Basics of communication: calm or upset (or seriously silly)?

Basics of communication: calm or upset (or seriously silly)?

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Which is generally most productive: communicating while very calm or communicating while very upset? When two or more people are calm, communication between them can be relaxed and open and precise.

However, when anyone is upset, that limits their ability to effectively listen as well as to precisely express themselves. While upset, they may even have reduced capacity for noticing clearly their own priorities and preferences.

In your life, are you attentive to how calm or how upset you are? Are you committed to effective communication? Are you aware of the importance of a calm interaction in everyday communication? How much do you respect the importance of being upset in relation to how that can interfere with most communication?

Before we focus more on how being upset effects communication, note that one very simple method for promoting a calm alertness is by slowing the rate of breathing (even holding the breath briefly). Increased calmness can be produced within several seconds or may take a few minutes, depending on how upset someone was to begin.

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So, what is the purpose of displaying upset? For instance, consider the extreme example of yelling for help in distress. What is the point of screaming for help?

If someone calls out for help and then that attracts six paramedic teams, three police cars, two ambulances, and a fire truck, what does the one who wanted help typically do next? Do they keep screaming for help once they have the attention of the people who are trained to respond to a crisis?

Unless they believe that the people giving them attention might be totally incompetent to help, they stop screaming for help once the helpers are ready. To continue screaming would actually interfere with the response to the situation. To keep screaming would be signaling “I want help from someone else, not you” right?

Imagine someone waving their arm from across a crowded room to attract attention to them. Maybe they are a customer at a busy restaurant. They wave their arm to get the attention of their waiter. The waiter comes over to their table and says “how can I help you?”

Do they continue to stretch out their whole arm very high and wave it at the waiter while talking? Do they shout even when the waiter is standing next to them and could hear them fine if they spoke at a normal volume?

Displaying upset is simply an extreme signal for attention. Once the signal results in bringing attention to you, what is relevant next is generally to clearly communicate a priority or preference.

In the example of screaming until the paramedics arrive, the next focus is to tell them what kind of help to provide. In the example of a customer at a restaurant waving their whole arm to get the waiter’s attention, the next subject is to tell the waiter how to proceed.

However, sometimes people do not shift quickly from the display of upset to the expressing of the actual underlying issue. Consider the customer at the restaurant saying “Ok, so I had to wave at you like that because you were way over there and I had something important to tell you.”

That is weird to say, right? The customer is just explaining that their signal for attention was a signal for attention. Everyone knew that.

“Don’t you understand that I waved at you because I had something important to tell you? Don’t you even understand that?”

Here is where it starts to get even more weird. Why isn’t the customer moving on to communicating the underlying issue? What is the customer doing instead?

We could call it justification. What is the purpose of that? If there is a background of distress and terror, then someone may “test” the waiter to see if the waiter “really cares.”

Is it safe for the person to continue? If that is a major concern for them, then it is predictable that they will transitionally present some justifications for displaying distress prior to actually divulging the underlying issue.

Or, maybe there was no actual underlying issue at all. Maybe the customer asked “don’t you understand that I waved because I have something important to say” because the customer really was just wondering how the waiter would respond. Again, maybe it was just a test. Will the waiter criticize the customer?

Maybe there is a more complicated issue and the customer is concerned that the waiter might not be capable of handling the communication. Back to the example of a paramedic arriving to the scene of a medical emergency, what if the person screaming for the paramedic wants to know if the paramedic can speak a certain language (as in a particular foreign language)? There could be at least two relevant issues: first attracting the attention of the helper and second assessing their specific competence in regard to whatever situation is perceived by the one who was upset.

In fact, what is being tested with the presenting of the justifications may be to bait the waiter in to arguing about whether the customer should have waved. Will the waiter stay calm or get upset and say “Don’t you have anything to tell me now that I came all the way over here? Were you just testing me? Is that it? What do you mean that you just wanted to know whether I really cared? Seriously? Do you think that I am your babysitter? You should not test me. You should never be upset. You are upsetting me and I should not ever be upset either, especially not by some stupid customer who waves at me from way over here and then when I come over, they just….”

