dandelion_in_breeze.jpg“Writing is hard in part because words have many associations that vary among readers. Even when we carefully choose our words to signal certain associations, we know some readers will instead hear other associations. So in addition to saying what we do mean, we sometimes have to say explicitly what we do not mean.” – Robin Hanson

Common assumptions/presumptions:

– If you dislike a proposed solution to a certain problem, you don’t care about the problem.

– If you worry that more A will cost too much, you don’t care about A at all.

– If you say anything nice (or critical) about a group or person, you are presumed to support (or oppose) them overall.

– If you say you prefer option A to option B, you also prefer A to any option C.

– If you quote someone, you agree with everything that person has said.

– Any general claim about human behavior is presumed an absolute law without exception unless you add qualifiers, such as “tends” or “often.”

– If you say anything that correlates with a racial or ethnic group, you are prejudiced.

Sometimes words become hot buttons, code phrases, that have meaning beyond their literal meaning. We can become “stuck in a signaling game” where the clarity of our communication is lost because of those embedded emotional triggers. One solution is to “call the game,” explicitly discuss the meta messages being sent, the common assumptions/presumptions being made.

Awareness is the first step.

Note: The above bullet points were largely taken from a Web posting by a Robin Hanson, who I believe to be the following from Wikipedia: Robin Hanson (born 1959) is an associate professor of economics at George Mason University. He is known as an expert on idea futures markets and was involved in the creation of the Foresight Exchange and DARPA’s FutureMAP project. He also is known for inventing Market Scoring Rules like LMSR (Logarithmic Market Scoring Rule), used by prediction markets such as Inkling Markets and Washington Stock Exchange, and has conducted research on signaling. Hanson has received publicity in many mainstream publications such as The New York Times and a 2003 article in Fortune, which examined Hanson’s work.