Further notes toward hacking interpersonal interactions

– I realise that day-to-day interpersonal interactions matter, that through my behaviour I have a surprising amount of power over others.

– I know this, but at the same time I know that most people believe the opposite to be true.

Question: What should I do with this information?

Answer: I should use the power for good not evil. I should consciously and deliberately alter my behaviour so as to bring about a desired result.

An over-simplified example

– A friend of mine sometimes mocks people for being fat.

– In the past I either ignored this or went along with it, since it didn’t seem to matter very much anyway.

– I now realise that both my friend’s mockery and my reaction to it have an effect on others. Whatever we say, or seem to go along with, will tend to seem more acceptable and reasonable to the people watching than it did before.

– Taking this information into account, I decide to change my behaviour. I decide that in the future when I hear someone mocking someone else just because they are fat I will say: “Actually I think that’s kind of mean, why don’t you quit it?”

To deliberately, consciously change your behaviour

It is possible to get rid of a knee-jerk reaction and replace it with a thought-though, desired reaction, but it is harder than you might think. In the moment when the situation presents itself you find yourself doing the knee-jerk reaction rather than the thought-through one.

Here are some things that may help:

– Repeated cycles of { try, evaluate what went wrong, try again }.

– “Practise” the desired reaction by running through it in your mind step by step. Or practise in front of the mirror, or write a short story describing a situation in which you do the desired behaviour.

– Explain what you’re trying to do to a supportive friend. Talk it through with them step by step and ask them how they think it will go when you do it for real.

– If you have a group of people doing this together as a project you can do roleplays where you act out the situation and practise doing the desired behaviour.

Be cautious about changing your knee-jerk reactions. Your behaviour patterns have built up over the course of your life, and even if there is something seriously wrong with these behaviour patterns, they probably help you in some way which you may not be aware of. Changing these behaviour patterns can have unexpected consequences.

Any time you change your usual ways of behaving it will likely make the people around you feel uncomfortable, at least at first, so you will have to make sure you are prepared to weather any backlash that may come.

Breaking the flow

When you break the flow of a conversation, when you say something different from what people thought you were going to say, when you introduce disagreement where none was expected, it can make people uncomfortable. There may be defensiveness, backlash.

The important thing to remember about this backlash is that it doesn’t matter. It’s just a knee-jerk reaction that people are having. It’s a side effect of what you said. The main effect will not be immediate or obvious, it will be hidden. People will go home and mull over what you said, and perhaps change their thinking about it, in their own time.

The immediate backlash doesn’t matter; you don’t have to win an argument or get someone to admit they were wrong. You can just say what you wanted to say, then let any backlash run its course and fizzle out, and let the conversation move on to other topics.