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Carborendum

Clear Communication, Sometimes LESS Clear

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I don't know if someone can help explain what I just experienced.

I was part of a "communications exercise."  We're broken up into pairs with someone we don't know all that well.  One party was supposed to be silent.  No hand signing or language.  We could offer facial expressions an overall body postures, etc.  The other party described a picture in their minds without saying the big picture like "the Mona Lisa."

I looked around at how much people got wrong.  I even listened to the descriptions vs the drawings.  When it was my turn, my line of thinking would be to not choose anything that had complex stuff to describe that had tons of nuance to it.  Instead, I chose simple, common, geometric shapes that everyone knows and understands.

I started my description by saying,"What I'm about to describe has no big picture or any general idea.  These are just a bunch of simple geometric shapes.  That's all.  Nothing else.  So, don't try to picture anything other than what I literally describe."  She nodded.

Draw a square, 2" on a side.  She gave me a furrowed brow of confusion.  You know what a square is?  You know what an inch is?  You know then that all four sides of the square would be 2 inches?  Each time she gave me a look of "duh.."  So, draw it.  She did.

I went on to an equilateral triangle.  Same furrow, explanation, and look of exasperation.  This went on until the time was up.

When she showed what was on her paper, we compared it to my paper.  Of course it was a perfect match.  But she offered some sense of how wrong it was.  She just didn't "get it." What was it supposed to be?  She even said,"At least my picture was of some scene that I could describe.  Yours was just a bunch of weird shapes.  I had to explain to her what I said at the beginning.  THERE IS NO BIG PICTURE.  It is JUST A BUNCH OF COMMON SHAPES.  She said there was something wrong with that.  It's supposed to be a big picture of SOMEthing.  No, I said it at the very beginning.  There was none.

So, what was happening here?

  • I made the objective something that I knew we would have common knowledge of.
  • I clearly explained my objective.
  • I clearly described how to get there using common referents.
  • She eventually succeeded in achieving the objective.
  • She still objected.

What was the deal?

Edited by Carborendum

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From what you wrote, it sounds as if you both had a different understanding of what the mcguffin of the exercise was supposed to be.

I would guess (and it is just a guess) that her thought was that there was supposed to be one central idea or picture (such as the Mona Lisa or another item similar) which was the basis for all the other smaller descriptions.  When there was not one big central idea or picture behind your descriptions it confused her, as she thought that the point was to have one MAJOR or single idea conveyed that was the big picture overall.

I would guess (once again, just a guess) was that your goal does not seem to be to convey a single Big idea which could be composed of a bunch of smaller ideas matched together.  Instead it was to try to convey singular common items so that you could get matching pictures.  Your goal then seems to be to have pictures that matched as closely as possible...or one set of pictures that paralleled each other on paper.

The goal of the exercise I would guess (once again, a guess on my part and only a guess) was to show the difficulties of trying to convey an idea to another person.  In this, the exercise is to have something somewhat complex in an idea and show that sometimes, even when we communicate, words may not be adequate enough to convey the exact thing we are thinking.  We may get close, but it may not convey the exact idea at times, or that it can be difficult to understand that idea.  (edit: Another guess could be regarding the speaker and feedback, and how it can be difficult with limited feedback to see if the other is really understanding you or otherwise).

This could be seen between the two of you.  Though you both ended up with matching papers and shapes, she never really understood what your goal was or why you were doing what you were doing, even though you felt you had communicated it clearly to her. 

This is also one reason I really write out LOOONG posts and try to specify and be clear about things and still, people don't always understand  my thoughts or opinions on things or I still manage to convey them in the wrong manner.

Edited by JohnsonJones

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2 hours ago, JohnsonJones said:

From what you wrote, it sounds as if you both had a different understanding of what the mcguffin of the exercise was supposed to be.

If it was a mcguffin.

