FIML as a “loose” method of control for chaos in interpersonal communication systems

Interpersonal communication systems can become chaotic when there are misunderstandings. And they can become wildly chaotic when the misunderstandings are serious and/or involve emotional responses.

Normally, in virtually all cultures, out-of-control interpersonal communications are settled by authoritarian decree, by reverting to pre-established roles, by fighting until one side tires, or by ending communication all together.

It is nothing short of tragic when this happens in close relationships during significant or profound communication acts.

FIML is designed to fix communication problems that occur during communications between two (or more) people who care about each other.

FIML is a “loose” method of control in that FIML largely does not have any content. It is a technique that allows partners to discover their own content and their own ways to fix their problems.

As with so many potentially chaotic systems, interpersonal misunderstandings can become wildly unstable for even very small reasons. A single misheard word or a single misinterpreted expression can lead to destructive chaos within the system, no matter how dedicated the communicants may be to each other.

Evidence that supports the use of a “loose” method of control like FIML can be found in this paper: Stalling chaos control accelerates convergence.

To paraphrase from the abstract of that paper and apply their conclusions to FIML, we can say that FIML works “…by stalling the control, thereby taking advantage of the stable directions of the uncontrolled chaotic” system.

By not having a set outcome in mind, by not allowing static interpersonal roles to control the outcome, FIML can succeed in fixing even very serious contretemps between caring partners. FIML accomplishes this by providing partners with a means of achieving a meta-view of their contretemps and from that point of view gently nudging their analysis toward mutual agreement, mutual transformation for both parties based on a complete and completely shared understanding of the unique conditions that generated the problem.

In this, FIML takes “advantage of the stable directions of the uncontrolled chaotic” system. The stable direction is the complete and mutually agreed upon resolution of all aspects of the contretemps. It is a “return” to the stable state of caring that preceded the problem, but a “return” with a significant upgrade because the new stable state will now include the experience of repairing the chaotic state that just passed.

The pleasure in a full FIML resolution can be very great because the semiotic systems of both partners minds will also achieve an upgraded level of stability and awareness. This kind of resolution, clearly, strengthens and resonates with the core of conscious beings who live in the midst of and use (often not so well) semiotics to understand themselves and others.

An article on the study linked above describes the “loose” control method as an “approach that cleverly exploits the natural behaviour of the system.” (See: Control is good, freedom is better)

FIML exploits the natural behavior of two people who seek mutual caring and mutual positive transformation by providing a method that allows them to intelligently deal with the chaos that is 100% bound to arise during some of their acts of communication. Rather than flee from communication due to the fear of chaos, FIML partners have a reliable method of controlling it and reestablishing harmony on a higher, better level.

first posted OCTOBER 2, 2013

Advanced FIML

It is of paramount importance that FIML partners learn to use the basic FIML technique described here: How to do FIML.

Even very advanced partners should be using the basic technique most of the time.

This is because most mix-ups are fundamentally simple and/or are based on something quite simple. And this happens because of how humans use and process language. Basically, our limbic system is too closely connected to our neocortex. Our emotional reactions have a strong tendency to overwhelm our capacities for good listening and rational analysis.

Mix-ups are 100% completely guaranteed for all people because all of us have learned to speak non-FIML languages. And even after we are able to do FIML, we will still readily slip back into non-FIML reactions.

It’s no one’s fault. We are primitive beings with poor control of both language and our emotional reactions to it.

That said, advanced FIML partners will find themselves regularly engaging in FIML discussions that may be continued for days and that will refer to factors that lie outside of the basic data described in the basic technique.

As partners progress, they will come to better understand the complexity of their interactions while noticing that some dynamic features between them tend to repeat. It’s good to keep a record in your minds of those features or routines that tend to recur. These are the idiosyncratic dynamics of your Functional Interpersonal Meta Linguistic reality.

Yes, some of these dynamic features can and will be generalizable to other couples, but the mixture of all of them together will largely be unique to the two of you.

FIML is not about telling you what to think or believe. It is, rather, a technique that will help you and your partner achieve optimum communication and mutual understanding with each other.

FIML partners must learn the basic technique and they must use it frequently because all other discussions will require it. That said, advanced FIML partners should also expect to engage in FIML discussions that go well beyond the basic technique in length, complexity, and the factors considered.

first posted DECEMBER 24, 2011

Random notes on FIML

Sometimes things become clearer when we have just a bit of information, or several small bits. A single detail can sometimes make us perceive the whole in ways we had not before; we may notice connections we had not noticed or recall pertinent memories that had been submerged. I hope the following short notes will be helpful in this way.

