Australian General Semantics Society Inc.


                              Seminar Summary - 21 May 2011



More on improving our communications
using General Semantics formulation
Led by David Hewson

We started again with a catch up time including an exhilarating bout of fridge-labouring .

Despite predictions of the prephesied imminently impending Zombie Apocalypse, we soldiered on with David's cracking schedule of exploring the immortal theme of Human Communications, and the power of GS formulations in managing its many opportunities and pitfalls.

Here's a little of the proceedings:

  • Communications can be split into 3 levels: syntax/grammar, semantics, pragmatics.

  • To communicate well you need to see the other person’s viewpoint and talk so that they can understand easily.

  • Expect to misunderstand and be misunderstood.  Try to meet the expectations of the receiver/listener.

  • Watch out for fact-Inference confusion.

  • The sender’s message intent may not be the receiver’s perception of the message meaning, as shown up in the story of  “Do you have a light?” which was inferred incorrectly as “I want to rob you.”

  • There is a “Sweet spot” where communication is “just right”.  Where you don’t tell too much or too little.   Where you do not tell people what they already know and bore them.    Or where you tell people what they can’t relate to (i.e. completely unknown) and you mystify them.

  • Bypassing word meaning can lead to misunderstandings.  I.e two people have different meanings for a word.

  • It makes communication easier and a lot better if you talk in the receiver’s terms. terms of their language, dialect, decision making pattern, and world model/viewpoint, etc.

  • Watch out of the Bucket Myth of meaning, i.e. thinking that the meaning is in the word. 

  • Meaning is in context e.g. the term “unicorn” is OK in fantasy but not in a science context.

  • Interpretation of a message is a very receiver-dependent process.  So for ambiguous/vague messages, choose to interpret in such a way as to give them the benefit of the doubt. For example, as we did with the message: “When you disagree with others you disagree with yourself.” which was interpreted as:  “When you disagree with others you disagree with YOUR interpretation of what they said.”

  • Positive feedback loops lead to escalating arguments.  So spot it early and break the loop.  I.e. an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

  • One negotiating method, from the book “Getting to Yes” was to move from arguing over positions to mutual problem solving to meet both parties interests/needs.

One way to avoid some perception conflict is to use a seven stage strategy outlined by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton. Their strategy is designed to separate affective and substantive issues during the negotiation process, thus dealing with each independently.

  • The first step is to "try to see the situation from your opponent’s perspective", in which the goal is not necessarily to agree, but to be aware of how and what they feel and think. [Related GS: viewpoints]

  • Second, they suggest that you "don’t deduce your opponent’s intentions from your own fears," because it is next to impossible to correctly assess their true intentions. [fact-inference]

  • Third, "avoid blaming your opponent for the problem" as this can create defensiveness or open yourself up for counterattack, both of which can be counterproductive to the desired outcome. [projection] 

  • Fourth, "discuss each other’s perceptions.", allowing for greater mutual understanding and discovery of shared perceptions; shared perceptions can greatly increase strength and understanding. [I leave you to relate the rest of these to GS formulations]

  • Fifth, "Seek opportunities to act inconsistently with your opponent’s misperceptions" as this will help to change negative or inaccurate perceptions that your opponent has about you.

  • Sixth, "give your opponent a stake in the outcome by making sure they participate in the negotiation process" increasing the likelihood that they will accept the conclusion as part of their own decision.

  • Seventh, "make your proposals consistent with the principles and self-image of your opponent". This will prevent your opponent from feeling that their integrity has been compromised.


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