• PhD

    A quiet moment

    Quiet moments – I don’t get many of these. So I am savouring the moment. It won’t last – by tomorrow morning, or probably as I prepare to go to sleep, things will have moved again at great speed. But for now, things are quiet. After the weekend and after having completed another 2 1/2 week stretch on my research project, and just before I go back the day job. Bliss.

    Speaking of the day job, I came back to it in the second week of January from my gloriously long leave. There were hundreds of mails, and more pouring in. Most were either requests for knowledge or attempts to involve me in some project. Hmm. I worked late in order to get rid of them. Must find a way to prevent that from happening again. Or perhaps, as a colleague suggested, come a back a day early and not tell anyone 🙂

    Source: dilbert.com

    Between those, this is my own very secret project: trying to make the Dutch Tax office, or even better, the country, a safe(r) place. In terms of digital information, that is. You probably think that this would be an impossible task for me by my lonesome, and you would be right. But still I try. I will be pensioned off in 2742 days from now and I would love to look back at that point and think that I made a small contribution. Or at least have not made things much worse. So much work, so little time. I will return to it tomorrow. For today is my official old-crone-leave day which I spend on academic things.

    Today was my 3-weekly meeting with my supervisor. I send him status reports a few days beforehand, but I think I may be sending them in too late, because I think he had not been able to read it all. Mind you, I speak to him more frequently than I ever did before, so perhaps it does not matter. Or perhaps the way I present my information does not resonate (lots of diagrams). Or he is simply too busy. Anyway, most of our talk today went to repeating and explaining what I had been doing, and when the ideas are new, I always find it difficult to express myself. I think he wants me to start collecting hard evidence, and so do I, but I need, must have the general picture in my head before I can start. We are agreed on the kind of work that needs to be done: locate those bits – traces; I suppose – people put in our conversation which are not about information, but about the relationship with the audience. It is just that I need a framework to start investigating – just noting that a conversation is “face-to-face” simply is not enough.

    So what did I find by the way of theoretical framework? Well, I ran into this guy called Watzlawick who was inspired by Bateson (who invented the double-bind) and in his turn inspired Janet Bavelas who spent her life trying to prove that Watzlawick was right – with some tweaks and alterations. I spent nearly 3 weeks dissecting his 1967 book, and it taught me a lot, apart from what Bavelas is on about, which I still need to investigate further. The basic idea is this:

    Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four-sides_model

    What I like about it, it that preserves both the relationship side (what I or you must do, believe, think, avoid whatever) and the factual information side (he calls that “digital” because it its on-off character). In fact, according to Watzlawick, many misunderstanding and disagreements come from misreading the most important side – the relationship side (he calls that “analog”) or confusing the two. Did you know that when reading out a simple list of words, we automatically check if they are appropriate to our audience? Hence, we are much slower in reading out words we think are offensive to whoever is listening. Not mind blowing, just to show that both sides of the message count.

    Why is it important? Well, it had not occurred to me that there may be a common base to conflict and misunderstanding from getting tangled up and confusing the relationship and the informative side of a conversation. Experienced negotiators know this, of course, but I did not :-). I seem to recall that such styles play a role in business communication ( see: thinking in colours) and in autism. Must investigate.
    There is also a nice bit on paradoxical communication – not my subject, but still fun:

    “You sure write good!” (Watzlawick et al, 1967)

    There was one other thought that hit me: misunderstandings are something you cannot agree upon between you. The misunderstanding would instantly disappear. You could agree in retrospect that there was a misunderstanding, but not at the time it is happening. Which is weird. It also means that you could be wrong about the nature of the misunderstanding you had with someone, even if you are both agreed on it. Which I suppose could also be true of disagreements.

    If you feel like it, start sending in misunderstandings. I created an English and a Dutch form on the opening screen of this site, under the heading “misunderstandings“. There is some stuff about not putting in private information, but that is obligatory these days – you understand, I am sure.