Quote

I would guess (and it is just a guess) that her thought was that there was supposed to be one central idea or picture (such as the Mona Lisa or another item similar) which was the basis for all the other smaller descriptions.  When there was not one big central idea or picture behind your descriptions it confused her, as she thought that the point was to have one MAJOR or single idea conveyed that was the big picture overall.

I would guess (once again, just a guess) was that your goal does not seem to be to convey a single Big idea which could be composed of a bunch of smaller ideas matched together.  Instead it was to try to convey singular common items so that you could get matching pictures.  Your goal then seems to be to have pictures that matched as closely as possible...or one set of pictures that paralleled each other on paper.

This isn't a guess.  That is exactly what I described.

Quote

The goal of the exercise I would guess (once again, a guess on my part and only a guess) was to show the difficulties of trying to convey an idea to another person.  In this, the exercise is to have something somewhat complex in an idea and show that sometimes, even when we communicate, words may not be adequate enough to convey the exact thing we are thinking.  We may get close, but it may not convey the exact idea at times, or that it can be difficult to understand that idea.  (edit: Another guess could be regarding the speaker and feedback, and how it can be difficult with limited feedback to see if the other is really understanding you or otherwise).

Looking at it that way, it would seem that I found a way to "cheat".  I thought that was a great solution to the "puzzle" of clear communication.  If the point was to show how difficult it is at times to clearly describe an image, we already got that message.  Learned in one round, not necessary to have several rounds.  So, I learned that lesson and decided that a better solution (that BTW did NOT violate any rules we were given) would be to make the picture easier to describe, with more common referents rather than vague terminology.  That was the main goal of the exercise... to learn to use clear terminology rather than vague.  So, make the picture itself something clear rather than vague.

Quote

This could be seen between the two of you.  Though you both ended up with matching papers and shapes, she never really understood what your goal was or why you were doing what you were doing, even though you felt you had communicated it clearly to her.

I clearly stated what I was doing (there is no "big picture").  But for some reason she still expected there to be a "big picture."  Why would she do that when I told her explicitly that I didn't have one.

Quote

This is also one reason I really write out LOOONG posts and try to specify and be clear about things and still, people don't always understand  my thoughts or opinions on things or I still manage to convey them in the wrong manner.

In an effort to be more kind, I'm only going to say that this is not the way I (and several others) see your posts.

Edited by Carborendum

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9 minutes ago, Carborendum said:

I clearly stated what I was doing (there is not "big picture").  But for some reason she still expected there to be a "big picture."  Why would she do that when I told her explicitly that I didn't have one.

Yes... because she is human...  Humans tend to default to our assumptions being true and simply do not process things that do not fit those assumptions.  She expected a bigger picture... your telling her there was not one did not get past her barrier to change that expectation.

For example have you ever looked for something only to later find it right in front of you?  It was right there every time you looked but your brain simply did not register it until later. The same idea with communication.  We generally have to open ourselves up to changing our defaults and until we do we can miss what is right in front of us.

Thus this exercise shows that you can't just say words and expect understanding.... You have to verify understanding is taking place as well.

 

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4 hours ago, Carborendum said:

What was the deal?

Here's the deal: Communication starts with a pure concept a sender wishes to send.  Then it gets dipped into one person's psyche, emotions, tragic back story, worldview, political bias, and current mood.  Then it gets flung out the sender's window, crashing partially into it on it's way out so all the body language/facial expressions/tone of voice/pheremones rub on to it.  (Some of this can be controlled, some can't).  Then the message flies through some medium, where the sun shines on it and burns it, the air pollution makes it smell differently, and the fog dims the message.  Then it crashes through the receiver's window, gets dipped in the receiver's psyche/emotions/etc, and then finally decoded by the receiver. 

Sounds like part of her 'dip' included some preconceived notions of what you were trying to communicate.  Poor lady did her best to make your message fit that mold, but when it wasn't a good fit, the response wasn't to examine the dip for incorrect assumptions, it was to judge you for sending it wrong.

In short, the deal was "this is how humans communicate".  I'm always amazed we manage to get anything across to each other.

