We use the term paralyzing statement to mean a statement that has the effect of stopping (paralyzing) a conversation or discussion. While we have not directly described paralyzing statements in the rules of communication, these statements often break the rules of communication in various ways.
Most examples of paralyzing statements that we have encountered are statements that reinforce a static and rigid view of people and social structures, suggesting that they are not susceptible to deliberate, positive change. Some examples include:
- "They're never going to change that policy."
- "That's just the way things are."
- "That's never going to happen."
These statements include patterns of speech that break our rules of communication, often in multiple ways, and that are also irrational or contain logical fallacies. These statements describe the future (which is uncertain) in certain terms, and they depict something in black-and-white terms (as being strictly impossible) when there is clearly not a consensus that things fit into this category (if there were a consensus that a goal was impossible, someone wouldn't have brought it up in the first place). They also present a subjective opinion as fact, without using I statements. It's important to look at a situation realistically, but statements like this may be over-generalizations and don't leave any room for the possibility of things changing. A more truthful statement might be:
- "They've had this policy for decades and they haven't shown any signs of being willing to change it."
Sometimes paralyzing statements can be presented in an indirect way, such as through non-verbal signals such as a dismissive tone of voice or negative body language.
Paralyzing statements as a form of indirect disapproval
People can sometimes use paralyzing statements as a way of indirectly voicing disapproval of a goal. This sort of usage is contrary to our rules of communication, which specify to state directly if uncomfortable with the conversation or wishing to change the subject. In this case, if a person disagrees with the goal, they can do this, but it would be contrary to the spirit of our rules of conversation to attempt to shut down the conversation without directly voicing an objection.