Globe was watching “Survivor” the other day on the computer, and I had mentioned that I still had never seen single episode of that show. So when we got back to the house later that night, we put it on the TV. At one point two of the contestants were having a heated debate (of course they were, It’s a reality show). One of them said to the other, “please don’t yell at me,” to which the other replied back aggressively, “I’m not yelling at you!”
And technically that contestent was right, he wasn’t “yelling.”
The dictionary defines “yelling” as to “utter a loud cry.” And this character wasn’t being loud. His volume wasn’t high. But his tone was aggressive, his language was sharp, and the tension in the conversation had clearly escalated.
You can “yell” without “yelling.” You can “yell” without raising your voice. And yes, I’m saying the dictionary is wrong.
“Stop yelling.” I’m sure we’ve probably all had that said to us. And I’m sure there are plenty of times that we didn’t feel like we were yelling, so we responded with a sharp (and quiet), “I’m not yelling!” I know I have.
And as I think about it, in many of those cases I was technically right. I rarely “yell.” I have a loud voice naturally as people who know me know, but I don’t “utter a loud cry” very often.
But conflict can escalate even if the volume doesn’t. Even if you’re talking in a whisper, depending on the tone of the conversation it can feel like you’re being yelled at. And it can be annoying to be accused of being yelled at when you technically aren’t. When I feel like I’m being falsely accused of yelling, I often times end up escalating the conflict even more by responding back, “I’m not yelling!”
And I usually whisper it really loudly.
Often times when people accuse each other of yelling, they’re not actually talking about the volume, they’re not talking about the dictionary definition of “yelling.” They’re not accusing you of raising your volume, they’re accusing you of raising the level of conflict from a normal level to a pervasive level. They’re not asking you to lower your volume, they’re asking you to lower the level of conflict.
It could be tone. It could be language. It could be body motion or posture. It could be about interrupting each other and not listening. It could be about one person standing up, or stepping closer to the other. It could be about facial expressions. There are many ways for conflict to escalate, and volume is just one of them. There are many ways to be aggressive, and any of them can cause fear and/or harm. Any one of them can make someone feel like they’re being yelled at.
So next time I feel like I’m being falsely accused of yelling, I’m going to try to take a deep breath and reflect on Survivor. Maybe I am “yelling,” even if I’m whispering.