So there is this background issue of calm alertness. In contrast, how easy is it to upset someone? That may be an important thing for someone to test. In fact, it may be so important that they actually test it. And they may test it quite indirectly. Also, they may test it repeatedly.

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How important is it to you that other people have the opportunity to assess how much they can trust you to stay calm? Maybe they say in distress that “I don’t think you even care about me” and what they actually want to know is that you don’t mind. They may want you to display a calm alertness as in a lack of upset (a lack of “extreme caring”).

They seem to be instructing you to display more care, but what if in fact they respond best to some form of dismissal? “Honey, if you are so upset, then maybe you just need some time to calm down and take a thirty-second time out to relax in private. After that, let me know if you want to calmly talk anything over. Okay then, that was really, really great… good talk!”

Note that sometimes it works to be silly in response to a display of a distress signal. Sometimes, however, that does not work well.

How do you know which kind of situation you are in? The best way to find out is simply to test it. You could introduce a bit of silly humor and then notice the results.

Imagine that the customer at the restaurant said “Don’t you understand that I waved at you because I had something important to tell you?” Then the waiter says “Besides that you miss me?”

​Or i​

magine that the customer at the restaurant said “Don’t you understand that I waved at you because I had something important to tell you?” Then the waiter says ”

​No, actually I thought you were just stretching your arm, my little honey bee.


Silliness or irony can be tricky in a casual interaction with a stranger. If people do not understand the English language very well, playful irony can be very difficult.
​One of the most difficult situations for assessing irony or humor is a short written message, like on the website Facebook. Images can be used to signal humor. ​Tone of voice and body language also can make playfulness easier to communicate. Just using a short series of written words can be challenging for expressing certain kinds of humor (as in “word humor” in contrast to humorous stories).

An interesting experiment in interacting with someone who seems upset is to display a fake experience of upset back to them. I can demonstrate exaggerated distress, hysteria, and huge gaps in logic. I can then immediately switch to relaxed playfulness.

In other words, I can model a transition from upset to calm. I can model it in a variety of ways.

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Imagine that the customer at the restaurant said “Don’t you understand that I waved at you because I had something important to tell you?” Then the waiter ​raises one arm and waves it enthusiastically. The customer is confused by this and says “what in the world are you doing?” Then the waiter says, “like this? You were waving at me like this because you had something important to tell me, right?” The customer says, “right, but that is really weird though?!?!?”

“Look at me, I can waving,” says the waiter excitedly. The customer says “that is not proper English. That is just foolish. Are you fooling around with me?”

“Ah, well, that is the problem, you see. I really wish that I was fooling around with you, but instead I am just standing here in your imagination waving my arm at you. You would be disappointed, too, right?” asks the waiter.

“What? Look, you’re an idiot,” says the customer. “Yes, you’re right about that” says the waiter, “and the problem here is very serious because it is the wrong amount of silly. One moment it seems to be not silly enough. The next moment it seems to be too silly. Then it is seriously silly in the right amount, but for the wrong amount of time. I’m very sorry about any confusion that you are about to pretend that you did not already have before I started waving my wild imagination in your arm.”

“Why,” the customer asked, “are you even still reading this?”

The waiter answers, “you must be very tired by now because you’ve been running through my imagination all day long.”

“You would be right… however,” said the customer, “was I running like water out of a faucet or like snot out of your nose?”

“On the other hand,” said the waiter, “if I put some running shoes on a corpse, would the shoes still be running?”

“I will answer your question, sir, but not until you…,”said the customer,”not until you explain why you are putting shoes on the other hand of a corpse? What was the problem with the first hand?”

“I think that your imagination has run wild now and next it is about to run away with you and then maybe start to fool around a little,” said the waiter.

“Okay, now this is getting kind of weird. Anyway,” asked the customer, “how is your dinner?”

“I am the waiter, not the customer,” said the waiter.

“And I am the customer, not the waver,” said the customer.

“No, you were the one waving,” said the waiter.
“Yes, but then I stopped,” said the customer, “and you copied me, right?”
“I wouldn’t do that and you know it,” said the waiter.
“You’re an idiot,” said the customer.
“We already established that,” said the waiter.

