AGS Saturday Seminar  10 May 2003


"Improving Relationships"


Presented by Dave Hewson


The aim of this seminar was to improve

our personal, work and social relationships

by reducing the number of useless arguments and over heated debates

that may damaged these relationships.

This was accomplished via training in the use of several GS formulations.



ware that my life is often complicated and “sub-optimalised” by less-than-perfect management of relationships, I rushed to David’s seminar to see what “the use of several GS formulations” may have to offer.


I was not disappointed.  One of my chief frustrations is the repetitive nature of some of my errors, relating in self-talk along the rhetorical lines “I never seem to learn anything … How can I move ahead?”



avid started by reminding us of “the seven” learning techniques (Of course, we’re careful about “compartmentalizing” a list, not expecting the coverage to be truly comprehensive or mutually-exclusive!):


Testing, recalling and reviewing ideas

- repetition.

Structuring internally,

- by applying hierarchical relationships, visualizing graphically.

          Structuring externally,

- by relating to a context.

Getting extensional

– Using the subject matter in a practical sense.

Making inferences (advisedly!),

 -building upon the known into the unknown …

Multi-coding (as used in NLP)

          - use colours, shapes etc.

Attention management

- small blocks of material, multiple presentation modes.


We considered the bell-shaped graph of “Output vs Stress”, each of us wondering how our individual effectiveness/stress relationship could be gauged and managed.


The charting of Anxiety, Stress and Boredom against Challenge vs Skill was an evocative exercise for me, as the management of challenge in relationship to skill is I big issue for me in my (IT-oriented) professional life.



ixing of meanings means many major misfortunes!  As g-s practitioners, we would hope to look for true meanings as expressed by others, and not allow ourselves to lapse into “semantic nitpicking”. 


I remember a real-life case:

·        A pair of fleeing armed robbers were cornered by Police.

·        One of them, a teenager, was carrying the gun; his elderly mate was unarmed.

·        The old one said to the young: “Give it to him!” (pointing to the Policeman).

·        The young one shot the policeman.

·        In Court, the young one said “I thought my mate was telling me to shoot the policeman.”

·        The old one said “I was not telling the idiot to shoot, I was telling him to hand over the gun!”

You don’t have to be a semantic pedant to see the potential for dangerous misunderstanding here.


My venerable Uncle Harry, when asked by a passer-by “Do you have the time, mate?” would reply “Yes”, and continue walking.  Was he utilizing linguistic opportunity to optimum effect?  Alas, my own personal, family and professional life is not devoid of such “mixed-meaning” debacles.



ssumptions of G-S was our next topic.  (I had some difficulty with this, preferring a description like “Assertions” or “Principles” etc.)  We considered the three Big Ones:

·        A map is not the territory,

·        A map is not all of the territory, and

·        We can make maps of maps (self-reflexiveness).


One doesn’t have to search far into typical family life to find abundant examples of these principles!  This little case study illustrates some of the hazards of responding to a response:


Jack: “The bacon’s a bit crisp today!”

Jill: “Well, why don’t you do it yourself, then!”

Jack: “I didn’t say there’s anything wrong with it, just that it’s crisp.”

Jill: “You’re always whinging about everything – I can’t do anything right”

Jack: “I was only talking about the bacon.”

Jill “I know what you really meant … etc.”   (Mapping the map!)


The group had a variety of suggestions on how this escalating feedback could be reduced, by taking care with the “mapping” process, referring to the “original” map, and not getting carried away with responses to responses.


We observed some spectacular consequences of using “Either / Or” terms to describe complex situations, for example:


·        (Re terrorism) “You’re either for us or against us”

·        (Re Iraq) “The Coalition of the Willing” will do the job

·        (Re Australian society) “We’re racist / democratic / egalitarian … etc … “


Language which is not at all clear on the distinction between “fact” and “opinion”, can be a serious hazard.  Consider the following:


·        “She is just a bitch!”

·        “From my perspective …”

Consider Milton’s “meta-mapping” as a useful device (as above).



aney’s “Uncritical Inference Test” can usually be relied-upon to stir-up the passions of pragmatists and pedants!  A mildly complex and tricky passage followed by 48 questions, really illustrated the dangers faced by lawyers all of us in assuming that different people would interpret the same words in the same way.


Confusion between description(“what is”) and prescription(“what should be”) is a perennial stumbling-block.  What about the distinction between:


·        “Should I be able to get to the Church on time ?” (question of probability)

·        “Should I give my child a talking-to ?” (a question of wisdom)


nother cause of arguments is “lack of specificity”, for which the g-s solution is “indexing”.  That is, the avoidance of over-generalising.  


There is such a huge advantage in limiting the scope of the statement (or the discussion).  What if Jill, as above, declined to build-upon and project from Jack’s statement about the bacon, and simply said “Yes” when Jack said “It’s crisp”?



nwillingness to say “I don’t know” can be a problem – “The second-most-feared statement in the language”.  Not hard to think of some examples here!




unctuation is a great device in written language, difficult to translate when spoken.  How often do we find statements like:


·        “She nags, because he drinks!”

·        “He drinks because she nags”   ?

Quite likely a recursive causality.



xpectation management is one of the most basic but oft-disputed elements in education, personal-relations and government.  “How much effort should the Government expect of the unemployed?” “How much should I expect of my spouse?”  What should I expect of my children?”  And most importantly, “What should I expect of myself?”.


These are almost rhetorical questions, yet we must struggle with them constantly!


We considered “pseudo-equations” like:


·        Happiness = Actual / Expectations   (But what about when expectations approach zero?)

·        Happiness = Actual – Expectations 

We can play around a lot with the mathematics (“semantemantics”) here … What about the fact the the variables Actual and Expectations, above, are not independent?  Is it not true that the Actual will often depend greatly on the Expectations?   Etc.


To finish-up, here’s a little summary of Dave’s nine ways to avoid/resolve arguments:

1.     Bypass the mixing of meanings.

2.     Be aware of the Mapping process – Watch out for responding to responses!

3.     Keep away from either/or terms (“allness” references).

4.     Hone our “fact-inference” skills.

5.     Avoid confusion between description and prescription (“what-is” and “what-should-be”).

6.     Be specific: Use dating and indexing to limit the scope of generalizations.

7.     Say “I don’t know” when necessary.

8.     Use punctuation (written or verbal!) to clarify structure of sentences.

9.     Practise expectation management.


Anyway, it was all great fun for our little seminar group, and we seemed to agree that applying these principles would be a great help in managing personal relationships!


~ Happy Relationships ~



This little collection of notes by Robert does not purport to be an "official AGS record"; just some little, partial subjective personal impressions. Please feel free to dispute and contribute material and recollections.
Robert James.



Seminar for June: “Ethics"

"So act as to make thyself a better time-binder,

so act as to enable others

 to use their time-binding capabilities more effectively." (Weinberg).

Is this the "Golden Rule" of general-semantics?

We'll consider some issues

at the personal, community and global level.

If this doesn't matter, then what does?

Location: Gavan's

Presenter: Robert James

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