Edited by NeuroTypical

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You are a concrete thinker. You deal in reality. You understand highly creative concepts as a collection of understandable, digestible primitives. You naturally seek to understand things by decomposing them to their constituent elements and then inferring or assigning relationships between those elements.

So what? you might ask. Everyone does this. Well, yes, everyone does do it, but most people aren't really aware that they're doing this. So when someone carefully and explicitly follows this paradigm, especially when they start pretty much in the middle with the assumption that the other person is going to understand what they're saying or doing, the other person is likely to be left behind.

tl;dr—The ugly truth is that most people aren't as smart as you, so even if you carefully explain to them what you're doing and why you're doing it, they won't get it.

This has immense relevance to religious discussions, by the way.

Edited by Vort

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1 hour ago, estradling75 said:

Yes... because she is human...  Humans tend to default to our assumptions being true and simply do not process things that do not fit those assumptions.  She expected a bigger picture... your telling her there was not one did not get past her barrier to change that expectation.

For example have you ever looked for something only to later find it right in front of you?  It was right there every time you looked but your brain simply did not register it until later. The same idea with communication.  We generally have to open ourselves up to changing our defaults and until we do we can miss what is right in front of us.

Thus this exercise shows that you can't just say words and expect understanding.... You have to verify understanding is taking place as well.

35 minutes ago, NeuroTypical said:

Here's the deal: Communication starts with a pure concept a sender wishes to send.  Then it gets dipped into one person's psyche, emotions, tragic back story, worldview, political bias, and current mood.  Then it gets flung out the sender's window, crashing partially into it on it's way out so all the body language/facial expressions/tone of voice/pheremones rub on to it.  (Some of this can be controlled, some can't).  Then the message flies through some medium, where the sun shines on it and burns it, the air pollution makes it smell differently, and the fog dims the message.  Then it crashes through the receiver's window, makes gets dipped in the receiver's psyche/emotions/etc, and then finally decoded by the receiver. 

Sounds like part of her 'dip' included some preconceived notions of what you were trying to communicate.  Poor lady did her best to make your message fit that mold, but when it wasn't a good fit, the response wasn't to examine the dip for incorrect assumptions, it was to judge you for sending it wrong.

In short, the deal was "this is how humans communicate".  I'm always amazed we manage to get anything across to each other.

Well, that explains why she wondered what I was doing.  But it does not explain why she didn't accept that our pictures were the same.

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2 minutes ago, Vort said:

You are a concrete thinker. You deal in reality. You understand highly creative concepts as a collection of understandable, digestible primitives. You naturally seek to understand things by decomposing them to their constituent elements and then inferring or assigning relationships between those elements.

So what? you might ask. Everyone does this. Well, yes, everyone does do it, but most people aren't really aware that they're doing this. So when someone carefully and explicitly follows this paradigm, especially when they start pretty much in the middle with the assumption that the other person is going to understand what they're saying or doing, the other person is likely to be left behind.

tl;dr—The ugly truth is that most people aren't as smart as you, so even if you carefully explain what you're doing and why you're doing it to them, they won't get it.

This is immense relevance in religious discussions, by the way.

You really know how to butter up a guy.  My daughter is still going on a mission. :D

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In general all (known) languages are ambiguous.  And some languages are more ambiguous that others.  Here is a little example of the ambiguity of the English language: "The lamb is to hot to eat."   What is this statement saying?  What you think it is saying or what you think it means is not really that clear.   Is it saying that the lamb is being eaten or is the lamb doing the eating?

There are other problems with language - one has to do with the difference between written and spoken language.  This particular problem is specifically noted in the Book of Mormon.  It is a very interesting problem (at least to me) that this particular problem is not noted in any Biblical scriptures - but it is a part of the science of textual criticism related to the Bible.  It is also interesting to me that this problem of ambiguity is exponentially increased when translating between languages - especially when translating between ancient and modern languages. 