“Do you think that maybe,” said the customer, “maybe I am some kind of a clown?”

“You? No, you are a very serious person, which is why you are always upset” said the waiter.
“So am I always upset because I am so serious or,” asked the customer, “am I so serious because I am always upset?”
“Wait, you are taking what I said totally out of context,” said the waiter.
“Can I refill your beverage for you,” asked the customer?
“I don’t have a beverage,” said the waiter.
“Right,” said the customer.
“Correct,” said the waiter.
“Either one,” said the customer.
“I agree,” said the waiter.

“And I concur,” said the customer.

“It’s settled then,” said the waiter.

“That is accurate,” said the customer.

“Of course it is,” said the waiter.
“I just wish that you cared about me,” said the customer.
“Ah, but you could just try waving at me when I am way over there and then notice what happens,” said the waiter.
“I could, but I am just not that kind of a person,” said the customer.
“Yes, you’re the other kind of person,” said the waiter.
“Right, not that kind, but the other kind,” said the customer.
“It’s settled then,” said the waiter.
“What is settled?” asked the customer.
“It is,” said the waiter.
“Is it?” asked the customer.
“Yup,” said the waiter.
“Fine,” said the customer.
“Whatever,” said the waiter.
“Hey, what’s with all the attitude?” asked the customer.
“Attitude? What attitude?” asked the waiter.
“You were just trying to calm me down, weren’t you?” asked the customer.
“Me? Are you talking to me? Is that who you are talking to?” asked the waiter.
“Yes or no, were you or were you not calming me down?” asked the customer.
“Either one will do,” said the waiter.
“You’re an idiot,” said the customer.
“Some people say so,” said the waiter.
“So,” the customer asked, “you’re not upset that I called you an idiot?”
“Actually,” said the waiter, “I am very upset by the fact that there was a slight contrast between my initial presumptions and my later observations, however I have simply learned to pretend to hide that I am not just imagining whether or not I am calmly upset or actually just seriously silly.”
“That made no sense,” said the customer, “and you’re still an idiot.”
“Fantastic! So are you ready for your bill?” the waiter asked.

“Sure,” said the customer.

“Okay great, I will have that for you within the next few hours. If you need anything sooner, then just wave at me,” said the waiter.


  • Jacob Lieberwirth
    Jacob Lieberwirth

    When I am angry I am actually less likely to upset people. Lot less words.

    But apparently, specially in groups, having a vocabulary a bit broader than some and my fits of hypergraphia or yappideeyap syndrome, is altogether more offensive than when I am upset and actually *mean* to be hurtful. Either I’m really good at making insecure intellects feel exposed in their insecurity, or I suck at being a hurtful person. I dont think its the last actually, pretty much managed to kill my relationship by being that poor kid that cant love himself, which means he can’t believe or agree that others love him, since it goes against his own opinion. She loved me, I didnt, so I couldnt stay calm and sit there almost feeling insulted when she praised that which I despised (me). I finally learned what love means to me. Its the willingness to sacrifice arrogant dysfunction for results, and to often experience life from what I think you refer to as calm.. I like the word contentment. It is atmospheric, rather than being one feeling thats really enjoyable, the whole experience of life becomes at least somewhat enjoyable. The parable of the golden flower and all the leaves of gold come to mind.. where before I sought a single experience like feeling pleasure.. I’ve learned to produce using breath and introspective queries and simply sitting quietly in meditation (or comfortable) pose, and allowing any feelings that are urging to be felt to have all the time and space they take up untill like a candle running out of fuel it fades out when given that.. respect. Those feelings are me. I respect me, I love me, enough to do what I have learned leads to what me loves.

    Those stored pockets of tension that I use the above for, its almost like they are people that just want someone to shut up and hear them out (or feel) without backtalk. A shoulder to cry on. I only realized a short while ago that it doesnt have to be anyone else’s shoulder, or to give them the space and time to burn through the accumulated gunk (tension).

