Sunday, June 9, 2019

My notes on J.B. Rainsberger's "Practical Tools for Playing Well with Others"


Presented by J.B. Rainsberger at www.oredev.org November 7th 2013


Conversations begin with Intake - See, hear, read

This can go wrong. We can hear wrong, misinterpret, misread.

This is an area we tend to assume isn't a problem but it often is. The gorilla test proves that. While we are focused on one thing we miss other things.

After Intake, conversations progress with Meaning - We decode the signals/symbols.

We have issues with meaning all the time. Same words can mean multiple things to different people and in different contexts.

This leads to arguing with people you agree with.

It's important to clarify meaning.
"Normally when somebody says xxx, they mean this, this, and that…, What did you mean when you said xxx just now?"

We need to establish how close we are to the meaning of the words, identify potential differences and see what we can do about it.

After Meaning we have Significance - Why did this just happen?

Significance has to do with the deeper meaning. The meaning behind the meaning.

Why is the other person behaving this way. Figuring out how to interpret the message.

The last part of the model is Response - After all the first three happen, we have to figure out how to respond to that.


Checking on perception before responding can help. Check intake.

Checking on misunderstanding before responding can help. Check Meaning.

Checking on misinterpretation before responding can help. Check Significance.

What did we see or hear that leads us to conclude our choice of response?

The path between Significance and response is REALLY hard to control.

It's best to assume that this path for others is hardwired and isn't going to chance.

Timestamp: 24:50

One of the ways that you can improve your interactions with people is by assuming that if somebody responded in an inappropriate, unexpected, threatening, unusual way; that that reaction was perfectly sensible, reasonable, and defensible given how they interpreted, understood, and perceived the situation.

Being hardwired, there is nothing we can do about it and there is nothing we ought to do about it. Let's fix the other areas instead.

Misperception is a difference of perception. Misperception is a wrong assumption that our way of perceiving things is the only right way of perceiving them. When there is a difference, it's best not to make a value judgment.

Same with misunderstanding. This is a difference of understanding.

Same with misinterpretation. This is a difference of interpretation.

Because these paths are so quick, at first all we can do with this model is debug a conversation after it happened. But that's a start. It can help to work from the bottom up.

How can we figure out why they interpreted it the way they did? Or understood it the way they did… or what they may have perceived that wasn't intended.

Timestamp: 31:25

It gets even more fun when you are so practiced at this that you can use this to pre-bug a conversation. TDD for conversations.

How might one interpret what I'm about to say?
Maybe I better choose different words.

How well do I know whether this persons understands the word I'm about to use?
Maybe I should try a different word.

Am I speaking clearly enough?
Maybe I'd better speak up or check my phone connection.

Timestamp: 32:40

Things really get interesting as we consider how your response leads to their intake and their response leads to your intake. This can spiral in terrifying ways.


Timestamp: 41:00

A Few Helpful Tricks

Think of three ways to interpret what just happened… before you respond if you can.

Ask, "What did you intend by that [surprising comment, question, action…]?"

Communicate in E-Prime to reduce judgmental perception. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-Prime)

Warn the other person when you need to say something uncomfortable.


Further reading:

Jerry Weinberg, "The Secrets of Consulting"
Mark Goulston, "Just Listen"
Stone, Patton, Heen, "Difficult Conversations"


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