What is the Best Way to Communicate? | Varyer

What is the Best Way to Communicate?

Can we talk?

Three words that strike terror into my passive-aggressive soul. Yes, we can talk, but should we? Surely there’s a better way to get one’s point across. Let’s review our options.

Lies & Manipulation

I enjoy reading the questions in advice columns, but the answers are usually boring. “Seek therapy.” “Talk to your noisy neighbor directly.” We could have thought of that ourselves. Give us a creative solution! An airtight alibi, a subtle trick…maybe even a lie.

This is commonly known as catching more flies with honey than with vinegar. I personally struggle with this form of manipulation. When I realize I’m about to be forced to play nice in order to get my way, the tyrant within me violently rises. I don’t want my ‘target’ to do me a favor. I want them to obey me or die.

Hannah Arendt (not an advice columnist, but close) defined power as direct communication rather than coercion or control. But I never feel more powerful than I do when I’m successfully manipulating a situation. I’m not ashamed to use that term; I don’t believe manipulation is inherently bad. Everyone manipulates, often with good intention and positive results. An insincere thank you note to your grandmother is kind. Public health authorities use cash prizes to lure holdouts to vaccination centers. And, of course, there’s that all-time classic: playing hard to get.

This is commonly known as catching more flies with honey than with vinegar. I personally struggle with this form of manipulation. When I realize I’m about to be forced to play nice in order to get my way, the tyrant within me violently rises. I don’t want my ‘target’ to do me a favor. I want them to obey me or die.

Playing hard to get has worked on me many times. (Tragically, the other party was often not just ‘playing’ hard to get, but was in fact hard to get/un-gettable.) Once, returning from the bathroom on an airplane, I sat down next to my dad. “Hi Dad,” I said through the newspaper blocking his face, then repeated myself, but he didn’t acknowledge me. “Dad. Dad.” His wallet was on his tray table and I picked it up and dangled it over the newspaper to get his attention. “I’m going to steal this if you don’t answer me,” I announced. Such antics are not normally in my playbook but something about his snubbing drove me to be impishly rebellious. It was as if we were in an experiment devised to induce daddy issues (ew) in under sixty seconds.

Twist: “I’d rather you didn’t,” the complete stranger behind the newspaper said. It wasn’t a charming British rom-com vibe, either. This was no handsome man with one raised eyebrow, intrigued by the lovely lady harassing him. This was an irritated fifty-something executive with a Palm Pilot III and a grease-stained inflatable neck pillow. I was in the wrong row.

Honorable mention manipulation gambits of yore: Before spending time with someone I wanted to fall in love with me, I changed a communicative friend’s name to an intriguing “Guy from bar” in my contacts so my targeted crush thought I was getting lots of texts from a paramour who was obsessed with me.

I imagine that making somebody feel radically insignificant is rewarding, but I rarely have the discipline to play hard to get. I like to really get in there and mix it up! One of my most creative stunts was requesting a gift certificate to Guitar Center for my birthday with the intent of luring a boy in a band into a date and then, ideally, a sexual relationship. I got this as a gift but I don’t play any instruments—I don’t know what my mother was thinking. Would you be able to use it? Oh, and I think I have to come with you since my name is on it.

Guess what, it worked! Low risk, cost-effective, a little whimsical…I stand behind it.

Honorable mention manipulation gambits of yore: Before spending time with someone I wanted to fall in love with me, I changed a communicative friend’s name to an intriguing “Guy from bar” in my contacts so my targeted crush thought I was getting lots of texts from a paramour who was obsessed with me.

Heart-to-Heart

Socrates believed that writing was not an effective means of communicating. He claimed that face-to-face conversation was the only way one person could transmit knowledge to another. Hmmmm.

I do occasionally enjoy human interaction, but legally I’m an introvert, content to feast on the rich content of my own mind and television. And I haven’t had the best experiences with direct, honest conversation. In the midst of a heated dispute over cleaning the kitchen, I signed up for couples therapy. I was disappointed to discover that instead of arbitrating every past crime and issuing punishments to the guilty party, we spent our time learning to listen to each other. The therapist also told my boyfriend that she was pretty sure I’m not trying to be mean—I just am. 🥰

I included this option out of respect to my philosophical forefathers, but I’m not going to spend a ton of time on it because it’s so clearly not the best choice.

The Written Word

Habituated to texting and Google Docs, younger generations allegedly don’t know how to converse irl. I would theorize this is more a personality type than a generational marker, but I can relate to it. If I were allowed to conduct a courtroom trial cross-examination via text message, I could win any case. Composing one’s thoughts, having a private moment to google some devastating statistic…writing gives the communicator a level of control that’s satisfying.

Sadly, writing as a medium has been unfairly vilified throughout history. In the 16th century, the Catholic Church excommunicated Martin Luther because of his 95 Theses zine, and in the 21st century, Carrie Bradshaw turned a nation against Jack Berger because he broke up with her via a note on a Post-it.