    It can hurt, it can be scary. especially some questions, but it is worth it so far, its like taking a ice cold shower for 10 minutes all at once, instead of the chinese water torture like nature of letting it fester on without some means to release them. Course there’s more to life than releasing repressed tension – for those who have already succesfully done so, so I dont mean to be all mr superior ‘look at me’.. I feel content in being the one that looks at me, at myself. Thats enough to provide many of the things I had thought I could only experience with someone else.. thought I needed love, intimacy, trust. So I did. So I gave them to myself.

  • Jacob Lieberwirth
    Jacob Lieberwirth


    I will check out the article in detail sometime soon. I just felt like responding a bit and jabbering

  • J R Fibonacci Hunn
    J R Fibonacci Hunn

    I know “I am preaching to the choir” here. You definitely touched some of my main themes in your comments, J. “nobody loves me” is one of the most popular themes of all these amateur blues singers in our midst.

    >>>Nobody loves me. Nobody. Even my dog left me. I put some raw fresh beef in my dog’s bowl and the dog just looked at me sideways like as if to say “do you seriously think I am going to eat that?”

  • Daniel Fritschler
    Daniel Fritschler

    I can totally relate to being a poe boy from a poe family. The unloved in a world full of love…and that’s why they call them the blues.

    My superhero/stage name will be The Unloved Blues Singer

  • J R Fibonacci Hunn
    J R Fibonacci Hunn

    Ah, yes… The world that is full of love. I read about it in a book called “utopian delusions of paradise that can actually be useful coping mechanisms.”

  • Daniel Fritschler
    Daniel Fritschler

    Was it in the bible of sarcasm?

  • J R Fibonacci Hunn
    J R Fibonacci Hunn

    Unloved sounds too hopeful. Go with “unlovable.”

    Is there another bible besides the bible of sarcasm?

    “I was not always an only child. When I was growing up, my family was so poor that one winter we had to eat the other children.”

  • Daniel Fritschler
    Daniel Fritschler

    You are right unlockable is more appropriate

    Haha . You only had to do that one year? Lucky

  • J R Fibonacci Hunn
    J R Fibonacci Hunn

    Lucky is right. People were wondering how I got that nickname in my childhood. Now you know.

  • Daniel Fritschler
    Daniel Fritschler

    Wow I feel like that is a really intimate favt about your life. Will you be my friend and cone shit by me?



  • J R Fibonacci Hunn
    J R Fibonacci Hunn

    It would be my honor to shit by you.

    Scoot over and let’s see if we can both use the same “throne” at once.

  • Daniel Fritschler
    Daniel Fritschler

    Now you are just making fun of my gullibility and naivete and I don’t appreciate myself being so oblivious and obtuse about it. Ugh I hate myself now thank you!?!? You masochist

  • J R Fibonacci Hunn
    J R Fibonacci Hunn

    Or we could sit like on a motorcycle.

    Like two totally heterosexual guys on a motorcycle.

    Except on a toilet.

  • Daniel Fritschler
    Daniel Fritschler

    Is that a wrench in your pocket…..

    Yeah the toilet is a little weird…let’s keep this conversation unweird

  • J R Fibonacci Hunn
    J R Fibonacci Hunn

    Oh, I probably left that Allen wrench in there by accident. why don’t you reach in to my pocket and check?

    If some one was a more precise Typer, then we would not have these weird tangents!!!

  • Daniel Fritschler
    Daniel Fritschler

    I have big fingers for these little buttons….and you know what they say about men with big fingers…..unlike people with “Allen Wrenches” like you

    *wenches I meant…I can’t even spell wrong when I want to

  • Jacob Lieberwirth
    Jacob Lieberwirth

    I ant just one of those. I need one to fix the plumbing.. plus a wrench for my toolbox would be nice


    Meh, can’t buy me love

    Not that I crave it or feel needy for it. Still feels nice to share something intimate, romantic love with a woman. No neediness, but yeah, I could do with a new wench

    Sorry I got hung up on 1 word.

  • J R Fibonacci Hunn
    J R Fibonacci Hunn

    Once, a wench told me that I was well hung and that I had a nice toolbox. Do you guys have any idea what she was talking about? I do not even own a toolbox at all.


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