Friday, October 03, 2014

Speaking in tongues: The Fake-Nice Social Worker, the Angry Psychiatrist

I have always been a straight shooter, speaking my mind and letting people know exactly how I felt about what they are doing. That is not always effective; it failed me spectacularly in my first job out of social work school. Now that I'm a manager and have to deal with outside agencies and clients at a fairly high level, I have to be effective. If' I'm annoyed at someone, I can't just tell them. It's simply not pragmatic, because then they'll get annoyed too and won't do what I want them to do.

Deliberately managing how I speak and interact with people feels duplicitous and manipulative to me, but for most of the world I think it falls under the category of "diplomatic" and "think before you speak." So I'm learning how to control and strategically deploy my tone of voice, rate of speech, and choice of words. (Apparently being a manager means managing yourself more, not just your subordinates.)

Right now I've developed two basic modes of communication that are more effective than the Ayelet blunt go-to of "This is how I feel and what you have to do because I say so." It sometimes surprises me how effective they are.

The Fake-Nice Social Worker


This is the tone and demeanor I employ when I'm trying to get an annoying person to stop doing the inappropriate thing they're doing, like calling me or a case manager incessantly to check on their application (still in progress, just like it was yesterday) or showing up at the residence every day to see if they're qualified to apply to live there when they are not. (This actually happened.) Or when I'm trying to get them to do something they are reluctant to do.

In person, FNSW begins with a big smile, like I'm seeing one of my nieces or nephews and I am delighted they're there. On the phone, I add an element of delighted surprise when they identify themselves and I greet them. Then I ask how they're doing, pretend I'm interested in their answer and respond accordingly, and speak in slow, soothing cadences with lots of pauses. Unlike my usual rapid-fire peppered-with-witticisms verbal delivery.

I guess I use a similar tone when I'm conducting therapy with clients who are fragile and need more emotional holding, but then I have a clinical justification for not talking the way I usually do.

When I lay the bad news on them, my tone and expression turn tragic, like I'm so sorry I have to tell them this and it just isn't fair but lamentably, that's the way it is and I am powerless to do anything about it. I explain painstakingly why the bad news has to be and offer hope that maybe some other solution will work out, or, if there is something they can do, encourage them to do it as though their doing it is personally important to me.

I hate being in FNSW mode. It feels completely artificial and manipulative. But I can't think of another way to get people to thank me for giving them bad news.

The Angry Psychiatrist


This is the tone I use to convey extreme disapproval without getting loud or abusive. It's called "the Angry Psychiatrist" because I've never met a psychiatrist who actually yelled at me, yet they manage to convey extreme quiet disapproval. Psychologists don't seem to have the same stricture, because I've gotten yelled at by good ones (Albert Ellis) and bad ones (Dr. Jerk).

AP is also delivered more slowly than my normal discourse, but the pauses are ominous, to give them time to take in the measured disapproval. I explain in painstaking detail why what they are doing or saying is inappropriate or inaccurate, such as an agency again sending us one check for several clients when we requested, in writing far in advance, separate checks for separate clients. I clearly and slowly detail the negative consequences that such conduct will likely lead to if they do not change what they are doing.

My psychiatrist friend Joey hates when I make fun of psychiatrists, but it was actually an argument with him that inspired me to create this persona. I think at one point he said, "Well, I'm very sorry you feel that way" and I cried, "Don't do that! Don't talk like I'm an annoying patient and you're the angry psychiatrist!" I don't think he's done that since, and I would much rather he yell at me than treat me like a difficult patient.

I have to be careful how much I use AP because at the end of the day it still reveals you're angry. But it's much more effective than yelling and getting frustrated.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

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