  • When we speak to someone, we speak to what we think is in their mind. FIML practice helps us know with much greater accuracy what is in the mind of the person we are speaking to.
  • FIML helps us avoid the worry of wondering if our partner is bothered by something we said (or did) because we know that if they are, they will bring it up.
  • FIML allows far more leeway in how we speak to our partner. It allows us to speak creatively and exploratorily with our partner. We can speak tentatively without the need for strongly expressed conclusions. We can share doubt, wonder, uncertainty with our partner.
  • Our minds are dynamic processes. FIML helps us access the dynamism of our minds in the moment with our partner. We can share and communicate dynamic states without clinging to static interpretations.
  • Interpretations of what others say or of what we think they are saying are all too often static interpretations based on things that happened in the past. With FIML practice, by simply asking, we avoid making harmful or mistaken interpretations. There is no need to guess at what our partner means, and every reason not to.
  • If you wonder what your partner means but don’t ask, you will still make some sort of interpretation. If you don’t ask them because you think it might feel awkward, you are still making an interpretation and limiting your understanding of yourself and your partner.
  • Neuroses (ongoing mistaken interpretations) are fed in the moment. Conversations move quickly and are dynamic. If we withhold a FIML query from our partner, we will almost certainly feed one of our ongoing mistaken interpretations of them, we will strengthen our own neurosis and miss a chance for mutual liberation from it.
  • When we speak or listen, we all tend to be self-centered, in a neutral sense of the term. I don’t mean selfish here, but simply self-centered. When we listen, we tend to listen first of all to how our partner’s speech impacts us. Did I do something wrong? Did I do something right? Will that cost me energy or money? Does that refer to me somehow? Our fundamental self-centeredness  is based on being in a body and having a mental autobiography. There is nothing wrong with that unless we use it mistakenly as an integral part of our interpretation of what our partner is saying. If you are wondering if their comments are being directed, subtly or not, at you, just ask them. If you don’t ask, you will either come to a conclusion based on insufficient information or you will continue to wonder about what they said. In either case you will be wasting both your own energy and your partner’s. It’s always “cheaper” (more energy efficient, more truth efficient) to do a FIML query than to avoid it.
  • It’s always “cheaper” (more energy efficient, more truth efficient) to do a FIML query than to avoid it.
first posted NOVEMBER 16, 2011

The elephant in the room of human communication

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 …if a manager at work is grimacing because they are sitting in an uncomfortable chair, a person with increased oxytocin levels may think the manager is negatively reacting to what they are saying instead, which may potentially cause issues in the workplace.

Recent research at Concordia University in Canada has concluded that giving oxytocin to “healthy young adults” may not work. See High oxytocin levels ‘trigger oversensitivity to emotions of others’ for more as well as for the source of the quote above.

I don’t particularly doubt these research findings, but do believe that a much deeper problem—the elephant in the room—is lying right next to them.

And that problem is everyone is frequently faced with puzzles like the one cited above and no one has sufficient “emotional intelligence” or “social reasoning skills” to figure many of them out. All people frequently make mistakes in situations like these.

True, some do better than others and we probably can abstract a bell curve for this via some sort of test.

How do we define “oversensitivity?” Why would emotional sensitivity be a bad thing?

In the example linked above, it is true that most employees will never have an opportunity to ask their bosses why they are looking one way or another. But if they don’t even notice the possibility that their boss is reacting negatively, they are limiting their understanding of the world around them.

Language, facial expressions, and tone of voice in real-world communications are crude tools. There is no way around this fact. There is no “right sensitivity” or “right understanding” of any of these communicative signs that is out there somewhere. There is no stable standard for communication except in highly defined settings and contexts.

I tend to be against taking drugs for emotional “problems,” so I am not advocating supplementing your diet with oxytocin. My concern is how do you deal with communicative ambiguity? I guarantee that ambiguity is common in virtually all communicative acts.

If the ambiguity, such as the one cited above, occurs in an employment situation, should you be judged “emotionally sensitive” and in-touch with your “innate social reasoning skills” if you don’t notice it? Are you supposed to comprehend on the fly that your manager is sitting in an uncomfortable chair? How would you know that?

How could you possibly know for sure what your manager is thinking or feeling? It’s less likely but not inconceivable that your manager  is a nut who intends to attack you after work or fire you next week. There is no standard by which you can judge and be certain of what they feel or are thinking.

In intimate personal relations you can achieve certainty, or close to it, by practicing FIML with your partner.

If you and your partner do not do FIML or something like it, you will be more or less forced to cleave to some sort of “normal standard” for communication. But a “normal standard” for all communicative acts is not just elusive, it doesn’t exist.

This is the even bigger elephant in the room of psychological studies; indeed of all cultures everywhere. No standard for intimate communication exists outside of the one(s) you make for yourselves. If you leave too much to vague notions like “emotional sensitivity” or “emotional intelligence” without having the tools to actually comprehend communicative acts, you will consign yourself to many pointless misunderstandings, any one of which has the potential to snowball and disrupt your relationship.

first posted JANUARY 23, 2014

Why FIML queries need to be asked quickly

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A fascinating Swedish study claims to show that:

…the sense of agency for speech has a strong inferential component, and that auditory feedback of one’s own voice acts as a pathway for semantic monitoring, potentially overriding other feedback loops.

