ozarque (ozarque) wrote,
ozarque
ozarque

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Linguistics; metaphor clash repair, continued (2)

Istemi commented:
"How would you proceed when you don't know enough details of the metaphor to join it, or there isn't a suitable role for you to take on? Say I wanted to suggest a different strategy to someone who saw himself as a Quarterback, but I don't speak Football. I'm likely to say something rediculous if I talk about 60 yard lines and punts and field goals; in fact, I discarded a couple of baseball and hockey terms as I generated that list."


Working from within the Football metaphor doesn't mean a slavish use of the vocabulary of football, although that vocabulary may be useful some of the time. It means following the grammar -- the rules and scripts -- of the metaphor. For example, one of the most common scenarios that women among my clients bring to me (and complain bitterly about) goes like this:

"I was in an important meeting last week -- a meeting that really mattered to me -- and one of my male colleagues just sat there and made me look like a blithering idiot, in front of everybody! And then when the meeting was over and I confronted him about it, do you know what he said? He said, 'Hey, it wasn't anything personal!' Can you believe that? I said, 'What do you mean, it wasn't personal? You did it to me -- and that's as personal as it gets!' And he had the nerve to look me right in the eye and say, 'Look, it had nothing to do with you!' I was so furious I just turned my back on him and walked away. And I will never trust him again!"

This is classic metaphor clash. The man behaved as he did because he was operating from inside the Football Game metaphor. In football, there are certain things that have to be done in order to make touchdowns for your team. If doing those things means you have to knock somebody down and step on them as you're running with the ball, that's nothing personal -- it's just the way the game is played. If somebody is in your way, they'll get knocked down and stepped on if you can manage it, but that has nothing at all to do with who they are -- it's just the way the game is played.

There are many things that the woman on the receiving end of this tactic can do, and we can discuss them if you like. But no useful communication will take place as long as her perception is that he humiliated her in the meeting because he's a creep who can't be trusted. She may be right -- maybe he is a creep who can't be trusted -- but the incident she's complaining about isn't evidence for that judgment. Her conclusion is a strategic error, and if she bases her future interactions with the man on that error she's going to be involved in one communication breakdown after another. Things will be resolved far more quickly and effectively if she steps inside the metaphor he's using and straightens the matter out by the grammar of football.

She doesn't have to do that using football vocabulary; that would be especially unwise if (like me) she knows very little about football. As istemi accurately points out, she's likely to say something ridiculous if she starts trying to talk about 60 yard lines and punts and field goals. As long as it's clear to her colleague that she's not pretending to knowledge she doesn't have, one set of rules will apply, and to a certain extent those rules will protect her; if she tries to come off as a football expert, the rules change, and the line she's most likely to get from him is an icy "Who issued you a uniform?"

This has nothing to do with morality; that's an entirely different discussion. In the context of linguistics (pragmatics) and workplace relationships, it's the woman who has made the strategic error. She can base her future interaction with this man on the contempt she feels for him and for his behavior if she wants to; that's her right. Absolutely. She can insist that he's the one who should have to change metaphors, not her, and she's not about to be the one who makes the first move toward repair; that's her right as well. But I work hard to make certain that my clients don't choose that strategy until they understand what has actually happened, so that they can make a rational decision and make it in full awareness of its probable consequences.


Suzette
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  • Saturday...

    We're moved, finally. It almost destroyed us both, but we've made it to the light at the end of the tunnel stage. Sorry for the lengthy silence.…

  • Saturday...

    Many thanks for all the good wishes!

  • Friday... News!

    Much news here.... We have sold our property and rented an apartment in Springdale. Now, all that remains is to get rid of thirty years of clutter!