Are "sensitive" and "trying to be accurate" adjacent?
January 16, 2020 5:31 PM   Subscribe

I've had a few strange conversations recently, in which the other party gets the impression that I'm sensitive/hurt/vulnerable about things that I actually feel neutral-to-proud about. And of course, when a person has that impression, "no, no, I'm fine!" is exactly what a sensitive/touchy person would say! After thinking about it, I realised it's because I often think through my answers carefully, breaking eye contact and looking away/pausing to answer accurately. Does this happen to other people? How can I avoid it, short of rehearsing my answers in advance? (Relatedly, people often miss when I *am* sensitive/touchy about something, so there's something weird going on there.)
posted by wattle to Human Relations (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is this generally happening with one person? Sometimes we get into something with one person because they are reading something that isn't there, maybe because of their own filters or because you have different communication styles.

I hesitate to say this if you are a female-presenting person, but if you are getting this from different people and in different contexts, one way to counteract this might be (ugh) to smile. Another strategy might be to try to acknowledge the question or issue in a pleasant or agreeable way. "Oh, interesting! Let me think about that!" or something.

If people are missing when you are feeling sensitive or touchy, perhaps there's a generic line or something you can practice or rehearse that will help you communicate you'd rather not discuss that issue. "Hey, this is a tough issue for me. Can we re-visit this topic at another time?" Something like that.

If all of this is happening a lot, I'm wondering if it's a boundaries issue.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:44 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


I get this too. A trick has worked so far is avoiding the "no, no, I'm fine!"-type answers. Instead I do a funny face, like wtf I don't know what you're talking about. But politely. It's a thin line.

Or, like bluedaisy mentions above, I smile. But not an "I'm-harmless"-type smile, rather a "that's silly"-type smile, something between a smile and a frown and a shake of my head, and then maybe say something like, "but, don't you agree?"
posted by ipsative at 5:54 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


Are "sensitive" and "trying to be accurate" adjacent?

From your description it sounds like you are quite sensitive about accuracy. Perhaps people are picking up on that?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:59 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]


telling someone they're "sensitive" is exactly the sort of personal remark that used to be (and still ought to be) taboo to make in polite conversation. It's straight up rude. They are the problem, not you.

That said, you can, if you want, use a comment like "hold on, there's a word that's on the tip of my tongue..." or "lemme think about that for a sec" or "I just read a thing about that..." as your placeholder noises while you're thinking.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:32 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


Instead of saying "no, no, I'm fine", can you be more explicit about WHY you're neutral-to-proud?

e.g.
"I'm not bothered [by your comment about my car being old]. I know a lot of people love cars, but I like to spend my money on ____ instead."

"I'm not hurt [by your comment about my clothing], because it's cold today and I decided I'd rather be warm in a sweatshirt than look fashionable while freezing."

"I'm not upset [by your comment about my job], because I know better than anyone that my job is flawed. But it pays the bills, so I'm fine with it."

By giving a reason, they're more likely to believe that you're not hurt. Correcting it after the fact is easier than policing your own eye contact, pauses, and other body language while you're thinking.
posted by cheesecake at 8:42 PM on January 16 [6 favorites]


I get this too but I usually attribute it to the other person being apparently high-strung. Or from a different part of the country. Conversation manners across the US are so varied and weird and sometimes diametrically opposed which makes it really hard for people to accurately read each other. I don't know if you're in the US or what it's like in other countries but in the US it can cause a lot of trouble.

I just try to say "Hm, no, not upset, why?" in my best "cheerfully but neutrally inquiring" voice.
posted by bleep at 1:36 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Not quite the same thing happens to me, but people sometimes think I'm mad or confused or frustrated when I'm concentrating. Apparently I frown. It's easily waved away with a smile and "oh no! That's just my thinking face!" You could likely get away with something similar and then just moving on.
posted by stillnocturnal at 1:37 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


I am not generally effusive. I value honesty. If I tell you your haircut looks especially good on you, please feel complimented. I have someone in my life who gushes, gives lengthy extravagant compliments. It feels great, but the compliments are not truly sincere, so later I feel the emotional equivalent of eating a bowl of candy corn. Learn to say No, that comment did not upset me and then stop talking about it. You aren't responsible for other people's feelings.

If people think I'm broke or cheap instead of living simply by intent, not my problem, but I might try to drop some clues. The US has a massive oversupply of consumer goods and I don't want to participate, so I use the sharing economy and thrift shops. I think of it as recycling. Somebody gave me a gift for the holidays, in a nice color that I like, and went on about how they know I looooove that color. Weird, but no need to correct them.
posted by theora55 at 5:58 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


I often think through my answers carefully, breaking eye contact and looking away/pausing to answer accurately

Long pauses before answering a question and looking away are really common signs that someone is uncomfortable because the questioner crossed a line in what they asked. This is so much a thing that advice columnists like Carolyn Hax (and probably others) recommend intentionally pausing for an uncomfortable silence when someone asks you an inappropriate question (like "is the pregnancy on purpose?" or whatever), before saying something like "why do you ask?"

So, it doesn't seem totally weird to me that someone is interpreting your non-verbal signs as discomfort and trying to talk about (what they perceive to be) the elephant in the room by noting you seem sensitive about the question. Even if it's just one person who says you seem sensitive, it's likely that others are perceiving your pause in the same way but just not saying anything.

Honestly, the simplest way around this is to cultivate the habit of saying a filler phrase immediately after the question is asked that makes it clear the question wasn't unwelcome, then to do your long pause and breaking eye contact. So it would look like:

THEM: Here's my question?
YOU: That's a good question.
YOU: [long pause, thoughtful look in the distance]
YOU: Answer.

Having some immediately acknowledgement of the question before you stop talking and break eye contact completely changes the way that break will be interpreted, and I bet you'd stop being told you seem sensitive.
posted by iminurmefi at 8:27 AM on January 17 [7 favorites]


Micro-cultural communication differences can do this. Some people never really pause when they're talking. Some people pause only when a question is very difficult. Some people pause before every statement and occasionally in the middle, to gather their thoughts and think through what they're going to say. People in category A tend to interrupt people in category C a lot because they think they're done talking. But it also means that your "I'm trying to find the perfect nuanced phrase" pause may read to someone else as "I find this topic very difficult".
posted by Lady Li at 1:46 PM on January 17


Honestly, the simplest way around this is to cultivate the habit of saying a filler phrase immediately after the question is asked that makes it clear the question wasn't unwelcome, then to do your long pause and breaking eye contact. So it would look like:

THEM: Here's my question?
YOU: That's a good question.
YOU: [long pause, thoughtful look in the distance]
YOU: Answer.


This very smart answer made me realize what I do in this situation! I don't smile (as I suggested above). I do something just like what was described above, except instead of "That's a good question," I nod and say something like "Hmmm!" or "Ohhh!" while still nodding and thinking.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:04 PM on January 17


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