Recently I was sitting in class, working on an in-class group assignment. The trouble was, however, that I didn’t feel like I understood expectations. I was confused about the abstract subject which only succeeded to make the assignment that much more confusing. I was lost and frustrated. To make things worse, I wasn’t the only one struggling; no one in the group had a concrete grasp on what the assignment required. We sent out a desperate cry to the instructor who came over and began explaining what he expected.
Unfortunately, however, his explanation did little to clear the fog. Even more unfortunately, none of my groupmates made this clear to him. Instead, the girls were nodding their heads in agreement and offering confirming verbals, answering “yeah, yeah” whenever the professor asked if it made sense.
Now, it is possible that my groupmates really were understanding much more than I was, but I think it’s more likely that this is simply how we’ve been conditioned to communicate. We like to appear more positive than negative and agreeing is an easy way to produce this effect. Then too, especially in the case of females, we are known provide confirming verbal sounds just to show we are listening. Therefore, we say things like “oh, for sure!” even when we don’t get it, just because we care and want to demonstrate that we are interested.
I am fascinated by this pattern in communication. It really can be seen as a positive aspect, as the purpose of such confirming communication is to show interest and care–which are both positive and sincere in their ways.
At the same time, however, such a response requires balance. In the case of my groupies, showing so much interest and positivity came at the expense of actually understanding the material. It’s good to demonstrate enthusiasm, but it’s also good to admit when you don’t understand what is being explained.
Going overboard in this area can also be an excuse for inauthenticity. For example, yesterday a friend offered a fact about his family and my other friend answered “nice” without giving it any thought. The fact itself wasn’t actually inherently “nice” but something had to be said after the comment and “nice” was easier to throw out there than something more sincere or anything requiring an actual thoughtful response.
Obviously not every response needs to be deep and thoughtful, not every situation is worth drawing out for the sake of sincerity, and not every explanation needs to be understood in depth. I have nothing against happy statements of agreement. However, I would urge you to consider when and where you are mindlessly using such positive responses. Sometimes the conversation gets better when we stop immediately agreeing with everything being said.
I would love to hear your thoughts; do you find yourself constantly agreeing instinctively? Can you think of any times where a cheery, positive response is best or any situations where answering in such a way may actually detract?