The source of that quote can be found here: Speakers’ Acceptance of Real-Time Speech Exchange Indicates That We Use Auditory Feedback to Specify the Meaning of What We Say.

In an article about the study above—People Rely on What They Hear to Know What They’re Saying—lead author Andreas Lind says that he is aware that the conditions of their research did not allow for anything resembling real conversational dynamics and that he hopes to study “…situations that are more social and spontaneous — investigating, for example, how exchanged words might influence the way a… conversation develops.”

FIML partners will surely recognize that without the monitoring of their FIML practice many conversations would veer off into mutually discordant interpretations and that many of these veerings-off are due to nothing more than sloppy or ambiguous speech or listening.

If speakers have to listen to themselves to monitor what they are saying and still misspeak with surprising frequency, then instances of listeners mishearing must be even more frequent since listeners (normally) do not have any way to check what they are hearing or how they are interpreting it in real-time.

That is, listeners who do not do FIML. FIML practice is designed to correct mistakes of both speaking and listening in real-time. FIML queries must be asked quickly because speakers can only accurately remember what was in their mind when they spoke for a short period of time, usually just a few seconds.

The Swedish study showed that in a great many cases words that speakers had not spoken “were experienced as self-produced.” That is speakers can be fooled into thinking they said something they had not said. How much more does our intention for speaking get lost in the rickety dynamics of real conversation?

This study is small but I believe it is showing what happens when we speak (and listen). Most of the time, and even when we are being careful, we make a good many mistakes and base our interpretations of ourselves and others on those mistakes. I do not see another way to correct this very common problem except by doing FIML or something very much like it.

In future, I hope there will be brain scan technology that will be accurate enough to let us see how poorly our perceptions of what we are saying or hearing match reality and/or what others think we are saying or hearing.

It is amazing to me that human history has gone on for so many centuries with no one having offered a way to fix this problem which leads to so many disasters.

first posted APRIL 30, 2014

Retroactive Revision

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Retroactive revision means changing what you said. Anyone can do it but retroactive revision is especially designed for FIML partners. Partners can use it whenever they feel a statement they have made has boxed them into a corner or is making the conversation take a turn they had wanted to avoid.

For example, you say “I like XYZ cars the best.” What you actually meant is I very much like XYZ cars. Your partner starts talking as if you really mean you like them the best. This is a very simple example, but sometimes it can be difficult to keep things on track even with a simple mix-up like this.

If you feel your partner is wasting time talking about the good points of other cars to show you that XYZ may not be the best, just say you want to retroactively revise what you first said. Say: “I want to retroactively revise what I said. I want to change my initial statement to I very much like XYZ cars. I didn’t actually mean I like them the best of all cars; I was exaggerating, I guess.” Your partner will understand that you were using words loosely and that they need not take your original statement literally. They will change their tack and your conversation will become more in keeping with what you really think and feel.

Once learned, that technique will give both partners a lot of freedom. It’s relaxing to know you can easily change what you have said to be more in line with the thinking that has evolved in your mind since you made your initial statement.

As with most FIML techniques, FIML partners should do retroactive revisions the moment they feel a jangle that their partner may have misunderstood them. If it turns out your partner did not misunderstand, there is still a major benefit for both partners because the mistaken impression you had about your partner will not cause any further confusion for either of you.

first posted MARCH 29, 2012

Pre-emptying

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Pre-emptying means excluding something from consideration during a conversation. Anyone can use this term/technique, but it is especially useful for FIML partners who have come to realize that they are spending a lot of time trying to control how they are being understood. Whether they are indeed being misunderstood in subtle ways or not does not matter all that much because, as we know, if one partner even thinks they are being misunderstood, it is definitely best to do something about it.

Pre-emptying is used when one partner does not feel the need to do a full-on FIML query because they do not see anything serious happening. They are not very much concerned about any potential misunderstanding and do not feel a serious neurosis is involved. All they want to do is avoid some kinds of interpretations from occurring in their partner’s mind. They want to prevent the conversation from going in a wrong direction.

For example, you want to say something about a hot political topic but do not want to discuss that topic at length. You just want to point out that, say, so-and-so said exactly the same thing two years ago. To do that you say: I want to pre-empty my next topic of all political argumentation or further analysis. I just want to point something out and use that example to say something else. Your partner will understand that this is not the time to bring up other things about that subject. They will understand that you are going to say something with a special purpose.

Yesterday, we had a post about retroactive revision. Retroactive revision can be used in conjunction with pre-emptying to deeply rework a conversation so that it can conform more closely to your current understanding and not be held back by discarded ideas or the need to keep making small distinctions. An example of how to do this with a topic that has included material from your own life is this–just say: I want to retroactively revise what we have been saying about topic QRX and pre-empty that subject of all of the autobiographical examples I have used so far. I no longer think they apply and may be seriously misleading. So from now on, this topic does not contain any reference to the autobiographical statements I have made and statements that were made are now retroactively pre-emptied from it.

