors. An effective
when you (a) get your
well enough, and (b) both people feel
get the most from this article,
read these first:
Face to face, we communicate simultaneously over
three "channels": verbal (words);
(voice dynamics - tone, rhythm, accent, volume,
etc.); and nonverbal (face and body language).
Our amazing brain can simultaneously send
different - and sometimes contradictory -
messages on each channel.
Thus my words may say "I'm not upset." and my
voice dynamics and eye contact may say ("I'm
enraged / sad / frustrated / etc.!").
speakers call this common communication dynamic
double or mixed message.
Are you usually aware of receiving them? Can you
describe how you feel?
Depending on the context, normal conscious and
unconscious responses are confusion, doubt,
anxiety, frustration ("What do you really
mean?"), impatience, and perhaps laughter. Mixed
messages differ from
which use spoken words' several meanings - like
bus and buss, or snort (a stiff
drink or a nasal sound) - to cause humor.
Puns are usually delivered synchronously on all
three channels, unless a subself is broadcasting
Some cultures prize little or no facial and body
language, which may promote subtle double
messages. have you ever conversed with "an
inscrutable Oriental" or an "unemotional
The idea that normal
are composed of semi-independent
explains why double messages occur - usually
unconsciously: for example, your diligent
subself may cause you to say "Great to see
you!", as your
signals "Yeah, just great. We'll probably
be bored to death again!" with your face and
body language. This has caused the timeless
can lie - bodies can't."
people become so adept at controlling all three
communication channels that they're called
"glib," "slick," "pathological liars," "phony,"
"scam artists," and "crooks." Know
anyone like this? A common problem with
(wounded) people who try and mask their real
feelings and thoughts is other people
distrusting and avoiding them.
Be alert for
feeling confused or "uneasy" in important
social conversations, and use objective
to check for conflicting messages on several
Check yourself and your partner for who
your teams of subselves. If a
does, you have a bigger problem than double
messages. If your partner's Self is
(wounded), see these
about your partner. If it's not
mutual respect, suspect that a false self
governs you, and decide what you want to do
Check your current
If it's "above your ears," take
comfortable breaths and decide what needs that
suggests. Option - ask your partner
outcome you need from your response. Do
you need to vent, instruct, confront,
clarify, or something else?
your purpose, compose a statement like
I'm confused. Your words say __________, but
your face / body / voice suggests
I'm getting a double / mixed message from
you say nothing's wrong, but you won't meet
you say it was awful, and you chuckle. Are
you aware of that?"
the person knows about personality subselves,
you might say...
it seems like part of you feels _________,
and another part of you wants deny that."
ask if your partner is willing to hear some
personal feedback. Usually curiosity
and politeness will yield a nod and/or "OK."
Then deliver your feedback calmly, with
steady eye contact (if you can get it).
Expect some "resistance," like denial, an
explanation, a shrug, silence, "So what?,"
indifference, whining, etc. If appropriate,
use empathic listening to affirm the
"resistance" - e.g. ...
you don't feel you're giving me a mixed
message" (or whatever).
Then repeat your
feedback until you get the outcome you need,
or it becomes clear that you won't.
I'm getting another confusing double message
from you. I'm starting to doubt / distrust
what you tell me."
Reflect - what are you thinking and feeling
about these optional responses? Do they seem
practical and useful? If not - why? If your
reasons sound like...
"No-one talks like this."
"S/He'd think I was wacko."
might hurt their feelings."
"Too much trouble!"
cut me off."
"S/He'd be insulted."
suspect that a
protective false-self is generating your
true Self might say something like...
Different. Might work; what's to lose? I'll
experiment with responses like these."
Stay aware that these are illustrations, not
the theme of these responses, and invent your