Another problem with languages is that words are symbolic - they are not literal and yet the vast majority insist on interpreting words as literal.  We see this in all the parlor games that play with language.  The obvious problem with literal meanings is that there is not a literal "standard" for words.  When someone says "tree" each individual has a literal vision of a tree in their mind's eye.  It is extremely unlikely that in 20 random individuals that you will have two with the same mind's image of tree.

It is my personal observation that the vast majority of arguments surrounding any topic is mostly based on this ambiguity between what was intent and what was understood.  Once this become obvious to an outside observer of an argument - it become quite humorous and yet to those involved - this often escalates into hate and anger.  Sadly I have learned that when this happens - that should I laugh it is going to tick others off the more - which for me become even more funny and we are in a most funny or viscous cycle depending on which side of the cycle is motivating a response. 

All this leads to my final response.  It often seems that the greater the misunderstanding the less most want understanding.  Go figure????

 

The Traveler

Edited by Traveler

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13 minutes ago, Traveler said:

In general all (known) languages are ambiguous.  And some languages are more ambiguous that others.

What exactly do you mean by that?

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15 minutes ago, Traveler said:

In general all (known) languages are ambiguous.  And some languages are more ambiguous that others.  Here is a little example of the ambiguity of the English language: "The lamb is to hot to eat."   What is this statement saying? 

Yeah, another source of ambiguity is the existence of homonyms.

Edited by Carborendum

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6 hours ago, Carborendum said:

Well, that explains why she wondered what I was doing.  But it does not explain why she didn't accept that our pictures were the same.

Let me see if I can explain it in another way.

I tell you that we are going to take a trip to Canada.  I'll pick you up and we will then start in Texas and end up in Ottawa. 

I then pick you up and say, hey, this is going to be a little different.  We are going to spend time together and get to know each other better.  There is no real distinct plan here, we'll take it in chunks, with the first chunk being a leg from your house to Oklahoma City via the Highway in the most direct route. 

After we get to Oklahoma City, I then tell you that we are going to travel to Topeka Kansas. 

Then, I tell you we are going to travel to Denver Colorado.  Then we turn and travel to Phoenix Arizona and then to El Paso Texas.

When we get back to your house after a few weeks of travel you ask me about Canada.

I thought we were going to Canada? 

I told you when I picked you up that there is no real distinct plan here...what part of it did you not understand.

The difficulty that occurred was because the opening premise stated we would be taking a trip to Canada.  Even though I told you I was not actually having any plan to do so when I picked you up after that, the initial assumption was still there. 

In these sorts of classes, the initial assumption is that there is an overall big picture or idea that you are conveying...not a bunch of smaller distinct and separate ideas.  Thus, her expecting that you would eventually go along with the overriding plan, just like one would expect me to follow the initial statement I had made about going to Canada, is still there.

This would be exacerbated even more if this was for a business.  The business instruction was that we were to get to try to understand and know each other better while taking a trip to Canada.

When I picked you up and tell you I have no distinct plans at all, you probably still would think I'd follow the instructions given by our higher ups to travel to Canada.  Even though I tell you that I have no plans that will dictate we do so, many would probably STILL expect us to follow the instructions.  By blatantly disobeying those instructions, and inputting my own thing, without better feedback from you about your misunderstanding could lead you to think that we still are going to obey what we were told.  I felt that the entire trip was just to help us get to know each other better...we didn't have to go to Canada to do that.   Whether or not that falls in line with what the Business actually expected me to do...is probably up to the discretion of the Business.

Bringing it back to the experiment, if she were able to talk to you during that time rather than the facial expressions, she may have expressed confusion as to why you were disobeying the directions they were given as she understood them.  You obviously did not feel you were, but from her vantage point (and from what you described the exercise as doing in my understanding as well) you didn't exactly follow the instructions.  She may have even felt that you were trying to outwit or prove that you were smarter than those who came up with the exercise in the first place!  However, her understanding of the instructions differed from what you were trying to accomplish.  She understood the instructions given from the instructors would involve conveying a central or basic idea or thought.  She felt you would ultimately follow that.  You instead felt that it was simply to get matching pieces of paper and you accomplished that goal.  Ironically, it still could be utilized to show what the exercise was trying to point out already in how easy it is to misunderstand each other, except rather than just an idea, your and her misunderstanding went deeper into the very purposes of the exercise to begin with!