This may sound like a lot of verbiage, but it just takes a few sentences to say. The special terms will alert your partner that you are using a meta-control technique to reconfigure your conversation. With a little practice, you will both see that using this method saves a great deal of time and makes conversations much more interesting since neither of you has to waste time explaining and re-explaining the same things. The more meta-control you can gain over your conversations, the better.

On this site we have frequently emphasized the importance of catching small mistakes and identifying them as the first germs of a new neurosis or as a micro-instance of an ongoing neurosis. That is all still true, but experienced FIML partners will eventually come realize that some of their mix-ups are occurring simply because that is how language works. This meta-understanding arises from having successfully resolved enough FIML discussions that both partners can see the same sort of thing happening and neither partner feels any (or hardly any) emotional jangling regarding it.

For example, if I start to talk about a difficult relative and introduce the topic in a vague sort of way (which is very common/normal), my partner may mistake my intentions (which may be only vague in my own mind) and start talking about some aspect of that relative’s problems that will lead away from what I really wanted to say (which is coming into clearer focus for me only now). My partner’s misunderstanding of my vague conversational gambits are not neurotic. They might become neurotic if either of us fails to understand how they have arisen, but at this point in a new conversation, they are nothing more than normal potential associations on what I first said.

To forestall neurotic development and make everything much more pleasant and interesting, at this point, I need only say that I want to pre-empty the topic of anything that may lead away from what I was aiming at. In most cases, your partner will be quite willing to do that. If they see something else to say about it, there is no problem; just discuss it with them.

Pre-emptying, as with all FIML techniques, requires high levels of honesty and integrity from both partners. Partners who are in a stable relationship should not find it all that difficult to treat each other with honesty and integrity. To be clear, no FIML technique should be used to deceive or take advantage. Watch yourself carefully because the ego is biased and it is natural for all speakers and listeners to act from a self-centered position. Properly done, FIML can easily deal with those very normal aspects of being human.

Note: The term pre-emptying recalls the English word “preempt” and the Buddhist term “empty”. We are using a new term because we are doing something different from preempting or realizing the emptiness of something. At the same time, pre-emptying is sort of close to both of those concepts.

first posted MARCH 30, 2012

The agony of speaking

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My SO and I are doing some painting. Mostly it’s fun, but as we discuss colors and color combinations, it has become glaringly obvious that it can be extremely difficult to talk about what we want but easy to convey our ideas by showing an example of what we want.

I wanted to do something in brown. Words flew all over the room but got us no closer to mutual understanding, let alone agreement. We looked at color charts on the computer but couldn’t agree on what we meant by saturation, muted, lighter, or darker.

My SO, who is much better with color than I am, thought the meanings of those terms were obvious. “You’re overthinking this! You must know what lighter and darker mean!”

“Not when I consider luminescence or saturation, I don’t. I really don’t.”

Is a red-brown lighter or darker than a blue-brown? More or less saturated? I honestly was lost in the terminology and was driving my poor SO crazy.

After several days of this, at some point I noticed my wallet lying on the table. “This is what I mean,” I said. “I want a color like this.” The wallet was a well-worn, dark, leathery brown.

She immediately knew what I was talking about now. “What you want is a really dark brown… that’s almost a black.”

Excited, we went back to the color chart (which has 3,500 color variations) and looked into a different classification of browns. Low and behold, the darkest one available—Tarpley Brown—is exactly what I wanted.

So,  I had something in my mind’s eye but failed repeatedly to convey it to my SO through the use of language. She tried to figure out what I meant but kept searching for a more woody sort of brown while becoming increasingly confused by my groping attempts at description.

From this, we can see how difficult it is to understand other people or even ourselves. Many important aspects of being human simply do not have clear examples in the world around us and are much more difficult to put into words than a color.

first posted JULY 15, 2020

Our psychologies are unnecessarily confined within narrow ranges of meaning and understanding

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Human psychology is greatly affected by human language. Since humans normally use language rather crudely and almost always are confined within meanings already established in language, their psychologies are fundamentally both crude and unnecessarily confined within narrow ranges of meaning and understanding.

This causes emotionality, discord, dependence, frustration, anger, and violence. Our normal uses of language often stimulate basic instincts that we either have to control or be controlled by.

I usually discuss this problem as it occurs during interpersonal conversation, where it is generally most serious and where our “personalities” are generally formed. But it also exists in texting, emails, news stories, and even scientific peer reviewed papers.

The basic underlying problem is we do not communicate well, almost no one does. Even very articulate, well-educated, intelligent people with good upbringings and admirable personalities have this problem. In fact, they often have it even worse than everyone else because their considerable skills have trapped them even worse.

