Saturday, May 30, 2015

Against Being For Or Against Tell Culture

Ever since I posted about Tell Culture a year ago, people have been debating whether direct or indirect communication is better.

(One day I will learn to frame my important points in a way that is controversial enough to popularize them.)

I find this frustrating.

The concept of "communication cultures" is a kind of cognitive first aid. It's better to have tourniquettes than to not have tourniquettes, because otherwise people bleed to death. But there's a lot more to medicine than first aid, and a tourniquette will never reattach a severed arm.

What kind of cognitive first aid is "communication cultures"? What does it prevent people from dying of before they make it to the hospital?

Harmful misunderstandings can happen when people from one communication culture interact with people from another communication culture without recognizing that the other group employs different assumptions, and relies on a different skillset. That's the thing knowing about "communication cultures" saves you from.

But that's first aid, no more or less. If "Tell Culture vs. Guess Culture" is all you know about communication and you want to communicate effectively, you're alive, but you're a long damn way from "healthy".

There are skills, techniques, and insights you have to gain before you can communicate well, in a way that satisfies the values of everyone involved.

To master communication, you can't just be like, "I prefer Tell Culture, which is better than Guess Culture, so my disabilities in Guess Culture are therefore justified." Justified shmustified, you're still missing an arm.

To reattach a limb, you need lots of medical knowledge and advanced surgical skills. To master communication, you have to actually learn things that empower you to communicate.

My advice to you - my request of you, even - if you find yourself fueling these debates, is to (for the love of god) move on. If you've already applied cognitive first aid, you've created an affordance for further advancement. Using even more tourniquettes doesn't help.

A better use of your resources would be identifying what you most want to do with communication, and what factors are most important for accomplishing that. What is the next thing you need to learn in order to get what you want out of communication? What is the most important problem in the art of communication, and what can you do to solve it?

If you're comfortable with direct communication, it may be that what you need most right now is one of the central Guess Techniques. Basic empathy, maybe. Go talk to someone who thrives in Guess Culture, and instead of picking a fight, try to learn something.

6 comments:

Chrysophylax said...

It occurs to me that I do not have a plan for getting better at communicating and that it has been years since I last took a major step towards learning to communicate better. It occurs to me that I was not foveally aware of these facts until I read this post. It further occurs to me that I am an idiot.

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JK said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JK said...

Nice post. I'm really liking your blog (modulo the comment spam).

"Justified shmustified, you're still missing an arm."

That was pretty much my motivation for beginning to speak publicly about various topics, at the age of 40-ish, after being terrified of the whole idea for many years. I don't do that very much anymore, but if the need arises I'm comfortable with it. The same "missing an arm" thought also occurs to me from time to time when I find myself making excuses to myself for not correcting any perceived deficit or practicing a new skill. When I notice that thought, it's often an effective motivator.