Obvious And Ambiguous

Being able to interpret something as “obvious” isn’t always as easy as it sounds, especially for the pessimistic cynic!


A few weeks ago at work I got sent (via e-mail) a less than complimentary review of some work I’d done.  Without going in to too much detail, I felt that this was a bit unfair but thanked the person for their “constructive feedback” and that I trusted it was part of an all round review of team performance to avoid the issue in the future, as I believed there to be other improvements that could be made.  That was on a Friday.

On the Monday, my linemanager (for whom I was not doing the work) suggested that my reply could have been seen as inflammatory.  While I would agree, the part he was bothered about was the “constructive feedback” part.  He queried whether I thought that line was “passive aggressive”.

My reply was that it depended on how one viewed the sincerity with which I typed it, which is not obvious without context and my feelings towards the issue which were unknown to the recipient who only communicates in writing and works nearly 4000 miles away.

I’m fairly good at being ambiguous.  I appreciate it’s not a virtue to be proud of, but with my legal background as well as being very risk averse, it suits me.  Where it lets me down is when other people are being ambiguous or, rather, not obvious, because I’m not good at reading signs.  Even the most obvious ones!

“Obvious” Signals?

I’ve always assumed there are a few reasons why I miss signals.  Firstly, and this is easy for me to say but I don’t necessarily know if those who know me would agree, but I’m trusting.  This means I don’t look for signals unless I want to and I usually don’t believe that someone can have an ulterior motive.

Where the signals are positive, I’m usually cynical enough to assume that I’m just getting it wrong because, well, why would that good thing happen to me? (I don’t mean that to sound as sad as it does.)  This isn’t a case of ignoring what is obvious.  It’s not willful blindness.  That implies not wanting to know the truth.  I actually think I know the truth because experience suggests the situation couldn’t possibly be as I want it to be, so I play the odds.

Some might say that makes me a pessimist and they’d probably be right.  I’d be willing to have the “pessimist or realist” argument with them though!

As another example, I usually assume that any female wanting to speak to me in a bar only wants me to buy her drink, and I’m not proud of how often that worked especially in my younger years! Someone with more success talking to the opposite sex might see it as an advance.  For me to think that, I would need her to say, “I’m going to give you my phone number now.  Tomorrow you will ring me, we will organise something and go on a date.”

That’s the sort of signal I need for something to be obvious!  I need “explicit”!


This brings me back to when my boss asked me if thanking someone for constructive feedback was passive aggressive and inflammatory.  For me, Ambiguity house shares with Prejudice.  They’re not married or anything like that.  They are allowed to see other people and often do.  They get on like a house on fire [not a great thing to add to a house sharing analogy, Michael] with Sarcasm, for example.

Assume I’m an arsehole and you would say that my e-mail was insincere and was, indeed, passive aggressive.  Assume that I’m fairly decent and you would interpret my reply as genuine and positive.  I knew it would be ambiguous and that was my purpose (which probably puts me in Camp Arsehole, doesn’t it?).  I wanted to find out what other people thought of me.

So next time you think you’re making something obvious to someone and they’re just not getting it, maybe ask yourself why they aren’t.  From my experience it’s seldom that they’re turning you down or not wanting to do something, but more that they just don’t believe that the opportunity is there.

Cause my demons tied me down
With silk chains wrapped around my soul
It seems so obvious that I should put an end to this
But demons take control
Like toxins in my soul
I know it seems so obvious that I should put an end to this
Oh, no, they’re just demons
They’re just demons

Demons by Against The Current

Comments 3

  1. Devil Doll Musings

    In order to convey sincerity and sarcasm in the written word, you need to add emoticons, right? 🙂 Or right? 😛 In a business email, this probably isn’t a great idea though. So your choice is to stay in Camp Ambiguous with the rest of us arseholes (surely they know I’m sincere!), ot head over to Camp Obvious and write things like ‘I sincerely thank you for your constructive feedback’. Sure, you mind sound like a twat but those who questioned your motive in the first place will probably appreciate that! Right? 😛

    • Haha! I like this comment a lot! They do say a picture says a thousand words so maybe emojis are the way forward!

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