Edited by JohnsonJones

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5 minutes ago, JohnsonJones said:

Let me see if I can explain it in another way.

I think I see where you're coming from.  But you got it backwards.

She wanted some undefined path that would meander all over the place. 

Instead, I started out by telling her that I'd be taking the most direct path from point A to B.  And I've carefully looked at all the possible routes to determine all the traffic variants and freeways vs going into cities.  I've got the fastest route there with carefully planned bathroom, food, and gas (oline) breaks for the most efficient route.

Then she said ok.

I got her there sure enough.  But she complained that we didn't go sightseeing all over the place when a) I told here we wouldn't be and b) she agreed to that condition.

She was still somehow surprised that we didn't go sightseeing.

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14 minutes ago, Carborendum said:

I think I see where you're coming from.  But you got it backwards.

She wanted some undefined path that would meander all over the place. 

Instead, I started out by telling her that I'd be taking the most direct path from point A to B.  And I've carefully looked at all the possible routes to determine all the traffic variants and freeways vs going into cities.  I've got the fastest route there with carefully planned bathroom, food, and gas (oline) breaks for the most efficient route.

Then she said ok.

I got her there sure enough.  But she complained that we didn't go sightseeing all over the place when a) I told here we wouldn't be and b) she agreed to that condition.

She was still somehow surprised that we didn't go sightseeing.

But what did she UNDERSTAND the purpose of it to be?  Are you certain she understood it as you think she did?

From your description, it sounds as if she did not understand it to be the same as you did.

If the instructions were to go to Canada, and you instead didn't get to Canada, but took a bunch of smaller side trips that you could easily and independently describe in short order as you understood the purpose was to get to understand each other (and not necessarily get to Canada, as that was just the mcguffin to inspire the conversation), she still might be wondering why you didn't get to Canada.  You may have even told her that you were not going to travel there but have short trips that were distinct and easy to travel instead, but if her understanding was that the end goal was Canada and you never got there....without her able to tell you this, it would be a misunderstanding of the purpose and end results or at least the expectations of the exercise between you two.

You both had different ideas and expectations of what the exercise and goals were.

 

PS: At least that would be my guess from your descriptions.  If you both understood each other and understood it to have the same expectations of the exercise and goals, than I would think she would not have had the difficulties described.  As she seems to have been, it wasn't a problem understanding what you wanted her to draw or do, but a confusion between what she understood the goal and purpose of the exercise vs. what she thought you did in relation to it and her relative expectations.

AS I was not there, it is obviously guesswork on my part...

Edited by JohnsonJones

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On 11/18/2020 at 1:55 PM, Vort said:

You are a concrete thinker. You deal in reality. You understand highly creative concepts as a collection of understandable, digestible primitives. You naturally seek to understand things by decomposing them to their constituent elements and then inferring or assigning relationships between those elements.

Sorry Vort, this was the communication team-building activity. Your comment belongs with next quarter's learn-your-personality team-building activity.

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On 11/18/2020 at 9:36 AM, Carborendum said:

When she showed what was on her paper, we compared it to my paper.  Of course it was a perfect match.  But she offered some sense of how wrong it was.  She just didn't "get it." What was it supposed to be?  She even said,"At least my picture was of some scene that I could describe.  Yours was just a bunch of weird shapes.  I had to explain to her what I said at the beginning.  THERE IS NO BIG PICTURE.  It is JUST A BUNCH OF COMMON SHAPES.  She said there was something wrong with that.  It's supposed to be a big picture of SOMEthing.  No, I said it at the very beginning.  There was none.

I'm guessing her last name isn't Bauhaus.

 

H2180-L80821384.jpg

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