Keep your eye on the fox

Relationship Tip #30: Beware of red herrings in communication. This is a strategy used to distract someone from the original conversation or argument. The term “red herring” comes from an old English practice when training hounds for foxing. Red herrings would be left or thrown along the route, and the well trained dog would ignore the red herring and keep following the fox scent. Less trained dogs would go after the herring. This happens in conversation all the time. You say to someone, hey you didn’t do what you were supposed to. And they say, yeah, well you didn’t do this other thing. They distract you from the original argument. 
A good example of this occurred this weekend. My 13 year old niece wanted to buy some earrings. When my sister and I saw the earrings we said that they looked like they were ‘starter’ spacers (you know those earrings that make a big hole in a person’s ear – at 13 she’s not allowed to have them, yet she’s obsessed with them). She and her little friend assured us that the earrings were faux-spacers, yet in speaking to the sales person we discovered that they were real and that my niece (and her friend) had lied to us. Clearly being caught in a lie, my niece “threw a red herring” at us saying “but they fit in my ears”. Which is not what we’re talking about, yet she was hoping that she could still negotiate for the earrings and distract us from the lie. Often people will use a red herring that is a hot topic. I once confronted a co-worker about not getting their part of a project done and they threw back that I had been taking too much time off and that my boss wasn’t happy with me. Throwing me into turmoil about my sick time and making me feel that I was in trouble (my boss was happy with me it was just a red herring) thereby distracting me from the original conversation. 
This happens on a much broader scale. Just look at the gay marriage issue that the US is going through right now. They have quite successfully hijacked the conversation of people fighting against other issues such as GMO’s, Tar sands, and pipelines, and have thrown a red herring of a hot topic such as Gay Marriage (I’m for gay marriage, but you already knew that).
So, how do we deal with a red herring. First of all, start to recognize red herrings when they’re thrown at you. If you have children, you’ll have an daily opportunity to do that. Second, point out that the other party has thrown a red herring. Call them on it. Third, stick to the point. And keep going back to your point until it’s cleared up. Doing this will make your life and communication so much easier and will train you and peeps to go after the fox instead of the stinky fish. Be a good hound. And remember to forgive yourself and others when it does come up.


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