Mistakes to avoid vs. mistakes to learn from

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Mistakes to avoid vs. mistakes to learn from Empty Mistakes to avoid vs. mistakes to learn from

Post by Hirundo Bos on Tue Jan 13, 2015 1:25 pm

I have been pondering drafts for a post like this for some time now, but it was brought to the front of my mind in the "Nerds, Entitlement and Neanderthals" thread. I mentioned there that it could be useful to learn the difference between really harmful behavior we should avoid, and the unfortunate, possibly annoying to others, but recoverable mistakes that we have to risk if we are to grow. (Going out of our comfort zone and all that.)

Now, in a way, those two are sides of the same coin, or maybe opposite ends of a continuum, but at the same time, there are some important asymmetries. For one thing, personal growth comes second not causing serious harm to others: It's better to be too cautious than too reckless.

For another, as was pointed out in the other thread, it may be possible to say which things are never ok, but not to say which things are always ok, because that would depend on a lot of variables, like social context, people's personal history, etc etc. For that reason, the difference between mistakes to avoid and mistakes to learn from can't be learned as a set of rules. Instead it has to be learned as a skill, as a matter of social calibration. I'm thinking of this thread as a starting point for such learning.

For myself, I can think of two kinds of information that would be useful.

1) A general discussion of the continuum between harmful and acceptable mistakes. It could perhaps be particularly useful with some real-life examples of the acceptable category of mistakes... what it was that made them acceptable, how the situation was managed afterwards, what you took away and learned from that mistake.

2) A suggestion of activities that would help build social calibration, but with very little risk of causing harm... Maybe with some guidance about what parts of the experience to take note of for later. Difficulty level: Easy, but not so easy that there won't be anything now to learn. 

That being said, I wouldn't want to limit the thread to only these two points... there could be other ways to approach the difference, other useful skills to learn, other interesting questions to ask, and so on.
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Post by Stumbles on Thu Jan 15, 2015 12:49 am

Honestly, when a person realizes they make a mistake and own up to it, it's usually okay. I work in the service industry and generally the types who work there are...friendly. Sexual harassment is not really a thing*. People of all genders and orientations slap each other's asses and say things that make sailors blush. That said, I absolutely hate being touched. Co-workers do not realize that immediately and there are some hiccups and me getting really stern. All my co-workers now know not to touch me and totally respect that boundary. They may slip up a time or two, but they are instantly apologetic. Yeah, you may slap my ass--and I will let you know immediately that does not fly with me. I don't care what gender you are--don't touch me without my explicit permission

One thing that really grinds my gears is hugging. I enjoy giving and receiving hugs--with limited people. I will do the Christian side hug with acquaintances when they go in for a hug. I hate, hate, HATE it when the person gets offended at my side hug. I've had a couple people chastise me for my mediocre hugging skills. Excuse you, you do not get to dictate how I show affection.

Whew. I kinda went on a rant. Did I even cover the topic at hand?

Um...be genuine about a faux pas? Different subcultures have different degrees of boundaries, I guess I am saying. And don't criticize hugs. That's a terrible thing to do.

*Well it is but the industry is notoriously bad at handling it so most just laugh it off. Or quit and find a new gig.
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Post by Mel on Thu Jan 15, 2015 11:09 am

I'd second basically everything Stumbles said. I can't think of any behavior that shouldn't be completely obvious to anyone with any social skills whatsoever would be offensive/hurtful (like, I don't know, walking up to a stranger and cussing them out using the most brutal language in your vocabulary) that would prevent me from giving someone a second chance if they apologized and adjusted their behavior when they realized it wasn't appreciated. Definitely there are some impositions that would make me wary for longer than others afterward, but if the person took a step back and was chill about it, that wariness would fade.

So IMHO the big mistakes to avoid are a) not apologizing when someone tells you something you've said/done bothers them, b) continuing to do/say things the person you're interacting with has responded badly to, c) arguing with the person about whether they're "correct" in being bothered by your behavior, and (similarly) d) criticizing someone for not responding to your behavior the way you'd prefer (see Stumbles' point about chastising her type of hugs).*

I think another good general rule that's sort of an extension of b) is if you know you've bothered/offended someone, after you back off you let them decide when if ever to reengage/re-escalate the interaction. e.g., If someone walks away from you, don't approach them again even after time has passed, let them approach you later if they decide to; if someone jerks their arm away when you try to touch their hand, don't try to touch them again unless they start touching you.

If someone doesn't reengage or re-escalate despite you apologizing and/or stopping what bothered them, I think it's fair to assume that the problem isn't that you made that mistake but that they just aren't that into you in general and probably wouldn't have been even without the mistake. It's important to remember that plenty of people are not going to hit it off with you just because of personal preferences and differing dynamics and that's totally okay, not a moral judgment.

