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When My Words Meet Your Mental Stageplay

Wednesday July 5, 2023

In recent weeks, I found myself doing a little bit of work for one of America’s top automotive chains. I say this with some weird pride, because my dad, RIP, loved being a customer at that place.

Dad loved being prepared, and so do I, and so I really loved seeing how excited he’d get when winter storm season started. Car mods incoming—he was prepared!

I know he also loved the way they’d do something for you and give you a little report, and send you on your way.

But in reflecting on the topic, that stuff is more about who we were, Dad and I.

Alas, management of this place probably doesn’t give two f’s about being prepared, and for good reason. They are not us.

So, with that introduction to the topic, let’s get on with the story…

The Task

I was asked to analyze an individual’s communications, and develop an idea of their personality characteristics.

And with that kind of info in hand, maybe I could make some recommendations to management? Interventions, strategies, tips, things to do and not do?

People problems, you see.

“I got horns that hold my other horns, I always come prepared…”

For this kind of thing to go well, you’ve got to be trained in it (I’ve probably been over-trained at this point). You’ve got to be really attuned to various natural pitfalls, for sure.

Here are some examples of the basic pitfalls, or thought patterns, (or even “philosophies,” if you like) that can undermine this kind of work:

  • Everyone’s the same (nope)
  • Most people are the same (nah)
  • People usually think like me (not really)
  • People who don’t think like me are dumb (yikes, yeah no)
  • For people to get along, they should just be nice, or be good to each other, and do their best (good luck with that)
  • For people to work together well, they should agree to live by my own time-tested moral code, which I’ll sketch for you in brief… (good one, we got a comedian here)

In doing this kind of task, it helps if you can understand people through various types of personality models. And it really helps if you’ve been formally tested on that—ideally by a perfectionist who throws you a lot of red herrings!

An Example of a Test Scenario

At one point in a test, I remember asking myself “WHY would this kind of person work in IT?” when reading a short bio of a person I was being tested on. It was one of the last test items I was really stuck on.

Then I got this idea: “What if this question is less about the person I’m reading about here, and more about the test designer?”

So, I thought about what I knew of the test designer, particularly—how do they probably prefer to see themselves?

This was easy: Logical. Meticulous.

(It made me chuckle a bit to reach that conclusion so quickly, because the stuff you generally prefer to think about yourself is always kind of funny, embarrassing, awkward in how awesome it sounds to you, and yet how “huh???” it can sound to other people. It’s a topic that IMO has never been truly and deeply mined for its inherent comedic wealth.)

I re-read the bio, switching from my more normal state of “gestalt, intuitive, broad-minded, symbolic” and into something resemblilng a state of “picky, logical, focused only on what I can read, attempting to read NOTHING between the lines”.

Poof! The answer to the whole thing lay before me. The whole story practically came alive right off the page!

“It was just another goddamn puzzle…written by someone who’s getting off on how logical they are!” I deny ever thinking to myself.

This example highlights a very important string of factors that are super-relevant in this kind of work:

  • It’s not only about the person you’re trying to figure out
  • It’s about you
  • It’s about them
  • And it’s about the person assigning the task
  • BTW, poof, you are a team and you didn’t even know it

The Voice

Now, in case you’re reading this thinking “this is interesting, I’m not familiar,” there’s one big thing that you might have, that I don’t.

An internal monologue.

Internal monologues are a fascinating topic to me because I never had one of those. And in recent years, it’s been increasingly common to come across podcast episodes like “Interview with a person who has NO INTERNAL MONOLOGUE” or whatever. Like OK, I get it, you think this is weird for YOU, because that inner voice has been a huge feature of YOUR life.

I C U

I do have a kind-of equivalent. It’s what some call “inner sight,” and based on what I know of it, it definitely can be described as a foundational factor that drives my whole life and career.

The way it works is,

  • I see you reading this (a probabilistic, imagined-you, that is)
  • I see your reaction, as a video-like image, including color, sound, even some tactile sense, smells sometimes, and so on
  • I get a feel for the kind of person you might be
  • I go back and edit the story for you
  • I try to get an idea of how well that went, to hone that first item in the list for next time.

And…loop. Repeat. This is how my mind works during much of the day. Maybe it’s with writing, maybe with coding, or something else.

It guesses at outcomes, but it guesses based on a guess about what kind of guesses will probably be more reliable than others.

