When two dogs meet they will often ‘play-fight’.
One may pretend to bite or growl at the other, but will do it in a way that says, “I am biting you, but I won’t hurt you really.”
If both dogs agree, then they will have a whale of a time, charging about, nipping and biting, growling and barking — but not causing each other any real damage.
The reason this works is because of something called ‘metacommunication‘.
Meta-communication indicates how the words and actions in a conversation should be interpreted. And it is the metacommunication, not the communication, that drives outcomes; that determines what will happen next.
‘Environmentalists’ have been warning about the extreme dangers of releasing CO2 into the atmosphere for more than fifty years now, but no action has been taken.
There must be something in the meta-communication around that process by which at least one of the parties involved is saying, “We’re not taking this seriously — we’re only playing.”
As a post-script, if you ever find yourself in a situation where you’re not getting the results you want, consider whether it’s the meta-communication you need to change, not just the communication.