Dropping a letter in a box and expecting it to turn up thousands of miles away seems like a Dr. Suess story. Instead of using the postal system, I once wrote a message on a banana and hurled it at my crush’s house. I don’t remember why, but I do know it got his attention, along with his entire family’s—his mom asked me to not throw my garbage in their yard. 🍌

Carrie acted as if the crime (dumping her) lived in the mode of communication (the Post-it). But etiquette can accommodate any medium. Don’t shoot the messenger (the Post-it). There’s a right way to break up with someone via Post-it: imagine if Berger had sketched a flattering portrait of Carrie and jotted a tender little farewell note on the back. Then the Post-it, and a written breakup, is actually totally romantic. A letter would have been even better, but Carrie’s hardly royalty. A Post-it seems about right for her.

Incidentally, Berger’s Post-it could have benefited from a full sentence, and so could Instagram dump posts. Please take a moment to write a caption beyond ‘Joshua Tree dump 🏜.’ Nothing is more degrading for the viewer than the fact that the poster can’t be bothered to curate or caption their recent photos of their wonderful lives, as if we viewers are so thirsty for the crumbs of the poster’s content that we’ll gobble up a dump. We are, but still—please use your words. Everyone’s dignity is at stake here.

Brutal Honesty

One of the most exciting moments of my life was when an acquaintance snapped and quit Facebook, first posting a public statement detailing exactly what he thought about every single person on his friends list. I got a good review (possibly because we didn’t know each other well) but usually I don’t enjoy dicks who pride themselves on being clinically blunt.

Dropping a letter in a box and expecting it to turn up thousands of miles away seems like a Dr. Suess story. Instead of using the postal system, I once wrote a message on a banana and hurled it at my crush’s house. I don’t remember why, but I do know it got his attention, along with his entire family’s—his mom asked me to not throw my garbage in their yard. 🍌

The Grand Gesture

Gestures are so important! Otherwise you just have to take a person’s word for it that they love you.

My mother once gave my bedroom a makeover to surprise me for my birthday (years before I was requesting Guitar Center gift cards for perverse purposes). After school, she told me to go make my bed, in a sly attempt to get me to see her handiwork. However, I knew I’d made my bed that morning, so I refused. I assumed one of my brothers had fucked it up.

“Just go make the bed. It’ll take you two seconds,” my mother insisted. Livid, I screamed at her that only a monster would inflict such abuse upon her daughter on her birthday.

I spontaneously shared this special childhood memory at work on my birthday, and my boss asked me to refrain from discussing any dark, emotionally raw backstories before noon.

When I stormed upstairs to fling myself onto my bed and sob, I was confronted with my fancy new room, complete with what my mother would call a “snazzy” bathrobe that matched new curtains that my grandma had sewn. I had to put on my bathrobe over my JNCOs and go apologize. I barely deserved to be fed, let alone given any thoughtful gift.

I think the emotional highs and lows really elevated the bedroom makeover situation into an ‘experience,’ which, according to annoying research, are the best thing to spend one’s money on, and are often a core component of a grand gesture. This is difficult for me, a sworn materialist, to accept.

When I polled people about what comes to mind when they hear ‘grand gesture,’ most of them said a surprise marriage proposal, but one free thinker said assassination. I have a temper so this might seem like it would be high on my list, but killing someone has never struck me as particularly satisfying. This aversion isn’t due to any sense of morality, but rather for the sake of my own squeamishness. A mere death threat is more my thing.

I spontaneously shared this special childhood memory at work on my birthday, and my boss asked me to refrain from discussing any dark, emotionally raw backstories before noon.

What about asking yourself questions and then answering them?

This is a fun technique because it’s like pretending you’re on a talk show, weighing the host’s questions carefully before answering in front of a rapt studio audience. What’s that, Tyra? What’s the secret to my unique combination of beauty and wit? However, it’s an unnerving tactic in live conversation (NOT that I endorse live conversation). It makes one’s conversational partner feel like you’re a ventriloquist and they’re the dummy.

Before rendering my verdict, rest assured I did my due diligence and checked to see how our national leaders communicate.


The Winner

I’ll give you a straight answer. The best way to communicate is a time-honored Midwestern x WASP manipulation technique: 𝓹𝓪𝓼𝓼𝓲𝓿𝓮-𝓪𝓰𝓰𝓻𝓮𝓼𝓼𝓲𝓸𝓷. Despite the ugly name (I think it’s due for a rebrand), passive-aggression makes the world go round. Life with no direct answers is life with infinite possibilities; a beautiful, subtle lucid dream. He could have meant anything by that cryptic comment—anything might be true! Drift through life like a non-confrontational spirit of possibility.

I’m not a mind reader, people will argue. Not my problem. Make your best guess. Have you no empathy? No imagination? Passive-aggression : a thoughtful or flexible cash gift :: Honest confrontation : emailing someone a link to an on-sale Gap sweater as part of your Christmas wish list. It’s too easy. It’s too cheap.

Don’t forget that you can use passive-aggression on yourself. Turned inwards, it’s denial, and it’s a powerful mental tool. I once overheard an old woman sigh about how she probably only had five years left, max, but then she shut down that dark reality by reframing things in an inspired way: “But if I were about to go to prison, five years would sound like a long time. So I have a long time left to live!” 🙂😔

We all have a long time left to live, maybe. Let’s make that time as passively-aggressively pleasant as possible.

Before rendering my verdict, rest assured I did my due diligence and checked to see how our national leaders communicate.