The trap is using established meaning or interpretation to override mistakes in interpersonal communication. The established meaning can be learned from others or self-generated. Either way, when it is used to override mistakes in communication (and this happens often) the person is trapped in a labyrinth of false references: the lived and learned matrix of their personality; the neuronal structures of idiosyncratic memories and behaviors that constantly misguide the sufferer through a tautological existence.

When data is bad the output will be bad. When interpersonal data is bad, and far too much of it is, the output in speech, listening, and cogitating will be bad. When everyone is like this, the output will be horrendous. Look around you at our world as it becomes less truthful and more absurd daily. The root cause is massive amounts of uncorrected bad data at all levels of society.

My contribution toward fixing this mess is FIML, which deals “only” with the enormous problems of close or intimate interpersonal communication.

When two people do FIML conscientiously, all of their problems born of long histories of many mistakes can be cleared up. If you want to do this, if you want to optimize your being; find a good partner and do FIML. As of today, there is no other way. If you can see the problem, you will understand why FIML works. If you do FIML even without fully understanding it, you will still fix the problem and will eventually come to see how it’s not just your problem: all people everywhere have it and have always had it. I do not know why I am the first person to provide a solution to it.

The problem is very obvious but it is so big and widespread, people either do not see it or believe it cannot be fixed.

Metacognition and real-time communication

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Metacognition means “awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes,” or “cognition about cognition,” or “being able to think about how you think.”

To me, metacognition is a premier human ability. How can it not be a good thing to be aware of how you are aware and how you think and respond to what is around you?

In more detail:

The term “metacognition” is most often associated with John Flavell, (1979). According to Flavell (1979, 1987), metacognition consists of both metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive experiences or regulation. Metacognitive knowledge refers to acquired knowledge about cognitive processes, knowledge that can be used to control cognitive processes. Flavell further divides metacognitive knowledge into three categories: knowledge of person variables, task variables and strategy variables. (Source)

Most people do metacognition and are aware of doing it. We do it when we plan, make decisions, decide how to get from one place to another, how to relate to one person differently from another, and so on.

Where we don’t do metacognition is in real-time communication in real life, where it matters most. This is not because we are not able to do it. It is because very few of us have the right technique, Flavell’s “acquired knowledge” that allows us to do it.

If we have the right technique, we will be able to gain a great deal of knowledge about real-time cognitive process while also learning how to control them.

FIML practice is a metacognitive practice based on, to quote the above source, “acquired knowledge about cognitive processes… that can be used to control cognitive processes.”

In the case of FIML, the “acquired knowledge” is the FIML technique which allows us to gain conscious “control over cognitive processes” of real-time interpersonal communication.

FIML is different from other analytical communication techniques in that FIML provides a method to gain control over very short or small units of communication in real-time. This is important as it is these very short real-time units that are most often ignored or not dealt with in most analyses of human communication.

If you know how to catch small mistakes, they become sources of insight and humor. If you don’t know how to catch them, they often snowball into destructive misunderstandings.

FIML is fairly easy to do if you understand the importance of correcting the minor misinterpretations that inevitably arise between people when they speak and communicate. By using the FIML metacognitive method, partners gain control over the most elusive kinds of interpersonal error which all too often lead to serious interpersonal discord.

FIML can and does do more than catch small mistakes, but first things first. If you cannot correct small errors in real-time communication, you are not doing anything even resembling thorough metacognitive communication.

first posted JUNE 11, 2015

Study supports FIML practice

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This study—Neural Correlates of People’s Hypercorrection of Their False Beliefs—supports the contention that FIML practice can produce deep, wide-ranging, and enduring changes within the brain/mind of practitioners.

The basic finding of the study is:

Despite the intuition that strongly held beliefs are particularly difficult to change, the data on error correction indicate that general information errors that people commit with a high degree of belief are especially easy to correct. (Emphasis added.)

According to the study, this happens due to:

…enhanced attention and encoding that results from a metacognitive mismatch between the person’s confidence in their responses and the true answer.

This is exactly what happens when a FIML query shows the questioner that his/her assumptions about what their partner’s thoughts or intentions were were wrong.

Initially, FIML partners may experience some embarrassment or disbelief at being wrong. But since FIML queries are generally based on negative impressions, after some practice being shown to be wrong will typically produce feelings of relief and even delight.

A FIML query will generally arise out of a state of “enhanced attention” and usually further increase it by being spoken about. Incidentally, this is probably the most difficult aspect of FIML practice—controlling the emotions that accompany enhanced attention, especially when that attention concerns our own emotional reactions.

With continued practice of FIML, however, even strongly held erroneous interpersonal beliefs will be fairly easily corrected whenever they are discovered during a FIML discussion. Correcting core false beliefs (mistaken interpretations) has a wide-ranging, beneficial effect on all aspects of a person’s life.

Since the hypercorrection effect discussed in the linked study only occurs during moments of enhanced attention, the FIML technique of focusing quickly on good data agreed upon by both partners can be seen as a way of inducing states of enhanced attention that will lead to deep changes in both partners. This technique (using good data) also turns the discussion from one about feelings to one about “information,” which the study finds makes errors “especially easy to correct.”

