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Friday, September 22, 2017

We'll Get Together Then: Uncertain, Intending To or Humoring Others?

It's a bit of a running joke with my circle that I say "We'll get together then" when I mean we will talk or hang out in the not too distant future.  As you might figure, it's from "Cats In The Cradle" by Harry Chapin.  I only say that to those whom I want to keep in touch and/or hang out with.  I could just say, "we'll be in touch" or "we'll have to get together", but then that wouldn't be ironic would it?

In a prior blog called "Art of the Apology: Saying sorry without meaning it.", I touched upon the concept of humoring others with your words rather than being sincere.  In that case, it was about how and when people say "I'm sorry" when they don't really mean it.  I wrote it after I'd had enough of  'corporate' apologies.

When we make such open-ended pronouncements such as:


  • We need to get together.
  • We'll be in touch.
  • Let's do lunch sometime.
  • We'll have to keep in touch.
  • Let's plan on getting together.
  • Let's pick up this conversation at a later point.
or some other variant, I think three--not necessarily--mutually exclusive scenarios or 'reads' are playing out.  They are as follow:
  1. We likely will, but we have to figure when out when the schedule permits.
  2. We intend to, but life can get in the way.  We may or may not, but it is our intention to anyway.
  3. We know it is unlikely (and perhaps even undesired), but we don't want to be rude and just flat out blow each other off.
The thing that makes human interaction so complex--sometimes fascinating and sometimes frustrating--is trying to gauge our audience and what they expect or need.  Does our audience need brutal honesty or do they need hope when there is at best uncertainty?  The wrong read (and accompanying verbalization) can be the difference between keeping a loved one close and alienating them.  So, let's explore the three scenarios or reads:

WE LIKELY WILL, BUT 
  • We make open-ended pronouncements that mean this when:
    • When the other person(s) are VERY important to us.
    • We like the other person(s), but we cannot commit to anything at the particular moment.
    • We have to check or schedule or consider our availability.
    • We definitely want and fully intend to.
    • We are asking the other part(y/ies) to hold a 'place' for us in their life. It can be asking a lot.
  • If we really mean this by the pronouncement:
    • We need to follow-up in short order afterwards, later that day or within a few days for example. Otherwise, the other party might think we we just being polite, but really have no interest in them.
    • We need to make time for the other person(s) even if our schedule is tight.  Effectively, we have made a quasi-commitment or promise to them.  If we want to be thought of as a person of our word, we need to make sure we fit them in.
    • When we do find the time, we should ask them if they are still up for whatever we 'promised'.  If not, we should give them good reason and give them courtesy of explaining what's blocking us and that we are still committed to getting together (if we still are).
  • If the other part(y/ies) think we mean this when we don't:
    • This could lead to hard feelings.
    • This could diminish the value of our word (which may or may not be important depending on our audience).
    • This could lead to an uncomfortable tension or awkwardness if feelings were involved on the part of one (or all) parties.

WE INTENT TO
  • We make open-ended pronouncements that mean this when:
    • We like the other person(s), but aren't really sure when or if we can commit to getting together or back with them at the time we say it.
    • Our schedule is very full and we aren't sure how we can find time for them.  We wish to send a message that any failing is a problem with our schedule and has nothing to do with them.
    • We'd like for the other part(y/ies) to hold a place in their life for us, but we don't want them to stop their life for us.
  • If we really mean this by the pronouncement:
    • We need to go through the effort of seeing if we can fit the other part(y/ies) in and not just leave them hanging.
    • We should get back with the other person(s) as soon as we have a better idea.
    • If we do find the time, we should ask them if they are still up for what we 'suggested'.  If not, and if they are important, we should let them know that we are keeping them in mind and will follow-up as soon as we can.
  • If the other part(y/ies):
    • Think we are just being polite, when we do follow-up, this can pleasantly surprise them (or throw them off if they were just being polite).
    • Think that we meant "we likely will", this could cause a problem if they were expecting our company and we cannot find time. It could cause hard feelings.

WE KNOW IT IS UNLIKELY OR UNDESIRED
  • We make an open-ended pronouncement that mean this when:
    • There isn't much left to say with the other person and we realize this.  They may be nice, but there is a friendship/dating incompatibility that we recognize. This is particularly effective when it is clear the other party is also feels that way.
    • We really feel seriously uncomfortable with the other person(s) and we don't want to reject them abruptly leaving an awkward silence and/or hurt.  This is particularly effective when it is clear the other party feels that way also.
    • We know there is no possible way for us to every make or keep a commitment to the other person(s)
    • We don't want the other party to hold a 'place' for us, though if misread, it might appear that we are asking just that.
  • If we really mean this by the pronouncement:
    • We should avoid leading the other part(y/ies) on.
    • We should just let the communication 'die' naturally if possible.
    • We should drop any hope or expectations as it relates to the other part(y/ies).  It is unfair and unrealistic not when we blow another off to expect anything of them.
    • We should be prepared for other part(y/ies) to feel rejected. 
  • If the other part(y/ies):
    • Don't seem to get this, we need to find a way to more firmly but politely let them know that there is no there there with them.  In this case, delaying the inevitable could make things more awkward when we eventually do push them away.
    • See things the way we do, we have done each other a huge favor, by politely stepping away from them.

I left this specifically vague because not all open-ended pronouncements are spoken when a 'relationship' is in play.  Sometimes, we make these pronouncements with acquaintances, sometimes we make them with family and sometimes we make them with friends.  The important thing is to know your audience and be prepared when you make an open-ended pronouncement that it likely that you will have to follow-up on it, extend it or giving details or clarification on it.  If we read the audience correctly, this can be a smooth process.  If we read them wrong however, then we could leave some serious hurt and have serious resentment awaiting us.

I bid you a fond farewell from this post, but just remember, 'we'll get together then'.  You know we'll have a good time then.  ;-)

-- Rich