I know some others who do this too, and am not making the claim that it’s really super-unique. But I wanted to provide an example of an alternative to an “internal monologue” or “inner voice,” because people usually ask me what that might be, if they’re only used to the internal monologue.

Why Somebody’s Internal Voice is Worth Knowing

If you get to know somebody’s internal voice, you can build up a really quick set of insights as to the state of of their subjective world.

(A lot of people worry about this kind of exposure, and rightly so! Still: No shame, I think. Better to own the fear—“if you find yourself in hell, keep going,” etc.)

Sometimes, this is a really sad discovery, or chain of discoveries. You can discover that you are friends with somebody who, for example, has a BRUTAL and TERRIBLE inner voice.

That voice might be saying terrible things ABOUT you, for much of the time you spend together! It really could be.

It has probably, definitely said terrible things ABOUT them, which is also unfortunate.

And what interests me lately: THAT VOICE is often the one reading, interpreting, and commenting on YOUR messages to this friend of yours!

So there’s this strange and very interesting issue: You don’t get to deliver your own message on that other person’s inner stage.

However important the message, you just don’t get to do that.

Your Inner Stageplay

I like the metaphor of an “inner stageplay.” Thoughts are like actors. They present lines of thought. Opinions.

An individual tends to favor certain actors on their inner stageplay. They also tend to hate or dislike, or ignore other actors.

This, we can say, is what gives this individual a specific personality.

(“Phew, the logical person is back on the stage! Kick the clowns out with their physical humor and loud music!” is one possible representation of a mere moment’s mental activity on such a stage.)

But to me, the inner voice is an even more powerful actor than just “a perspective”. It’s practically in its own league. It’s a member of the troupe who can instantly change the play in various ways.

This is similar for my inner vision, by the way—it’s very active and persuasive. And it’s been wrong a LOT! But still, I can hardly turn it down a notch, let alone ignore it. It’s just in a different class, where the presentation of various perspectives on the internal stage is concerned.

Influencing the Voice

So, some interesting questions come to mind, in this line of work:

  • Could that inner voice be understood really accurately somehow, by others?
  • Could that voice be used or worked with more directly somehow, by others?
  • How would someone influence such an inner voice?
  • Let’s say I get some samples of your writing, as if written by your internal voice. If I write my messages to you in that same type of writing, will this be beneficial to our relationship?
  • When the inner voice is suspended, does the order of preference of various other perspectives change?
  • In what ways does one’s personality change at that point?
  • Is it worth pursuing a variety of opportunities and means of suspending or changing the inner voice?

(Personality-change is to me a bit less of an interesting topic these days, because I’ve heard so many perspectives on it. My experience is that: Yes it does, and no it doesn’t. So it’s much better to know the general details—how, when, why, etc.—than to cling to such a silly answer!)

Analysis & Strange Observations

Anyway, so I analyzed the f**k out of this individual. Naturally I took this process to 11, due to a variety of funny factors. Like the fact that this isn’t exactly RAND Corporation, but more like a place where you get car stuff done? That’s WEIRD and INTERESTING!

So I thought about the various factors for days and days.

At the end of that process, I had a very good idea of this person’s internal stageplay. For every complaint about them, I felt extreme empathy on their behalf. For every compliment, I was ready to wave their banner even higher!

One of the specific observations I knew I needed to include went something like this:

“You told individual X that they were not well suited as a leader. But you told them that because of the kind of leader you are. They are a very logical, hands-on person. Your leadership style is different from this.

It’s obvious in my analysis that they’ve had a logic-based, hands-on type of leadership experience. And I can see why you missed it, because you don’t think like they do. And so instead of teasing that out, you compared them to these other kinds of leaders over here.

So now, as a result, you may sound more like a liar and manipulator to them. This will undermine your position. And here’s what you should do about that.”

Here’s Your Report

There were so many points like that to cover. I definitely had the age-old consulting problem on my hand: How do you take a problem from the point of view of deep career-expertise and condense it, adapt it, teach it?

So then I had to analyze the person who requested that I do this work.

What kind of voice, on this topic, would sound like a voice of reason to them?

Where do the two voices intersect?

And how does my voice complicate this?

Phew!

Well, be it ever so complicated: We talked it over. And for anything I missed in person…it’s all there in the report.

Now they’re prepared!

Filed in: Control /110/ | Intuition /61/ | Thinking /70/ | People /72/ | Relationships /78/

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