Furthermore, since FIML practice tends to deal with very small incidents, the enhanced attention FIML induces works like a laser that quickly and painlessly excises erroneous thoughts and feelings while they are still small and have not been allowed to grow into full-blown emotional reactions.

first posted OCTOBER 31, 2015

Mistakes and communication

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A fascinating aspect of FIML practice is it provides experiential evidence that a good deal of what we say and hear is mistaken. We frequently make mistakes when we speak and when we listen. A major part of FIML practice involves catching these mistakes as they happen and correcting them.

We have spell-checkers for writing and when they kick in most of us calmly–even gratefully–attend to the red lines under misspelled words. In speech, though, very few of us have the habit of even noticing when a mistake has been made, let alone correcting it. In fact, if one is pointed out to us, we might even deny it or try to justify it. Once we say something, we generally have a strong tendency to want to stand by our words as if we meant them even if we did not mean them, or only sort of meant them, in the moments just before we spoke.

What kinds of mistakes will you find through FIML practice? Pretty much any way you can think of to describe or categorize speech will constitute a way that mistakes can be made. A mistake might involve word-choice, tone of voice, pronunciation, a dramatic stance that doesn’t suit you or is misunderstood by your partner, not hearing, missing the main point, becoming distracted, using or hearing a word that carries an idiosyncratic emotional charge, speaking or listening from a point of view that is not well understood by your partner, and so on. Mistakes can and will occur in as many ways as you can think of to describe language and how it is used.

How often do mistakes occur? Often. In an hour of normal speaking you will surely encounter a few, if not more. Many of them are not serious and are of little or no consequence. That said, even small mistakes can have huge ramifications. If I misunderstand your respectful silence as indifference, my misunderstanding could start a division between us that is truly tragic because my mistake (however slightly I notice it) is 180 degrees off. If I see you behave that way again, I will be more likely to make that same mistake again and to feel it more strongly. It is tragic because I am interpreting what is in your mind good behavior as something that reflects negatively on me.

A speech act or an act of listening can lock our minds into a position that is dead wrong if we are not careful.

FIML practice prevents this from happening while at the same time providing a great deal of very interesting subject matter for partners to ponder and discuss. Speech can lock our minds into mistaken impressions, but it can also free us from limitations if we use it to do FIML.

In other posts we have called neuroses “mistaken interpretations” and generally used that definition in a context that supports the meaning of an ongoing mistaken interpretation. A neurosis is a mistake in thinking or feeling that manifests in listening or speaking and that almost certainly originated through speaking or listening. I would contend that many neuroses begin with nothing more than an innocent mistake. Once the mistake is made, it snowballs (especially in the mind of a child) until it becomes an established way of listening and speaking.

Whether that contention is right or wrong, only time will tell. For this post today, all I want to say is that FIML partners can and should expect to notice a good many small mistakes occurring almost whenever they speak together.

Generally, mistakes most frequently occur when we start a new subject or add a new factor to an old subject; when we want to say something slightly different from the norm; or when we want to add a slight nuance or qualification to something that was said. One reason this happens is a slight change in a familiar subject may not be noticed by the listener, leading them to misunderstand what is being said and react in ways that do not seem fitting. A second reason this happens is a new subject often causes both partners to call up different frames of reference, leading to confusion.

FIML will get you to see how common these (and other kinds) of mistakes are and it will help you correct them. As you do this, both partners will gain great insight into how they speak, listen, and perceive each other. Once you get going, it is a lot of fun. I cannot think of any other way to accomplish what FIML does without doing it.

From a Buddhist point of view, FIML can be thought of as a sort of dynamic mindfulness done between two people and using language. It is a very intimate and beautiful way to be deeply aware of your partner and yourself. Those who have practiced traditional Buddhist mindfulness for a year or more will probably find FIML fairly easy to do. I hope that Buddhists will also notice that doing active FIML/mindfulness practice with a partner provides a way of checking each other–someone else will have something to say about what you thought you heard or said. It takes you out of yourself and provides wholesome feedback about the mind you are being mindful about.

first posted FEBRUARY 9, 2012

Signal intensity during interpersonal communication

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An important part of FIML practice is understanding signal intensity. That is, how big or strong or important the signal in question is.

FIML practice was designed to work with small signals and works best when close attention is paid to small signals. These “small signals” can be ones you send to your partner, ones your partner sends to you, or the ways in which either one of you interprets any signal at all.

Small signals are of great importance because they can be signs or aspects of larger or habitual ways of interpreting signals. Small signals can also generate mistaken interpretations that have the potential to snowball.

An example of a habitual way of interpreting signals might be a person who grew up in a less wealthy environment than his or her partner. The less wealthy partner may tend to interpret spending or not spending money differently than the other partner. This could manifest as stinginess, being too generous, or as mild anxiety about money in general. Of course, both partners will be different in the ways they interpret signals dealing with money. Their semiotics about money will be different.

