Ah, the art of being vague. It’s, you know, kind of simple but not. (See what I did there? I was being vague.) Now, you forthright, direct people may wonder; Is this a thing? And if so, why is it a thing? Well, I’ll tell you, as directly as I’m capable.
Being vague has multiple purposes and benefits to the Vaguist (new word, just made it up) and there are two main classifications under which a Vaguist will fall, though they are by no means exclusive. They are as follows:
1) Situational Vaguery. People who give vague responses have learned through personal experience that people often times don’t really want you to give them an answer- or more specifically- they don’t want your answer. You are merely a sounding board. Plain and simple. I’ve been know to employ this tactic, tis true.
2) Habitual Vaguery. Vaguists either don’t have an ever loving clue about what you’re saying, or have a intelligible response to give to what you are saying. (It’s true. Half the time, I’ve no fricking idea what the hell you’re talking about. It’s not my fault… Wait, of course, it’s my fault… but for justifiable reasons. Gimme a minute, and I’ll get there.)
Ok, so back to numero uno, Situational Vaguery:
I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve had versions of conversations like this:
Other Person: “Hey, so listen- I need your advise. I’m thinking of doing __________ (insert any idea here). But I don’t know if I should _________ or if I should ______. What do you think I should do?”
Once upon a time, when I would make the mistake of thinking that the other person really wanted an opinion, I’d answer with… My opinion. Then, next thing I know, surprise surprise, they went and did something totally different. I’ll bet your first thought was, ‘Well, maybe you, Modern Melly, give crappy advise!’ To that, I say, ‘Incorrect!’ I actually give really good, unbiased advise. I’m positive of it. Yes, I’m bragging. But, none of that matters, because it comes down to simple logic: if someone asked your advise, then they must want it, right?! Wrong.
So here’s how I learned to respond in those types of conversations:
“Wow, sounds like you’ve got quite the dilemma there, don’t you?! You must be frustrated ( confused, conflicted…whatever fits the moment). Hmm, both ideas have there merit, so if you do ________, I can see why. But if you do _______ that could really make sense, too. So what are you leaning toward doing?”
See? No actual advice given, and turned it right back around on them! Brilliant, you say?! Why, yes, thank you! Of course, there are times when a real opinion is desired, and occasions when the other person calls me out on my vague-ery, so I not only fess up to my deliberateness, I give my honest opinion.
The second type of conversation can be a little bit tricky, and getting caught can be pret-tyyyy embarrassing. This is the bag of tricks you pull out when the topic is one you know (or care) very little about, but have chosen to pretend that you do.
Take for example my (genuine) enjoyment of following “my” football team. It’s actually my husbands favorite team, which I’ve adopted (since I never cared much before) and have subsequently learned the game through him. Smart man that he is, he has taught me the game not by just spouting stats and the plays (though those are tossed in there, too) but by getting me interested in the players and the coaches- who they are & what their story is, because he knows that I need a reason to be invested, then he sneaks in the required info. Everybody wins in this deal, trust me!
Nonetheless, as good of a teacher he is, and that I have six solid years of consistent seasonal football watching under my belt, there is still a lot I don’t understand. To sum it up, I would say that I have much more than the basics, but much less than total comprehension. I can correctly and appropriately shout out, ‘Aw, c’mon! Intentional grounding!’ Or ‘They’ve got to go for a two point conversion here!‘ And even, ‘What, no flag on the play?!‘ However, I can’t for the life of me figure out what a blitz is, how they know it’s going to happen, or what it means when it does happen. (After reading this, my husband will sit me down and explain it. In great detail, I’m sure.)
Now, everyone that knows us, knows that Sunday football in our house is a big thing, like all day football food, jerseys on, don’t bother us, we’re watching football kind of thing. So, by matter of course, I get included in the football talk with the guys. And you can’t, you just can’t look like the dippy chick trying to hang when you clearly cannot hang.
So, here’s how a conversation on a topic that I don’t know enough about, goes:
Other person: ” Hey, how bout that game last night!”
Me: ” Oh, my God, right?! Crazy!”
O.P.: ” Yeah, holy shit, I was thinking of you guys when they were trying to run that blitz in the third quarter, I mean, what the hell happened there with your boys?!”
Ok, here’s the point where I’ve no clue, so I say, “Aw, man, I know! Can’t even tell you what the hell they were thinking out there! I just know they gotta step up their, you know?!”
Sounds good, right? Vague, but appropriate. On average, I’d say this tactic works about ninety eight percent of the time. The two percent where it doesn’t work, and the other person calls you out? Now, sure- you could, of course, sheepishly admit lack of knowledge, and ask them to be so kind as to school you on the topic at hand, (which I’ve done). Or you can go with a more, ahem, vague admittance, like this:
Scenario- you’ve just been called out, like so:
Other person: ” Do you really know what I’m talking about, here?”
Me: “Ah, you know, I bet I don’t know half as much you do on _______, tell me what you think.”
See the pattern here? Always put it back on them, feed the common and basic human desire we all have to show off our intellectual prowess, and have our ego stroked, when we know more than someone else. That reads a bit snide and cynical, even to my eye… but, also true.
What’s that you ask? However did I learn the Art of Being Vague? Why, even? Oh, sure, happy to tell! Truthfully, I think I’ve always been adept at vagueness, and just fine tuned the skill as I’ve aged. When you’ve had a childhood punctuated by statements from adults (teachers mostly) like ” She has the potential, but just doesn’t apply herself.” And, “If she would just stop daydreaming, and focus, she’d really do well.” They were completely correct, I was inattentive (unless it was something I loved) easily distracted, and shockingly forgetful. These days, of course, I’d be a no brainer for ADD. But then? I was just lazy, or spacey, or a “dilly dallier” . What a stupid term that is. Anyhow, because of all that, I often didn’t know what was going on around me, and therefore had to fake it. Only, I wasn’t yet very good at it, so the reputation for being “ditzy” stuck well into high school. Truthfully? I made it work for me, and I got away with a hell of a lot because of it. I also nearly flunked out of school.. so yah, that part’s not so cool. But I did once get highly commended for my skill, and that is a bit cool. It was during the time I’d been preparing to be Broadcaster Barbie, and the class was about interviewing musicians. The teacher of the class was a well known local radio personality, and he’d asked us to pick a partner and do a mock DJ/Musician interview- in front of the whole class, of course. To add more pressure, he let the interviewer pick what musician the interviewee would be pretending to be. So, of course, everyone picked their own personal favorite musician to “interview”. The guy I was paired with was into the whole current punk scene, something I knew zilch about, and knowing that, he of course picked someone I’d never heard of, for me to “be”. And because he wanted to show off in front of the teacher, he started right off with some obscure question that begged for a detailed answer. So, as the little shit sat there smugly waiting for me to stutter and stumble, I smiled and began with, “That’s a great question, I’m really glad you asked. I always appreciate when a fan truly gets the essence of who we are as a band….” and continued on, sounding as if I knew my shit, yet never really answering the question. When I’d finished, the guy simply said, “Whoa.” The teacher said, “That was fucking awesome.” So, yup. I’m that good.
Everything above aside, I don’t actually recommend using The Art of Being Vague as a guide. I’m just being cheeky here, and I actually love direct, straightforward people. I’m just not one of them. So, now that you’ve read this, and if I’m to know you’ve done so….I suppose you’ll be expecting no Vaguery from me, should we meet up somewhere out in the world, hmm? I guess it’s maybe possible that I could or couldn’t try to be less vague and more, you know… 😉