Australian General Semantics Society Inc.




Seminar Summary - 19 June 2016


"Interpersonal Relationships"

A general introduction to interpersonal relationships,  
be they with your spouse, friends, team mate, competitor, etc.

We will also look at how GS can help improve some relationships.

Led by David.



Our seminar
at "Cifftop View" Bonnet Bay in Sydney was again hosted by Pauline and Gavan - Thank you both!


It was a while since our last seminar, so there were some triumphs and tragedies to relate and yarns to swap.


GS Diary
In the spirit of "applying general semantics principles" to our lives, as opposed to dwelling in theory, we considered members' accounts of observations and applications relating to the principles and formulations of our discipline.


Aim of this seminar was to provide a brief introduction to issues in interpersonal relationships, and some useful knowledge on how to solve problems when other people are around and impacting in various ways on our goals.

We worked with this in the context of applying useful GS formulations to these interactions.

We read some quotes from the book “Mindfulness” on being trapped by: categories, automatic behaviour and single perspectives.

We also read “Mindful Learning” about how real life problems have many solutions unlike classroom exercises.

GS formulations

We reviewed GS formulations that could help relationships, such as:

Abstraction / structural differential, identification e.g. fact-inference confusion or map-territory confusion, correct symbolism to fact or check out the territory, projection, viewpoint / to me, extensional devices(date, index, etc), circular causality & positive feedback loops (virtuous and vicious),  punctuation, either/or distortion (degree fix), and elementalism, e.g. The Cheshire cats grin stayed as the cat faded away (from Alice in Wonderland).

Basic principles of perception

  * We tend to see what we expect to see.

  * We tend to see what suits our purposes.

  * We tend to see what our background has prepared us to see.

  * All these can change with time and context. 

Relationship types

Overview of relationship types: cooperation, competition & conflict. 

We compared theories from social psychology which relate concern for my goals v’s concern your goals./yours, with the Managerial Grid theory of management which looks at concern for people v’s concern for production.  Finally this was related to Transactional Analysis, I’m OK v’s You’re OK model of relationship types from passive or assertive, to aggressive, etc.

With team sports we have cooperation in the team and competition between teams.  And in some games like chess, people both cooperate to follow the rules of the game and compete with each other to win.

Conflict / Competition

We discussed Game theory with saddle points and specifically Prisoner’s Dilemma game to show the advantage of cooperation.  The "Tit for Tat" strategy was shown as optimal for the repeat prisoner’s dilemma game, i.e.  Cooperate at the beginning and then copy other person’s last action.

Responses to conflict:

• Flight: We can avoid dealing with a conflict by running away.

• Fight: We may decide to deal with the conflict by confrontation.
The win / lose model.

• Move beyond conflict: deal with the conflict in a way that solves the problem and improves our relationship with the other person.  The win / win model via  cooperative problem solving.


There are many ways to cooperate which include:

* Delegation

Asking someone else to solve the problem for you, e.g. going to the doctors for a diagnosis and a treatment plan.

* Group problem solving

Optimal group size is 3 to 7.  Over 7 is too many and 2 often cannot agree.

* Try to minimise interpersonal conflict

Use diversity to maximise knowledge and viewpoint i.e. diversity is useful.  A group with 3 experts is often not as creative as a mixed group of 1 expert, 1 person  of average skill and one beginner.

* Problem Solver –stakeholder interaction

When solving a problem you need to remember the other stakeholders and their goals, etc.  Stakeholders are concerned with the outcome of the solution but do not directly help come up with a solution plan.

If you don’t take them into account, then when you try to implement your solution plan they may oppose it.

* Communication

People do not like bossy or nagging communication.

So we looked at Nonviolent Communication, which follows the process of telling the other person:

1. What concrete actions / events that are affecting us. 

2. Feelings and consequences that follow from observed actions / events.

3. Our needs, values, desires, etc., that along with the events,
    we create our feelings from.

4. Requests about the concrete actions we would like to improve the problem.

* Negotiation

We discussed the "Five Blind Men" with elephant fable as an example of different perceptions,

Negotiation can use Cooperative Problem Solving, where we shift our viewpoints from positions to interests.  Positions are what we are trying to get (the solution to our problem) and interests are why we want them ( problem goals).  Positions are like the ten percent of the iceberg that is visible above the water, while interests are the ninety percent of it hidden below the surface.  By moving away from fixed positions to interests, gives one more flexibility to find new positions both parties might find acceptable.