FIML partners would do well to deal with these differences by paying close attention to small signals of that type the moment they come up. This is where partners will come to see how this entire class (money) of signals is affecting them in the moments of the lives they are actually living. It’s good to also have long general discussions about money, but be sure to pay close attention to the appearances of small signals.

From this example, please extrapolate to the signaling areas that matter to you and your partner. These may include anything that causes mistakes in communication or anything that causes either partner to feel anxiety or discomfort.

A good way to gain access to this perspective is to also pay close attention to how often you and your partner miscommunicate about trivial material things. Notice how often—and it happens a lot—you misunderstand each other about even the simplest of concrete, material matters. For example, what kind of lettuce to buy, where you left the keys, is the oven off, etc.

All people everywhere make many communicative mistakes in matters as small as those. If we do that in the material realm, where mistakes are easy to see and correct, consider how much more often and how much more serious are signaling mistakes in the emotional, interpersonal realm.

When you do a FIML discussion with your partner, be sure to frequently include an analysis of how big or small the signals in question are—how intense they are. Remember that FIML practice strongly encourages discussing even the very smallest of signals. FIML does that because small signals are easier to isolate and analyze; clearly seeing a small signal often is sufficient to understanding a big habit; small signals can snowball, so they should not be ignored.

first posted 10/01/2012

Deception (or truth elision) in communication

To communicate, we often must ignore the truth or falsity of a statement, our own or someone else’s.

I believe it is an instinct to do this; that it is part of our instinct to communicate at all. Communication requires cooperation, an agreement to be agreeable enough to get the message through.

We might call ignoring truth or falsity in communication “truth elision” or “psychological elision.” Elision means to omit something. Psychological elision would mean omitting or not mentioning psychological truths.

We do a lot of truth elision to save time. In professional or group settings it is hard to communicate any other way because there is not enough time to be perfectly truthful and most people will not care. They just want to socialize and/or get the job done, not search for truth.

Most communication is like that. Most messages are not even superficially analyzed. Semiotics glide through our minds without any thought to their deep origins or interpretations. Truth and falsity are frequently elided.

Like all instincts, our instinct to cooperate by ignoring the truth or falsity of many statements can be misused to consciously deceive.

Indeed, we frequently deceive even ourselves by accepting our own statements as true when analysis would show they are not. One way we succeed in doing this to ourselves is by simply avoiding the analysis—analysis elision.

This is where a simple instinct starts to go bad. A basic need to cooperate on the signs and symbols of communication gets twisted into tricking people, deceiving them, even deceiving ourselves.

The way to see this most clearly and to stop doing it with at least one other person is FIML practice. One of my main goals for this website is to show how and why communication goes bad and how and why it harms us. At the same time, I present a practical way to fix the problem described—FIML.

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first posted DECEMBER 5, 2018

Microaggression and FIML

I have been seeing a lot of stuff about microaggression recently.

The term interests me because FIML is all about micro impressions.

When done with a caring partner, FIML is designed to correct mistaken impressions or interpretations that often derive from micro impressions and/or manifest as micro expressions.

Anyone who has done FIML for more than a few months surely must be aware that we create wrong impressions of even our most trusted partners frequently.

A wrong impression often snowballs, leading to a wrong interpretation that after festering can be much harder to correct than the original micro impression.

So between friends, and especially FIML partners, the perception of micro aggression can and should be noticed and dealt with immediately or as soon as possible. It is basic to FIML practice that even a single uncorrected wrong impression can lead to serious divisions between people.

In this sense, I heartily accept the idea of microaggression being a thing. In fact, I believe it is such a thing that it happens all the time, especially if you mean micro mis-impressions and not just microaggression.

But the term microaggression means something different from the above, though the central concepts are related. Wikipedia has this short definition of microaggression:

…the use of known social norms of behavior and/or expression that, while without conscious choice of the user, has the same effect as conscious, intended discrimination.

The main difference is “without conscious choice of the user.” FIML is all about being conscious. Both parties being conscious.

If I perceive something in your speech, demeanor, or behavior that makes me think that maybe you are disrespecting me or mad at me or or suspicious of me or something like that, then if you are my FIML partner I am basically required to ask you about it if there is time.

In FIML, the asking is done without prejudgement. I simply ask “what was in your mind when you made that expression or said those words or did that thing.” Your answer must be honest. If you don’t trust your partner to be honest, you can’t do FIML (though you can start trying and see if either or both of you changes).

If your partner answers honestly and you do not perceive an iota of what you thought was in their mind, that part of the event is finished. If when the person spoke or acted they had no nothing about doing what you thought they might be doing, you are done with it. You no longer have any right to further impute your thing onto them.

