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Beware the Autocorrect Gnome of Listening

·711 words·4 mins

Ah autocorrect. Scourge of the Internet. Sometimes it’s helpful; other times it’s certainly not. It changes what you were trying to say into something either incomprehensible or insulting to the other person.


They say that if you ever get frustrated with autocorrect, you should pretend there’s a little gnome in there correcting your work. One who is trying his best but failing. And that’ll make you feel a bit better.

Me, I deal with the problem by turning off the autocorrect feature on my phone most of the time — although that comes with its own risks. (Namely, I can’t credibly blame autocorrect for my textual Freudian slips.) And sometimes when an update pushes through, autocorrect will mysteriously get reactivated again.

The poor little guy doesn’t want to stop trying to do his job. Bless him.

As We Get Close to People, We Overestimate How Effectively We Communicate With Them

Anyway, it occurred to me the other day that there’s another autocorrect gnome that I’m grappling with in real life — and this one causes a lot more problems. This gnome invades my conversations with romantic partners.

Research has shown that as we get close to people, we overestimate how effectively we communicate with them.

I can absolutely think of (many) times where someone close to me has jumped to the completely wrong conclusion about where I was going next in conversation. Or told me something ambiguous and assumed I understood — and I certainly didn’t.

The illusion of understanding can be so strong that I’ve even had people argue with me when I insist that wasn’t what I meant or where I was going. Or that I didn’t follow what they meant. This has particularly happened in close romantic relationships, where I’ll be told I’m post hoc-ing. That I’m attempting to take something back I haven’t said because I know it won’t be popular.

Taking back something I haven’t said. And something I wasn’t planning to say, mind you. (And many times don’t even think.)

But to my conversational partner, they’ll be convinced. Some of the gnarliest and most frustrating relationship fights I’ve ever had have started this way.

Beware the Autocorrect — or Autocomplete — Gnome of Listening

I’ve found that while people are generally socialized at this point to laugh at texts in which the autocorrect gnome has gone wild, they don’t have a similar flexibility when it comes to listening.

This is strange because in these instances — the statement hasn’t even really shown up yet. It’s not even a proper autocorrect situation. Instead, it’s an autocomplete. And in these cases, it’s the other person filling in the blanks with their rogue gnome, not yours.

The Power of Conversational Interrupts

In situations like these, I’ve found it helpful to back up a few steps and give the other person room to restate what they’ve said — or more honestly, to fully state what they were trying to state the first time. _Especially _if the person in question is close to you. Because you’re much more _likely _to think you understand what they’re going to say — but the research shows that’s a false confidence (I know, I know, it feels real, that’s literally how confidence works though).

And it’s your gnome jumping in uninvited not theirs — as much as it might feel that way to you in the moment.

I find conversational interrupts helpful in times of conflict. What they are is completely situational. One that I like to use at times when someone I’m talking to is beating themselves up and I want them to stop is, “ Hey, stop being mean to my friend.”

Another I’ve used in the past during times of great conflict to great effect is, “ How do we get back to okay?

I’m considering another one: “The gnomes have gone wild.” And by this, the person saying it would mean that the conversation has jumped off track because one or both parties is jumping to conversational conclusions. (By the way, it doesn’t really matter where the blame lies in these sorts of misunderstandings; what’s more important than assigning blame is fixing the miscommunication.)

I don’t know if it’ll work. But it’s worth a shot.



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