*Note that this is assuming the other person is being reasonable in setting their boundaries and not getting upset at you for things they have no right to try to control (e.g., that aren't even directed at them as an individual or member of a group) or responding to you in offensive ways themselves.
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Post by Mel on Thu Jan 15, 2015 11:17 am

Oh, and in terms of activities to build social calibration, I wonder if a good place to start might be similar to how people approach defusing phobias? It's going to be different for each person depending on what in social interactions you find particularly difficult, so you could write out a list of different social interactions you would be nervous about doing, and rank them in order of what you would feel most nervous about/most concerned about offending someone. So it could look something like:

1. Say "Hi" to someone.
2. Say "Hi" and ask a simple small talk/request for help question like "How are you?" or "Can you give me the time?"
3. Say "Hi", ask a simple question, and follow up with a comment based on an observation about the person ("Come here often?" "Cool shirt--so you like [band]?" etc.) if they respond in what looks like a friendly way to the first question.

and so on from there. If you wanted to you could break down the more general steps even further, like #1 could become:

1. Say "Hi" to someone I don't know well and am not attracted to.
2. Say "Hi" to a stranger I'm not attracted to.
3. Say "Hi" to someone I don't know well and am attracted to.
4. Say "Hi" to a stranger I'm attracted to.

And once you have your list, you could make a point of practicing the first item on it until you feel pretty at ease doing that, and then move on to the second item, and so on. Since it's unlikely that the thing you feel least nervous about is going to cause offense, I would guess that would allow you to build up your skills at observing reactions and managing your own anxieties so that by the time you got to the trickier ones, you wouldn't be very likely to offend with those either.
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Post by InkAndComb on Thu Jan 15, 2015 3:17 pm

Mel wrote:I'd second basically everything Stumbles said. I can't think of any behavior that shouldn't be completely obvious to anyone with any social skills whatsoever would be offensive/hurtful (like, I don't know, walking up to a stranger and cussing them out using the most brutal language in your vocabulary) that would prevent me from giving someone a second chance if they apologized and adjusted their behavior when they realized it wasn't appreciated. Definitely there are some impositions that would make me wary for longer than others afterward, but if the person took a step back and was chill about it, that wariness would fade.

So IMHO the big mistakes to avoid are a) not apologizing when someone tells you something you've said/done bothers them, b) continuing to do/say things the person you're interacting with has responded badly to, c) arguing with the person about whether they're "correct" in being bothered by your behavior, and (similarly) d) criticizing someone for not responding to your behavior the way you'd prefer (see Stumbles' point about chastising her type of hugs).*

*Note that this is assuming the other person is being reasonable in setting their boundaries and not getting upset at you for things they have no right to try to control (e.g., that aren't even directed at them as an individual or member of a group) or responding to you in offensive ways themselves.

I cannot emphasize enough how much apologizing can really make people feel guilty and uncomfortable.  As a chronic apologizer, a personal note I can add is this; you can usually tell how your own anxiety levels are doing based on how often you're apologizing.  If you've apologized more than once in an interaction (assuming you haven't directly said something offensive, but are still worried you're being rude for talking, etc), you are probably reacting to your own interpretation of negative feedback exacerbation (seeing it, responding, making things more tense, responding to THAT).

If you're REALLY worried you've stepped on toes, sometimes a thank-you can be less awkward; "Thank you for listening, I know I'm really passionate about XYZ, hope that wasn't too much haha".  Keep it casual, keep it light; if you are a naturally sensitive person to other's feedback, you are bound to magnify it more than what they intended it to come across as.  Then, change the topic if you can to something else.
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Post by Mel on Thu Jan 15, 2015 3:57 pm

Just to clarify, I was talking about apologizing when someone outright tells you, "Stop doing X" or "X is bothering me". Opinions may vary, but I think most people expect a sincere but not self-flagelating "Sorry!" at that point and will be more wary of you if you don't give one. Definitely once is enough, and I don't think apologizing for simply feeling you've been awkward or boring or something is a good idea.

I also think apologizing (once) is generally the best move if you realize you've made a major misstep--like making a joke about cancer and then remembering the person you're talking to had their spouse just pass away from cancer--but that requires more interpretation of circumstances.
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Post by Guest on Thu Jan 15, 2015 4:10 pm

Mel wrote:I also think apologizing (once) is generally the best move if you realize you've made a major misstep--like making a joke about cancer and then remembering the person you're talking to had their spouse just pass away from cancer--but that requires more interpretation of circumstances.

And the "once then move on" is an important part of that. My least favorite type of apology -- even worse than the "I'm sorry if you were offended," is the person for whom the whole point of the apology is to make them feel better by hearing you forgive them, who will go on and on while you make repeated shows of understanding forgiveness.