You can if you want, and this is encouraged, continue to discuss the matter. For example, you might say: “From your response, I can tell that you were not disrespecting me and I am delighted to find that out. That’s a huge relief for me because I have spent much of my life reacting to people who do that as if they were disrespecting me. It’s weird to hear that I am wrong in this case and it makes me wonder if I have been wrong in other cases.”

Then the two of you can discuss that. I know one person who frequently reacts to educated northeast American accents as being “imperious” or “arrogant” when they are not. (Don’t get me started on all the many phrases and attitudes in culture that wrongly limit speech and thus culture itself—“condescending,” “know-it-all,” “argumentative,” “imperious,” etc.)

So, if two friends are having problems between themselves with microaggression, they are prime candidates for FIML practice. Of course, any two friends who are having any problems with micro impressions (all friends all the time) are prime candidates for FIML. (You cannot but have these problems.)

But microaggression as the word is being used today is not something FIML can deal with directly because it is

…the use of known social norms of behavior and/or expression that, while without conscious choice of the user, has the same effect as conscious, intended discrimination.

The important words here are “known social norms,” “without conscious choice” leading to “discrimination.”

I don’t know how to unpack that. From a FIML point of view, my guess is behaviors that could potentially be identified as “microaggression” according to that definition would be in the range of dozens per day per every person in the world. Maybe more.

An example many readers will remember is Michelle Obama reacting to a customer in Target asking her to hand them something they could not reach.

I tell this story – I mean, even as the first lady – during that wonderfully publicized trip I took to Target, not highly disguised, the only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf.

If even the president’s wife can get something so ordinary so wrong, you can see the scope of the problem. In the same interview, the president himself mentioned being “mistaken for a waiter.”

Both later downplayed their comments because they had to. Microaggression is an inherently super-ambiguous term open to a multitude of interpretations every time it is used.

In FIML, we find that micro-mistakes are real and dangerous. They are not ignored but addressed immediately because they can be so serious. Relevantly, in my experience with FIML a great many micro-impressions that I form are simply dead wrong. Most of them are wrong. I can’t enter that as evidence because the world does not have enough FIML practitioners for me to do a study on it. However, I do suspect that a great many micro-impressions of or impressions of microaggression are wrong.

Many of us laughed or thought it was ridiculous for Michelle Obama to bristle at having a short person ask her for help because we all have been on one side or the other of an exchange like that and thought nothing of it. I have been mistaken for a store employee or construction worker more than once and never thought anything of it, except maybe to feel slightly flattered that someone thought I looked like I knew what I was doing.

Another problem with the notion of politicizing microaggression (because that is what the term is about) is whose microaggression against whom?

I have strabismus, lazy eye. Even though the condition has been surgically corrected, I still cannot maintain a direct friendly gaze for long periods of time. This means that many people are led to misinterpreting my micro expressions (I start to look down) as me being bored, tired, or not friendly when all that is happening is my eye is so tired it starts to blur and needs to look away.

I know this from years of experience and because some people tell me what they are thinking. One in twenty or twenty-five people have strabismus. Add in other eye conditions with similar problems and you will get much higher percentages. Add hearing problems, attention-deficit problems, autism problems, and so on and you can include most people in the world having difficulties with micro-expressions and how they are being interpreted by others.

If someone from a different culture or race or neighborhood interprets my strabismus as microaggression (boredom with them or condescension toward them rather than simple fatigue), they will get it all wrong. And there is little or nothing I can do about it.

I even tell people about strabismus sometimes. I explain what it does. They say they understand, but very few of them really do. Only very close friends or people who have similar eye problems understand well enough that it stops being an issue with them.

Moreover, strabismus and other eye problems can lead to problems with facial recognition. So the person in the store that asked Michelle Obama for help may have also had facial recognition problems. I have that problem, too, and I seriously doubt that I would recognize Michelle Obama if I saw her in Target.

So, sorry, I don’t have any really good answer to how to understand microaggression or deal with it. On a personal level with friends or FIML partners, micro-impressions are what we want to work with as much as we can. On a societal level, you can hardly do anything about it. A super-smart person might be able to become aware of a good many of the difficulties faced by people in the world, but even that person will miss many of them or misinterpret what they perceive even if they “know” the right thing to do.

At the abstract heart of the problem there is probably a measurement or resolution problem. Simply stated, no person can ever possibly do perfect microanalyses all the time in all situations with all people. Far from it. Thus, it is a sort of “reverse microaggression” to demand or expect that they can or will or should.

I suppose we can and should become more aware of how complex people are and how difficult it is to know even one other person well, or even to know yourself well. But nothing that I can think of will ever relieve us of the difficulty of dealing with the immense number of micro-impressions we all give and receive every minute of every day.

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first posted APRIL 8, 2015

UPDATE 3/24/21: Since I first posted this, the notion of reacting strongly to “systemic microaggression” has gained in popularity. Guys, that is a downward spiral into Hell. Misunderstanding micro impressions that way is to turn almost everything into “fighting words.”