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Better communication through gamesmanship

By March 11, 2005Uncategorized

I was talking to someone the other day who does counselling for a living and I told her that I believed it was often hard to get people accept certain propositions.  Most people, I said, are reluctant to accept ideas just because someone tells them ‘it’s a good idea.’  If you want to get people to accept an important idea, "the best you can do is to trick them into getting curious enough about the idea to think about it a lot."  If they think about it enough with a sense of curiousity then they might accept it, believing (rightly so) that it was their own choice to accept the idea.

I didn’t put forth my notion so eloquently when I was talking to her; instead I pretty much said you have to trick people to get them to accept many propositions.  Her response to me was: "well why not just be up-front with people? It’s sounds to me like you are just playing games."

I felt put down.  Obviously, she hadn’t accepted my proposition.

Then I realized I had made the mistake of simply advancing a radical notion without taking care to explain it carefully.  Would she have been more receptive if I had done so?  Maybe, or maybe not.  But I’m pretty sure that I didn’t do the best job I could in conveying the idea, so that’s really all that I can focus on.

One other thing occured to me as I thought about her comment.  What’s so bad about gamesmanship?  Aren’t most games about developing strategy?  And isn’t selecting the optimal way of communicating a strategic act?

Clearly neither one of us was being very strategic in our discussion.   I  didn’t like that she used the word ‘games’ and she didn’t like that I used the word ‘trick.’  I thought by using that word I would quickly convey the pivotal idea that communication sometimes requires subtlety.  I thought I was being direct with her; I could have made up a fancy diatriabe about ‘cautious presentation of radical notions that the recipient is likely to resist accepting.’   Instead I foolishly chose a straightforward (but overly simplistic) approach, and got rebuked.

Lesson learned.  The way you present things is as important as what you say.  Sometimes the quick direct approach works, and sometimes it doesn’t.  But, I do think that communicating effecively involves thinking about strategy, and to that extent there’s definitely some gamesmanship involved.

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