A fundamental feature of spoken language that is too often ignored

A fundamental feature—a primitive—of all spoken communication is a back-and-forth exchange that details all reasonable particulars of a topic and what both speakers think about them.

Let’s call this feature of spoken communication “primitive conversational induction” or, more simply, “primitive back-and-forth.”

It is primitive because it is a fundamental feature of all spoken communication; it is a primary feature.

It is a kind of spoken mutual reasoning between partners about a topic while also sharing all avenues of reasoning with each other, including emotional, aesthetic, and other nonrational sensibilities.

This primitive feature cannot be ignored without bad consequences for both parties. It cannot be reduced, shortened, or avoided without bad psychological consequences.

In hierarchical relationships, the situational hierarch can decree that the matter is settled to their satisfaction and discussion is over. But that will not avoid bad consequences except in some cases where either or both parties are so bad at negotiating primitive back-and-forths, less confusion and suffering will result if they agree to stop talking.

An example of a primitive back-and-forth happened this morning.

An old chest-of-drawers from one room had been moved into a hallway to accommodate a new and much better chest-of-drawers. The discussion was about what to do with the old chest-of-drawers in the hallway.

If I had been asked to estimate my partner’s ideas about the chest-of-drawers before we had our primitive back-and-forth, I probably would have been very close to 100% correct. The same is true of her estimating my positions before we ever discussed the matter.

That does not mean, however, that we could have skipped the primitive back-and-forth because the only way we could both be sure of all positions is to speak about them openly in a sort of logical tree that includes both practical and nonrational considerations.

In fact, even if we had advanced technology that allowed us to see each other’s emotional states, we would still have had to have had the primitive back-and-forth. Such advanced tech might have helped us in some ways and it might have hindered us in others, but it could not have replaced the primitive back-and-forth because only that can exhaust the logical tree to the full satisfaction and full understanding of both partners.

You can find the need for primitive back-and-forths very often. They are very common. In ordinary life, we cannot always go into them, but with important friends we can and should go into them as often as possible. It costs a bit of energy to do that but pays both parties back with much better mutual understanding and much less unsettled second-guessing or after-thinking.

In macro, we can see the dangers of avoided primitive back-and-forths. American politics is riven with them. Our so-called “divided society” is divided because we avoid so many primitive back-and-forths. Facts are hidden, slow-walked, falsified, etc. just to win a battle as the nation loses the war.

This is actually understandable and to be expected. Primitive back-and-forths are somewhat difficult to do and, so far, we do not have a good term for them or an explicit common understanding of what they are and why we need to do them.

Rather than running from or trying to avoid the next primitive back-and-forth that arises in your life, get into it and do it well; do it fully to the satisfaction of both of you. If needed, explain to your partner what is happening and why you want to do something different about it and what it is you want to do.

Once the concept is grasped, it is not all that hard to do a successful primitive back-and-forth. I can all but guarantee its benefits will become clear to both partners after just a few tries.

The best way to proceed is share this concept and do it on something concrete, practical, and relatively minor like the chest-of-drawers described above. At some point, move carefully into more difficult subjects centered on deep subjective psychology.

UPDATE 2/15/21: As for the chest-of-drawers: I wanted them to stay in the hall for added storage and also had a minor emotional attachment to them because I had had them for so long. They are very cheap and poorly built but still look OK. My partner wanted to throw them out. We went back-and-forth on the matter for a good ten minutes and agreed to get something better and smaller for the hall. We left open whether to use the drawers for tools in the basement or discard them.

The advantage of going into this fully is we both traced each branch of the logical decision-tree wherever we wanted, which was actually quite interesting. We both made sure we understood each other well. Moreover, we gained more practice in fully going through a practical back-and-forth. The more we do this with simple, concrete things, the better we will be with complex or psychologically more significant things.

I am sure we all have done many primitive back-and-forths. I am also sure that most people much of the time try to avoid lengthy ones because they can be irritating or seem more involved than warranted. I think it is a mistake to routinely do this because primitive back-and-forths build and strengthen primitive conversational trust between partners.

If primitive conversational trust is not flourishing in a relationship, the relationship will weaken. Weakened trust will only grow weaker if it continues to be ignored. Weakened (or never having been strengthened) primitive conversational trust makes important discussions much harder to do. Like anything else, good speaking & listening habits have to be practiced often. They are best strengthened on simple, concrete matters that are conspicuously clear to both partners like the chest-of-drawers.

I think the objective mechanics of why primitive back-and-forths can be difficult is they make demands on the working memory.

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