I’m doing things a bit differently this week – I don’t have something to write a full post about, but have a couple things I’ve noticed recently around communication styles and practices. So I thought it might be interesting to aggregate those into a single post. Curious to hear if anyone finds this sort of less-involved commentary to be useful!
I’ve noticed that I interrupt people as they are completing their sentences fairly frequently, especially during long explanations. For me, it’s a form of active listening – I’m trying to demonstrate that I’m paying attention, and to confirm my understanding by testing my best guess before the answer is given to me. (I should also say there’s a secondary motivation of efficiency – if I do understand what they’re building towards, we can get further by jumping ahead to the next part of the conversation.) People who know me well tend to take this smoothly, but as I’ve been spending more and more time talking to people I’m less familiar with lately, it’s something I’ve been trying to watch out for.
After noticing this, I shared the observation with my team and got confirmation that they have noticed this too. My current teammates largely noted that they felt this was fine or even good, but even so it seems that this is something atypical about the way a conversation with me might go – so I’ve recently updated my User Guide to call out this behavior as well.
The idea of supporting a team is something that’s emotionally charged and quite natural for people, and this happens during conversations too. Discussions of policy or other contentious issues often see sharp divides form less on substance and more on what I’d call “team banners”. Basically, each side chooses a unique label for their position (often ending with “ism”), and that single word is meant to mark their “team” and contain all the nuance of their position. The problem with this, though, is that such a word necessarily is hiding that nuance, so as soon as it’s used with someone who doesn’t appreciate what you’re trying to say, you’re unable to communicate effectively. What’s worse, this kind of “team banner” holding results in conversations becoming much more emotional and us-vs-them – indeed, there are many psych experiments showing that the mere existence of team labels is enough to cause groups to grow vicious with each other.
There are some times where there are too many people and positions for nuance to be usable, in which case team banners can be really helpful to get everyone on the same page. But when you’re in a room with only a few people, trying to pin down specific solutions or ideas, I generally find these terms to be actively detrimental, and try to encourage people to taboo themselves from using these labels in order to ensure we all understand what each other really means.
Something is considered “anti-inductive” when the act of understanding the thing forces the thing to become more complicated. The easiest example is the stock market – if I were to uncover a method to extract value from the market regularly, the market would adapt and evolve until I could no longer do so. Interestingly, this kind of process seems to happen in communication a lot as well – and perhaps nowhere so much as in job interviews. Imagine if a company posted all the details of their interview process, and exactly what they were looking for. In the very short term, it would be helpful to candidates – they could quickly understand if they might be a fit, and prepare to show their best selves during the interview. But quickly, the system would be gamed, because people would realize they could make themselves seem like better candidates with strategic lies based on what the company was checking. The only way for the company to know that what they’re hearing is real, is to either engage in laborious background checks, or to put the interviewee under enough uncertainty and pressure that they could not plausibly have planned their final response.
It feels like there ought to be a better way. Right now, we’re trying to hit a middle ground at Modulate, where we do publish on our careers page info about what we’re looking for (not merely in skills but also in terms of culture fit), but are unable to share too much info about how we check for those things, for fear of the process being gamed. I’m not sure how best to resolve this conundrum, but I do find value in having this term of “anti-inductiveness” to capture the thing I’m trying to combat.
Were this musings useful or interesting to you? Looking forward to hearing feedback on the content, as well as whether or not this format is something people would get value from seeing more of!