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Post by Gentleman Johnny on Thu Jan 15, 2015 4:58 pm

I'm just going to fire off my a quick thought and leave it to others to refine a bit.

1. Obviously, if you do something that's off putting, it won't get you the (type of) continued contact that you want. So it pays to stick to situations where you think you have a decent chance of being taken well. That said. . .

2. Fortune favors the bold.

3. If you mess up, apologize and back down. Don't justify. Don't non apologize like "I'm sorry you're offended". Don't make a huge production.

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Post by Hirundo Bos on Thu Jan 15, 2015 5:11 pm

Apologies. Yes. Knowing when and how to apologize and how not to sounds like a very helpful skill. And one that in itself requires some practice and calibration... but still there are some good general principles to start from.

Most of what's been said here about apologies agrees with my own intuitions – agrees what I would have done, or have done in certain situations. I might need to work a bit more on not trying to determine logically whether I was in the wrong or not, instead concentrating my efforts on getting off the other person's foot.

Some questions though:
1) What do I say in apology when I'm not confident I can avoid a certain mistake in the future... because, say, I can be a bit less attentive of my surroundings than I ought to, or I might not recognize that similar situations in the future are similar, or I might forget, or because some behaviors are so automated they don't even register with me until after they're done (and nervousness tend to make behavior even more automated than usual)?

2) I agree on not apologizing excessively, but what if the other person might want to say "stop doing X" but don't – because they're anxious themselves, or because of situational factors, or because they worry my reaction if they do... and on the other hand, it can be offensive in itself if I don't trust the other person's ability to speak up?

As for the other things you have mentioned:
Initiating or escalating physical contact seems to be a social skill a bit above beginner's level, something to avoid before you've got a bit of people-reading experience, does that sound right?

Controlled exposure is a good idea, and something I have used with a lot of other phobias already.

Although I've tended to I've tended to go with "as hard as I can take" rather than "as easy as I can imagine"... but with other phobias, the only one that ends up paying if I misjudge is me, while social misjudgement often carry consequences for others. Maybe that is what's been confusing me here... that my usuall method for picking difficulty level doesn't quite work with this.)
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Post by Stumbles on Thu Jan 15, 2015 11:30 pm

Hirundo Bos wrote: What do I say in apology when I'm not confident I can avoid a certain mistake in the future... because, say, I can be a bit less attentive of my surroundings than I ought to, or I might not recognize that similar situations in the future are similar, or I might forget, or because some behaviors are so automated they don't even register with me until after they're done (and nervousness tend to make behavior even more automated than usual)?

Be upfront. Say that you will do what you can to stop whatever the behavior is. Take my quirk for example, the whole not touching thing. People apologize. I have friends/acquaintances/co-workers/family who say they will do their best to remember not to sneak up on me and touch my shoulders or whatever. We're all human. We occasionally forget something or are unintentionally insensitive. Own it. Say, "Oop I goofed. I am gonna work really hard to remember not to do The Thing that makes you uncomfortable. Totally call me out when I mess up if I don't realize it. So, about that Legend of Korra finale. Totally awesome, RIGHT?!" And eventually you'll probably stop doing The Thing that bothers said person if you hang out lots and are just your awesome self--even if a bit spacey sometimes. It's all about being genuine.

I agree on not apologizing excessively, but what if the other person might want to say "stop doing X" but don't – because they're anxious themselves, or because of situational factors, or because they worry my reaction if they do... and on the other hand, it can be offensive in itself if I don't trust the other person's ability to speak up?

This one is tricky. Practice reading body language. Yes, yes. Easier said than done. I'm an awkward, crass person who says a lot of fuck words and when I meet new people I state upfront I might miss cues or whatever and to let me know if I cross a boundary. YMMV.
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Post by Stumbles on Thu Jan 15, 2015 11:34 pm

Oh! Most importantly. If you take my approach, don't guilt the person for speaking up. You seem like a nice human, so I don't think you will. And yeah, even with a disclaimer, people won't speak up and there will be miscommunications. That's life. Learn to laugh at yourself when you make silly social mess ups. That has helped me sooooooooooo much with my social anxiety. And flouxetine.
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Post by Hirundo Bos on Fri Jan 16, 2015 5:06 pm

Stumbles wrote:Oh! Most importantly. If you take my approach, don't guilt the person for speaking up. You seem like a nice human, so I don't think you will.

Well, I try to be a nice human and I'm learning more and more about what that means... what I'm not quite confident about is if I'll have emotions that I can't quite hide... either disappointment when things don't go as expected, or self-reproach that can make someone feel guilty, or just thoughtfulness, because I have this facial expression-thing where I look sceptical when I'm thoughtful. But even this has been improving lately.
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