In just about every group conflict I’ve witnessed or participated in, I’ve seen some version of this happen:
- Some people will speak up about something
- There will be a conversation that gets heated
- Someone else will be very uncomfortable with the fact that conflict is happening (despite somewhat sympathizing with the people who are speaking up)
- And they will say something like, “Wow, I don’t like this tone. Can we all try to respect each other a bit more?”
And I think part of this is that people who aren’t speaking up really often have no idea how hard it is. It looks much easier than it is.
It’s hard, and it’s scary, to say something that you know will result in conflict. It’s hard to phrase things well, it’s hard and sometimes impossible to stand your ground in a way that makes everyone feel respected. Especially if you don’t have a lot of practice.
It’s possible that people who are speaking up really are being inappropriately or counterproductively disrespectful. That is a real thing that actually happens. But it’s also possible that people are doing the best they can, because speaking up is really hard and there’s often no way to do it which won’t be at least somewhat painful or awkward.
If you’re not in the habit of speaking up about anything other than the tone used by others when they speak up, it’s entirely possible that tone isn’t the real problem. It’s possible that the problem is that you haven’t learned through experience how hard it is to speak up, and how complicated of a skill it is to learn.
That is not always the problem, but it’s usually a possibility worth considering in that kind of situation.
Tone is important. When you say things the right way, it can increase the number of people who are willing to listen to you.
But that only goes so far. No matter how good you are at framing things, some things that need to be said will upset people who feel entitled to be comfortable. And, when you upset people who feel entitled to comfort, they will lash out at you. This is not your fault; it is theirs. Tone has its limits.
Also, getting tone right is really hard. No one starts out good at tone; it’s a very difficult skill that you can only learn with practice. And the only way to get practice is to spend a lot of time talking to people about controversial things. Which means that, in order to get good at tone, you’re going to have to spend a lot of time talking about these things while you’re still bad at tone.
People who mean well and genuinely want you to be heard understand this, and will encourage you to keep speaking up and keep working on your skills at speaking up effectively. People who want you to shut up about the things you’re talking about will try to make you feel horrible about your tone and convince you that your tone means you have no right to say anything.
Sometimes, when people say that you should be more careful about tone so that you can be heard, what they really mean is “I don’t want to hear that, shut up and say something else I’m willing to listen to”.
Don’t believe those people, and don’t shut up. The most important thing is to keep talking. If you are bad at tone, some people will refuse to hear you. If you are good at tone, some people will still refuse to hear you. If you say nothing for fear of getting the tone wrong, no one will hear you.
Shutting up won’t get you heard. Speaking up might.
lawlandauror asked realsocialskills:
.There is a sorority at my college who’s charity is Autism Speaks. All their promotional material and events are making me really uncomfortable. I’m not autistic but I am nueroatypical. I don’t want to talk over autistic people, but I also don’t want to stay silent. What can I do in this situation?
A few things I’d say, in addition to signing the pledge and urging others to do so:
I think what you need to bear in mind is that you’re not speaking for autistic people, you’re saying why Autism Awareness is bad. You don’t need to be autistic to understand that. So long as you’re not claiming to speak for others, I think you’re probably ok.
(For instance, don’t say “autistic people don’t like autism speaks!”, say something like “autism speaks doesn’t have any autistic people in positions of leadership and that’s a problem”).
Also, don’t expect any kind of emotional reaction from autistic folks as a result of what you say. Don’t expect autistic people to be grateful, or to be moved that someone is saying something. Sometimes that might happen. But it shouldn’t be the reason you’re speaking up, and it shouldn’t be something you expect. If you’re putting additional emotional pressure on autistic folks, you’re doing it wrong.
And also, Awareness paints a pretty broad brush. Autistic people get the most direct hate this month, but it’s also when people promote a model of neurological disability that’s dangerous for everyone. Feeling personally threatened by that is not appropriative or silencing. If that’s part of what’s going on for you, it’s ok to say so.