Sunday column: The role of the audience

June 22nd, 2014

Today’s column is online here. The second question is about a neighbor who harps on the Letter Writer’s parking. From my reply:

What do you think is motivating Florence? Personal animus against you? Or against something you represent? Does Florence appear to have a full life, with frequent opportunities to express herself? How would you describe the tone of her criticism: Worried? Superior? Helpful? This is a clue to how Florence sees herself. To know your enemy’s state of mind: Whether your goal be a battle won or a peace made, this must be your first step, grasshopper.

You and Florence are locked into a cycle of mutually assured aggravation. The trick you need to pull off is to briefly interrupt the cycle the next time it starts and treat Florence as your ally against this stupid meshugas that has developed between you. Almost as though there were some malicious third party sowing discord between you–you and Florence, who are such buddies at heart!

A crucial and overlooked aspect of being a good social actor is knowing how to cast your audience in a flattering role. Have you ever met someone at a party who told wonderful stories but nonetheless, you couldn’t wait to get away from? Chances are that person was casting you in the role of Goggling Peasant, shooting their tales over your head as though you couldn’t possibly have anything of similar value to contribute. It’s not a good look. Much better, when telling stories, to cast your interlocutor as a Trusted Confidant, someone who can marvel with you at the wonders you’ve witnessed and who, perhaps, might have avoided some of the traps you yourself have fallen into.


One Response to “Sunday column: The role of the audience”

  1. Kitty on June 22, 2014 8:34 pm

    The strategy is sound in the advice – a little rapport – building can defuse a tense situation and firmly closing the door on additional feedback is reasonable too.
    It’s possible that instead of having no life or sense of perspective, that Florence’s concern about M.W.’s machine, is that she hears other neighbors complain/threaten as they pass by and notice M’S inconsiderate parking.
    Even in the remotest row of a 5000 space lot, double parking is rude, selfish and inconsiderate. I can’t imagine any street in Charlestown with “plenty of spaces” but even if there are it still violates that social contract thing. Make a lot more of an effort MW!

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