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Jeff Bigler's "tact filter" theory

Drawing by lonelysandwich
drawing by lonelysandwich

Tact Filters

In 1996, Jeff Bigler observed that there appeared to be a "tact filter" that was operated in different directions by "nerds" versus "normal people:"

All people have a "tact filter", which applies tact in one direction to everything that passes through it. Most "normal people" have the tact filter positioned to apply tact in the outgoing direction....

"Nerds," on the other hand, have their tact filter positioned to apply tact in the incoming direction. Thus, whatever anyone says to them gets the appropriate amount of tact added when they hear it. This is because when nerds were growing up, they continually got picked on, and their parents continually drilled into their heads statements like, "They're just saying those mean things because they're jealous. They don't really mean it..."

Then, later:

So, nerds need to understand that normal people have to apply tact to everything they say; they become really uncomfortable if they can't do this. Normal people need to understand that despite the fact that nerds are usually tactless, things they say are almost never meant personally and shouldn't be taken that way. Both types of people need to be extra patient when dealing with someone whose tact filter is backwards relative to their own.

Fascinating way to put something I'd never thought of in quite that way before. I've often wondered whether several of the most technically gifted folks I know have a touch of Asperger's, but this more "nurture"-based explanation is a thought-provoking alternative.

[via: Anarchaia]

JP's picture

Joining a team where filters work the wrong way around

Hi there

I just thought I'd let the world know how much I appreciate the new understanding this has given me. I recently (read 18 months ago) joined a team, where some of the people already on the team have their tact filter on backwards to how I have it (I've got tact outgoing).

This has made it difficult to adjust and learn to communicate in this team, especially since the boss has his filter on backwards to mine. It's very confusing to a young person to get so little tact from their boss, especially if said boss is clearly quite concerned for everyone on his team's general health and wellbeing, and ordinarily acts respectfully towards everyone in the company - the tea lady included.

Anyway, I understand now, thank you very much.

Also, it is interesting to note that several of the people on the team, for whom I have much respect in terms of their technical ability and talents, has the tact filter outgoing too. One person in particular, seems to have it on both ways - and I am growing into the same state. It seems to to me that, in the long run, this is the only way to survive emotionally in this scenario.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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