Tips for Cooperative Problem Solving

1. Accept that conflicts are normal.  They are inevitable from different ways we abstract and that our maps are not all of the territory.

2. Treat conflicts as a resource.  Deal with the problem and the other person in an effective manner.

3. Treat the other person as a partner and not an enemy.  How can we work this out together to both win?

4. Listen to the other person to understand their point of view.  

5. Discover their interests.

6. Understand the differences in interests and make the most of commonalities to generate solutions.

   a) Generate new solutions, i.e. possible ways (new positions)
       to meet everyone's interests.

  b) Develop mutual agreements for these new positions.

7. Respect the people and attack the problems.

8. Choose your approach or as Korzybski might say, behave in a conditional manner. You have choices about how to manage conflicts. Some conflicts can be solve by working with the other person.  Some are just not worth dealing with so walk away or just say "no", i.e. agree to disagree. Other solutions include going to third parties like a mediator.  So realise that you have choices.


If you planned the solution to a problem (maybe because it was delegated to you), you then have to sell that plan to the other stakeholders.  So we looked at social influence methods such as:

1)  Information Social Influence: One person accepts information from another as evidence about reality, e.g. when one student who sees another student, who is known to be bright, mark C on a test question, and they copy the answer, then ISI has occurred. 

2)  Cue control (internal reward): We have habits, routines and self expectations that occur dependably when appropriate cues trigger them.  So if another knows of these, they can provide the cues to elicit the pattern of thought or behaviour, e.g. advertisers know that a lot of people associated yellow with lemons and freshness so they package their air freshener in a yellow can.

3)  Outcome control (external reward):  People want to get rewards or avoid punishment.  So sell your problem solution plan on its benefits /rewards or how it avoids negative outcomes or risks of negative outcomes.


We covered a series of exercises to develop skills on topics like:

1)  "The King is dead, long live the King”.
Which of the extensional devices does this use?


2)  GS students disagreeing on the P1 => T1 diagram.
This a perennial source of lively contention for us!


3) Is meat good for you? One expert said NO.  And followed up with more detail by saying that if you have over 20% protein in your diet, it's bad for you with respect to a long life.  This means the Atkins and Paleo diets aren't good in the long run.  Another expert said YES.  This Professor said that red meat 2 or 3 times a week is OK.  As long as you do not have more than 70 grams/ day on average and that the serve is not bigger than a 1 cm thick slice that would fit into the palm of one's hand. So a GS students can resolve this problem if they use the converging inferences and degree orientation formulations,  and say that red meat is bad in the long run if you eat too much but OK in small amounts, as specified.


4) Another issue was about amount of time to exercise each week.  One professor said 150 minutes a week was adequate and that one could do too much exercise. Another professor said that 450 minutes a week was better and that there was no upper limit to healthy exercise. We have used viewpoints, converging inferences and degree formulations to resolve the issue, e.g. another study on 32,000 Americans taking part in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study showed that while 150 minutes of exercise reduces the risk of diabetes by 34 per cent, 300 minutes a week reduced it by 59 percent.  This implies the optimum amount of exercise is above 150 minutes a week. And there is evidence of too much exercise like the woman triathlon athlete who got heart problems from exercising 1800 minutes a week.  So both professors were right under some conditions.

So today we had a new look at lots of familiar material, and encountered some new concepts and challenges!


Business Meeting

The usual: Plans for the year: Dates and places of meetings, international liaisons, finances etc.


Next Meeting:

Sat 8 October

"Buddhist General Semantics"

A New Approach to Buddhist Religion and its Philosophy.  We’ll consider how this ancient religion (or “a-theism”) is still alive and growing, in light of Bruce Kodish’s book that we considered in April, the (hypothetical) visits by the Buddha himself, and Alfred Korzybski’s G.S. formulations. 
Led by Robert.

Disclaimer: This "summary" is a collection of notes derived from our discussion by a number of means.  It is by no means a scholarly dissertation on the subject as presented.  It does not purport to be the "policy of AGS".  Comment and criticism (constructive or otherwise) is welcome.  If anyone has been misquoted, copyrights infringed or confidences betrayed, please Contact us.



Updated by RJ 24 June 2016

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