Having Trouble Talking About the Election? (A tutorial on GLOP)

Well. OK then.

No matter which side you were on (or even if you were one of nearly half the population who decided not to cast a ballot this time around), I think we can probably all agree that was the nastiest, divisive, most traumatic eighteen-month political campaign this country has ever been through—and it was going to be that no matter who won.

Glop, Glop, Everywhere













“SJW (Social Justice Warrior).” (You say that like it’s a bad thing…)dec-6-having-trouble-talking-about-election-photo

If you went looking for a textbook example of GLOP (General Labeling of People), I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a better example than the endless varieties of shorthand people used to write each other off this past election cycle.

GLOP flew around like poo in a monkey cage—on social media, in memes, at rallies, at the conventions, in graffiti, and in troubling videos captured by everyday Americans on planes, public transportation, in craft stores, and coffee shops. Threatening letters based purely on GLOP are showing up at places of worship.

Come on, America. We can do so much better than this.

What GLOP Is and Why People Fall Back on It

GLOP,L.E.T.*.-Speak, is a way of labeling somebody (or whole groups of somebodies) that is someone’s interpretation of what someone else says or does, and leapfrogs straight into pure summary judgment. It’s is dismissive, divisive, and destructive. It psychologically removes any areas of commonality we may have with the person or group being GLOPPED. It separates people into oppositional factions.

*L.E.T. = Leader Effectiveness Training, a leadership program

(And I fully admit to doing plenty of GLOPPING myself, especially as I drained my umpteenth drink as the results came in on election night. Hey, nobody’s perfect.)

But ultimately, GLOP removes the possibility of open, honest, and constructive communication—something we are going to desperately need in the coming years.

We’re going to have to redouble our efforts—not only in the halls of government, but also as individuals, in families, in public and in the  workplace—to be sure we’re approaching each other without GLOP.

GLOP fundamentally ignores the foundational principle of Dr. Thomas Gordon’s first step in conflict resolution: defining conflict in terms of unmet needs.

We don’t have deep disagreements because we are merely disagreeable—we have disagreements because we haven’t (yet?) been able to find ways to give voice to the needs that underlie our disagreements.

Assertive vs. Aggressive Communication

I know people who have chosen to opt out of family holiday gatherings this year to avoid predictable family political arguments. They’re usually unpleasant but manageable. But this year, they’re afraid they might actually end up coming to blows or ending relationships entirely.

Come on, Americans. We can do better.

First, a refresher: There’s a difference between assertive communication and aggressive communication.

Assertive communication is designed to relay our needs to others in the hopes that they can and will ultimately be met, in a way that is simultaneously respectful and sensitive to the feelings and needs of others. I-Messages are a deliberate and systematic method of forming assertive communication about unmet needs.

Aggressive communication, on the other hand, disregards the feelings of others in pursuit of getting the communicator’s needs met. It’s antagonistic, insensitive and shuts down the communication flow.  It may be honest, but it’s the kind of “honest” that also has no problem shaming, hurting, humiliating, threatening, or otherwise hurting others. Aggressive communication regularly employs several of the “Dirty Dozen” communication roadblocks: Ordering and Directing, Warning and Threatening, Criticizing and Judging, and Name-Calling.

If that’s ringing any bells for you in relation to the election, well…let’s talk.

Focus on Behavior, not Labels

It’s sometimes difficult…very difficult…to find yourself on the receiving end of aggressive communication and not to respond in ways that make the situation worse. But that’s where being a trained communicator with all the skills from L.E.T. really can be beneficial.

Let’s talk about the predictable family political argument for a moment. Rather than writing off the relatives with whom we disagree as “racist, homophobic, misogynistic, retrograde, knuckle-dragging jerks,” (mentally or otherwise) we have other tools at our disposal.

For example, we have the Behavior Window.

If, for example, we should find ourselves on the receiving end of a jubilant victory dance that includes a good dose of gloating and ribbing while we’re passing the mashed potatoes at a holiday get-together, we get to decide whether the behavior is in our area of acceptance or unacceptance. It is, after all, one meal, on one day. We can choose to go into the gathering with a very large area of acceptance for this one event, knowing it’s highly unlikely anybody will change anybody’s mind, and that a confrontation will be unproductive.

We also have Declarative I-Messages, Preventive I-Messages, and when all else fails, the acknowledgment that there are, and always will be, Values Collisions.

When All Else Fails: The Credo

A final anti-GLOP meditation:


You and I are in a relationship which I value and want to keep.   We are also two separate persons with our own individual values and needs.

So that we will better know and understand what each of us values and needs, let us always be open and honest in our communication.

When you are experiencing a problem in your life, I will try to listen with genuine acceptance and understanding in order to help you find your own solutions rather than imposing mine.  And I want you to be a listener for me when I need to find solutions to my problems.

At those times when your behavior interferes with what I must do to get my own needs met, I will tell you openly and honestly how your behavior affects me, trusting that you respect my needs and feelings enough to try to change the behavior that is unacceptable to me.  Also, whenever some behavior of mine is unacceptable to you, I hope you will tell me openly and honestly so I can try to change my behavior.

And when we experience conflicts in our relationship, let us agree to resolve each conflict without either of us resorting to the use of power to win at the expense of the other’s losing.  I respect your needs, but I also must respect my own.  So let us always strive to search for a solution that will be acceptable to both of us.  Your needs will be met, and so will mine–neither will lose, both will win.

In this way, you can continue to develop as a person through satisfying your needs, and so can I. Thus, ours can be a healthy relationship in which both of us can strive to become what we are capable of being. And we can continue to relate to each other with mutual respect, love and peace.

Dr. Thomas Gordon

Copyright 1964, 1978 Gordon Training International

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