On Social Scripts and Story Spinning

(Epistemic Status:  I use this for reals, helpful for reducing social anxiety if you can grok it, likely not terribly controversial)

As promised, per script anon (thank you, I’m very excited to have a new reader!)

So, as mentioned in response to the ask, the basic concept of scripts is pretty uncontroversial (as far as I know).  People often are reactive; they say the things that fit most with the thing said to them.  The most obvious script is “Hi, how are you?”  “I’m fine, and yourself?”  “Oh, I’m doing well.”  Sometimes this even becomes “Hot weather we’re having, right?”  I mean, everyone knows this one.  The thing that makes this seem insightful is that most conversations are script based.  They aren’t word for word but you can generally class responses and map out the pattern.  I haven’t yet codified response classes but I think I will need to in the future.

Scripts happen because it takes a lot of thought and concentration to have a real, unscripted conversation and it’s scary and socially risky to go into unfamiliar territory.  Not having a script is confusing and confusion is really uncomfortable and vulnerable.  So largely, there’s an unspoken, mutual agreement to not make people confused; it’s social aggression to violate script agreements.  Social aggression isn’t always bad, a bit of it is stylish but it’s higher risk overall.  

This agreement also means that the person initiating has a lot more social power because they’re setting the script and you either react to the script and follow it, or break it and show yourself to be socially aggressive.  This happened to me several times with my boss; I assumed she was running one script (a coaching experience, where my feedback was desired and perception checking was welcome) and she was running another (one way feedback; I did a thing and she wanted a different thing), and both of us left meetings feeling upset at the other one for breaking the rules.  Things got significantly better when I chose to switch filters such that I could accept her script and start using my own more carefully (I went from more or less arguing with her because she was saying things that weren’t actually true to initially saying “ok well I accept that, that’s what happened, I’ll do better in the future.  Could you tell me how I could do this?” and basically asking questions that would bring her a little closer to my point of view while sounding open to feedback.)

So, I have a basic tiered model for this, level 0 is people deploying scripts mindlessly against each other.  This is the level most interactions operate on.  As I said, it takes concentration and energy to be in no-script land.  Level 1 is when you start changing scripts.  You have to have a story that still fits, but you can change your role and people will react to that and you’ll get better outcomes.  It’s harder to explain with examples; I mostly use this mode with black box intuition.  Level 2 is more or less making level 1 people think they’re in charge but their script changes are within your framework, basically the “field of allowed actions” kind of idea.  Level 3 is something I don’t understand because I largely work on level 1.

Going back to social aggression and violations of the script agreement, social aggression is not intrinsically bad.  Being the script initiator is one form of social aggression that uses the script agreement to your advantage.  Another technique is script breaking; in various contexts, people expect certain introductory questions, some light talk before getting to the serious stuff.  In a playful enough social context (such as parties), you can be endlessly fascinating by skipping all that shit.  One of my favorite techniques is opening with a script breaker.  I have a go-to one, “What’s the most bizarre thing that’s happened to you in the past week?” but it’s really best to come up with your own, something that would be legitimately interesting to you to find out about the person you’re script breaking.  A script breaker mostly just immediately forces people out of cached thoughts into new territory.  You can sometimes use the confusion to start feeding people a new script if you’re feeling a bit manipulative.  

Script breakers sometimes occur naturally.  I was in a situation where someone I was on a date with encountered a situation they couldn’t recover from.  They were more or less completely unable to interact meaningfully for a good 20-30 minutes.  If you want someone to do what you want, these moments are precious.  They’re desperately looking for a script, they’re practically on level -1.  If you give them one, they’ll thank you for whatever you do to them.  I think it might be slightly irresponsible to go into details on that so I’ll leave modeling this an exercise for the reader.

Overall, scripts are fun and make social interaction way better because it’s the easiest way to be on the same page as everyone you’re interacting with.  It ties into the whole narrative concept, thinking about what story you’re telling and what story the people around you are telling.  It ties into archetypes which is mostly my way of formalizing the general thrust of my roles.  I think knowledge of scripts also at least helps insulate one a little bit from being script broken themselves; it at least allows for you to install a default “script broken script” to buy time.

Discussion:  Did this help explain what I mean by scripts at all?  Do you see the scripts in your day to day life?  Do you think that the unspoken agreement that breaking script is aggressive is a good or bad norm?