Search Google Appliance

Communication Techniques

Communication techniques that help others to accept your comments

I was riding the train a couple months ago and sat next to a man who I talked with for about an hour. In the middle of our conversation he was talking about his son being cheap, and used a derogatory term for Jews. I let him finish his story for a minute or and so and then I said "I would appreciate if you would not use that word but instead just say that he was being cheap." The man looked at me and said "Oh, is that a bad word? I didn't even know." I assured him that it was and then asked him more about his life, as if telling him I didn't want him to use that word was the most natural thing in the world and that we should move on. And indeed we did.

If instead I had challenged his usage and then clamed up or stalked off, his response to that correction would have been very different. The lesson I got out of this is that "pointing out the poop" and then moving on to engage him on another topic -- as if "it's no big deal, we all make these mistakes and learn from each other how to stop them" -- allowed him to avoid an emotional or shame-based reaction.

 - Jack C. Straton, Portland, OR, USA, 2001


Communication techniques using humor

There is a great scene in Richard Attenborough's 1987 movie "Cry Freedom," in which a South African judge asks Civil Rights activist Stephen Biko (Denzel Washington), "You people look brown to me. Why do you call yourself 'Blacks'?" Biko responds, "You people look pink to me. Why do you call yourself 'Whites'?" I always get a laugh from "white" students and workshop participants when I tell this story, or even when I call myself "pink" without first telling this story. There is something patently absurd about color-classifications, and people instinctively know it.

 - Jack C. Straton, Portland, OR, USA, 2001)

One member of the D.C. Coalition for a Hassle-free Zone came back to a training with the following story in 1987 or so: "I was walking through a neighborhood and a man on his porch whistled at me. I responded with our stock phrase, 'That's harassment! I don't like it, no woman does!' He turned to the woman sitting next to him and asked, 'What did she say?' Her response: 'She said, "Shut up!"'.

- Jack C. Straton, Portland, OR, USA, 2001


Communication techniques for the bullheaded

When you hear a sexist joke, and are feeling uncomfortable about confrontation, you can at least refrain from laughing...the speaker will notice. As you become more courageous you can tell the speaker how you feel when he degrades women. One of the most effective responses is to state "That's unacceptable" or "That's not OK." When he comes back with another line directed at women or at you say, "That's unacceptable." If you keep on like a stuck record you will eventually wear him down because he needs to be creative and you don't. 

- Jack C. Straton, Portland, OR, USA, 1989