David Strittmatter

How you say something matters a lot

This past week I had a very insightful but also painful experience what I was glad to gain: I had a discussion with someone about politics and how the average person is disinterested in political participation. While arguing, I used a friend of mine as an example for how disinterested even such an educated and smart person like her is not interested in politics (she suggested a few minutes ago whether we could change the topic as we – 6 people – were sitting in a van and she does not want to talk about political issues under such circumstances. We were on a road trip to Yosemite National Park.) 

The tongue has no bones, but is strong enough to break a heart

What I actually wanted to say was that she is ambitious, willing to learn a lot to achieve her goals and very educated; but although she has a high degree of reflection and access to education, she is not interested in political discourse. I aimed to reinforce my argument that the media have such a strong power as most people are not willing to spend much time on thinking through complex political issues and, therefore, how the media process, edit and condense information has a great impact how political parties and representatives are perceived by the general public. 

My statement, though, was perceived completely differently. Because I expressed this argument in a quite dismissive and arrogant tone, it was totally misinterpreted by her. And what comes on top: She was not really attentive to the rest of the discussion and only noticed parts of the discussion I had with another friend. As a consequence, she justifiably confronted me how I could dare to judge her political awareness in such a negative manner. She felt she was unreasonably bashed for her political consciousness by me and blamed me for my derogative way of expression.

I really hope you can still follow me and understand the setting as well as the presentation of the problem: “Just” because I expressed myself not in accordance with the message I wanted to deliver, I hurt someone’s feelings and put her in a bad mood. 

An insightful but also painful lesson what I was glad about to gain

After she had expressed herself, I told her that I was really sorry and that it was not acceptable to criticize her in such a manner and that she was totally right. Subsequently, my other friend and I continued to discuss politics, however, I had a guilty conscience. When we arrived at our next stop, I sought her out for a private conversation in order to say sorry again since I was really sorry for blaming and make her look like a fool in front of our friends in the car. After I had hugged, we were good and she understood me but told me that I need to be more conscious about how I expressed myself as she has often noticed a tendency to such a dismissive manner. 

I do not want to be perceived as an arrogant jerk

She was right. When I was observing myself seriously arguing, I caught myself using exaggerations to emphasize my assertion and reasoning. Sometimes, I unconsciously made use of an arrogant tone and dismissive tone. Because I did not expect this to be true, this genuinely shocked me. 

In my view, it is extremely important to be authentic and be who you are. And yes, that is how I am. BUT: I do not want to be perceived as an arrogant jerk who is looking down on other people. Yes, I love making fun of myself and enjoy it when others make fun of me, especially if I can make fun of others too. And yes, being honest and direct is substantially vital too. However, I should definitely have control over how I am perceived by others and, in particular, should not behave in a way others I do not want myself to act. 

As a consequence, I will be more aware of my day-to-day behavior and be more conscious about how I argue and deal with situations when I talk about or with people. 

The goal is to say the same things, but be understood the way I want to transmit a statement. 

What do you think about this issue? Do you think I exaggerated? Can you understand why this is so important to me? How would you act in such a situation? Would you draw the same or different conclusions?

It would be awesome if you let me know! 

All the best to you and yours,


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