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How do you wash off people repellent? January 12, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in feminism, personal, societal commentary.
Tags: , ,

I have a question: how does one interact socially with non-technically literate people? I don’t mean that in terms of explaining things to them. In fact, I mean exactly the opposite. I explain a lot, and it has a very undesirable effect: it seems like they don’t want you to even say anything at all that requires explaining.

Perhaps a better phrasing is to ponder how one socially interacts with people who don’t understand what it means to have a scientific mindset.

Fluxor discussed his attempt. He apparently used hockey as his cover. It would be un-Canadian not to.

The thing is, I actually am very social, but many of my friends are engineers and scientists. I do have friends who are not of a scientific bent, and bless them, they seem to have mastered the art of the “nod-and-smile-until-she-shuts-up-and-moves-on” maneuver. So even if they aren’t into science, they’re obviously talented actors and actresses. Regardless, I find them interesting and fun people…and apparently they feel the same about me for at least short periods of time.

In my own defense, I do have a lot of interests outside of science: crochet, violin, middle eastern dance, triathlon, hiking, slogging through snow (when one becomes talented, they call it skiing, but I’m not there yet). You would think I could find a million things to talk about with people. However, I tend to saturate myself in my hobbies: if I can’t be doing them, I spend a lot of time reading and learning about them. When I’m neither doing them nor learning about them, I’m talking about them…in great detail.

Unfortunately, this habit has a tendency to turn people off. I seem to lack the ability to ‘dial things down’ and have apparently come across to certain people as arrogant. I guess in my many years of worrying about talking up to people because I’m worried about coming across as condescending, I’ve over-compensated. Unbeknownst to me, using words that are polysyllabic is déclassé…of course, using words of French origin probably is, too.

I grew up in a family with a wonderful trait: they’re not afraid to say they don’t know something. If my mom, who is an accountant, starts talking about some aspect of her job that I don’t understand, I will ask for clarification, and she will explain. (I did, after all, get a C in accounting…) Likewise, they will ask me if they don’t understand. I try to talk to them, in general, about the work I’m thinking on for my dissertation or issues at work (although I can’t be too specific there).

But some people don’t act that way. Rather than wanting to learn more, they will be offended when I’ve mentioned something they don’t understand. The problem is compounded when they don’t want to ask for clarification, presumably because they don’t want to look stupid.

It’s even more frustrating when I see this not happening to my husband. Yes, I really suspect there is a sexist aspect to the problem.

I’m very puzzled as to how to deal with it, and when it happens, my inclination is to isolate myself in my ‘sciencey friends’ bubble. However, it only seems to exacerbate the problem.



1. A. Nonymous - January 13, 2011

How does one interact socially with non-technically literate people? (who have no interest in such things) You have two options:

a) Don’t talk about science/technology.
b) Don’t talk to them at all.


mareserinitatis - January 13, 2011

I try not to talk about science and technology. The problem is that I apparently talk about other things (like my hobbies) in a way that betrays my technical background. For instance, if I talk about crochet, I might start talking about different types of yarn or a new stitch or technique I learned. It comes across like a scientist approaching crochet, but I’m not sure how to not do it.

Sadly, B) isn’t an option…there are just too many people out there.


2. FrauTech - January 13, 2011

When I think there’s a sexist hint to it (as in my explanations at work get ignored but a male colleague says the same thing two minutes later and gets an affirmation of understanding) I’ve learned to couch my explanations in hesitant words. I kind of hate it. I think being confident in what I know is not only the right thing to do but also the right way to set an example and not keep perpetuating the system. But then it’s probably as sleazy as all the corporate games that go on, so I guess I’ll continue with my “Well I believe that…” or “I think that…” or “Well Dave explained it to me this way…” or “If you asked Joe about that he’d tell you…”. I’m a coward.


Fluxor - January 13, 2011

I use those preambles too, such as “It is my understanding that…but I’m open to be corrected.” Or I’ll phrase a statement as a question. (Like Fox New, “Obama, the Anti-Christ?”) But I’m not a woman; maybe just a coward. Actually, I do this because I don’t want to come across as being an all-knowing arrogant prick.


Mike - January 13, 2011

Funny – I used to do things like that. I still came across as an all-knowing arrogant prick, so I decided to roll with it.

I’m sure my wife will back me up on this 🙂


mareserinitatis - January 13, 2011

Oh, where to begin with this….?


mareserinitatis - January 13, 2011

I don’t think that my being assertive or not is the issue: it’s the actual words I use. To clarify, I have a problem getting along with a lot of women who have no technical bent. So my husband and I can go someplace together, and a woman will think it’s fine if he talks about work or technical topics, but if I engage in the conversation, I’m being arrogant. When I try to avoid such conversations, I still have a tendency to use language above a fourth-grade level. So I’ve had this happen even when completely avoiding anything technical. I really can’t find a good way to diffuse it because I apparently can’t even do a good job of playing things down in a normal conversation. (Too dumb to act dumb?)


Fluxor - January 13, 2011

I guess it’s all about how those preambles are used. “It is my understanding that I’m right and you’re wrong and that if you had half a brain, you’d see that. But I’m open to be corrected.” That may not go over so well. 🙂


mareserinitatis - January 13, 2011

How about: “It’s highly improbable that I’m wrong, Flux, but I’m not certain how such a half-annealed concoction managed to permeate your brain space.”

Probably needs some work, eh? 😉


3. Fluxor - January 13, 2011

Cherish, the trick is to take a single polysyllabic word that describes what you want to say perfectly and create an entire paragraph using mono- or disyllabic words that only approximates what you want to say. Sprinkle freely with “like, you know” and end with, “you know what I’m saying?” Or does even making such a suggestion means I’m being an elitist all-knowing arrogant prick?


mareserinitatis - January 13, 2011

No, it only makes me wish I’d been paying more attention to how one of my former bosses did that Valley Girl hair-fling, shrugging shoulder, smirk thing she did. People seemed to find it adorable, despite the fact that she was a nasty human being. Maybe I could take your suggestion and couple it with those particular mannerisms.


Fluxor - January 14, 2011

Had lunch today with an old classmate of mine. He mentioned how his team were doing stuff that were totally orthogonal to other teams in the same department. I think using words like “orthogonal” in everyday conversation is exactly the sort of thing that turns non-techies off.


4. mareserinitatis - January 14, 2011

Undoubtedly. But I never realize I’ve said something wrong until after the fact, when they’re giving me ‘that look’.


5. docmarcia - January 22, 2011

Two important ideas: talk in “chunks” of no more than a few sentences, and watch for the nonverbal response of your listener way earlier. The way you describe it, you tend to go on while your listener tunes out. Share one point (I’m really into crocheting) and wait. If your listener is interested, she/he will give you either nonverbal feedback (nodding, smiling) or verbal feedback (That’s really interesting). You can even check it out by asking a question: “Are you into crafts too?” That gives your listener a chance to give you a measure of interest, and to get a word in edgewise. You need to watch for those glazed eyes and listen for nuance.. “sort of” is a polite way of saying, “not really.”
You talk about talking a lot. Are you a good listener? If you focus on listening, you can ask questions and find out what you have in common.


mareserinitatis - January 22, 2011

Actually, if you can believe it, I’m usually a very quiet person. I have a hard time talking to people until I’ve listened a while and know what they like. Sometimes I make a point to ask a lot of questions to find out more about a person. However, even doing this, I’ve run into people that, once I begin to get involved in a conversation, react almost immediately. There have been comments like, “She’s intimidating,” or, “I don’t know what to talk to her about.” And I really have no idea what it is other than the way I talk about things (once I am talking).


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