Australian General Semantics Society Inc.


                              Seminar Summary - 30 April 2011



How to improve your communications
using General Semantics formulation
Led by David Hewson

We started as usual with a catch up time.

Then it was amazing how David drew our attention away from Royal Wedding frolics to the much more important issue of how we communicate with our families, our professional colleagues, our friends, the wider community and  most importantly - ourselves!

Firstly, we reviewed the 4-step Non Violent Communication method.

Then we talked about communications as having 3 levels:
   * syntax/grammar,
   * semantics,
   * pragmatics. 

We skipped the bottom level (syntax/grammar) and mainly covered the semantic level with a bit on negotiating at the pragmatic level.

In more detail:

  • What are the preconditions or causes of miscommunication and arguments?
       a. Ambiguous terms. i.e. multi-meaning and multiordinality.
           “Many problems of 'fact'   on one level of abstraction become problems
            of 'preference' on another…”  S&S
       b. Excessive certainty.
       c. Getting the wrong message intent.
            i.e. seeing it as a put down when it was not.  [Related to jump to conclusions.]
       d. Incorrect expectations.
       e. Jumping to conclusions.
       f.  Lack of “to me” i.e. projection.
       g. Not seeing their viewpoint. Lack of viewpoint awareness.
       h. Not the same use of a word. Or the bucket myth ...
           ... Or arguing over noises.  I.e. no real meaning for word.
       i. Over generalisation e.g. identification.

  • GS formulations useful for communication
       a. Map is not all territory.  Hence expect imperfect communications. 
           So how much should you try to give?  Degree of detail e.g. for a trip.
       b. Projection of our values, evaluations and attributes.
       c. Viewpoint: one person sees one viewpoint and the some other person
           another, different one. Viewpoint examples: emotional choice versus logic
           versus factual observation.
       d. Either-or distortion e.g. we are either for or against an argument position.
       e. Degree orientation.  Optimum degree of newness and of detail in
       f. Consciousness of abstracting.
       g. Expect to misunderstand and be misunderstood. 
           Try to meet the expectations of receiver.

  • Fact-Inference confusion. Lee’s book “Handling Barriers in Communication” gave a good fact-inference confusion story where the intent of the message “Do you have a light?” was inferred incorrectly as “I want to rob you.” We related this to paranoiacs and people with an inferiority complex.

  • The story of Goldilocks and the three bears was used to show there is a “Sweet spot” where communication is “just right” just like the porridge etc, that Goldilocks samples.

      a. Firstly, telling people what they already know and you bore them.   
          Tell people what they can’t relate to (i.e. completely unknown) and you mystify
           them.  But tell people something that they partially know, then they can relate
           to it and build on their knowledge.  So there is this narrow band one can
           communicate successfully in.  This of course is different for different people.
       b. One also wants to get the amount of detail “just right”.
           We considered the optimum level of detail to communicate in a map,
           for example three maps of how to drive from Gavan’s to Laurie’s place:
              * One quick map (1 hours 29 minutes travel & 1 minute telling
                    = 1 hour 30 minutes.),
              * one long map (1 hour and 1 minute telling & 49 minutes driving
                    = 1 hour and 50 minutes.) with nearly all the detail in it,
              * and one just right (50 minutes travel & 5 minutes telling
                    = 55 minutes total). 

  • Bypassing word meaning. Thinking that our meaning is the same as theirs.  We replaced this by  “The meaning is in the person’s use of the word, not the word”. How meanings people have for words changes over time, e.g. “town” or “gay”. 

    Communication is better if people's symbols represent similar experiences.  It makes communication easier and a lot better if you talk in the receiver’s terms.  I.e. their language, dialect, decision making pattern, world model, etc.  E.g. “Hey dog, how’s your bitch?” will get a friendly reply form one person and a slap in the face from another.

  • Bucket myth of meaning  I.e. thinking that the meaning is in the word. 
    Meaning in context e.g. “Unicorn” in fantasy is OK, in science it is not OK.
    Korzybski recommended not to have arguments over noise.

  • Interpretation is very receiver dependent as messages can be highly ambiguous.  So try to avoid projection and bypassing and give them the benefit of the doubt.  We did an exercise where students worked at reinterpreting a message they thought negative, in a positive manner.  E.g. if they thought it was false, they had to reinterpret it as true.

  • We looked at Positive feedback loops and how this escalates argument.  And ways to break the loop.

  • We also saw how people can punctuate a series of events differently.

  • We practised on several examples.  For example "These people are so gullible, they believe what's written in a book" - Catholic Tablet comment about some people's belief about "The DaVinci Code".

  • Finally we looked at some negotiating methods from “Getting to Yes”.  One of the main ones, was to move from arguing over positions to mutual problem solving to meet both parties' interests.


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