Effective Communication

David Musick (David_Musick@msn.com)
Fri, 8 Nov 96 22:27:43 UT

E. Shaun Russell laments the fact that humans often assume too much that isn't
based on facts. And he laments that fact-based discussions are boring. He
says, "There has to be some sort of equilibrium between fact and filler.
There must be some way to say what we want to say while still keeping some
sense of 'being human' within our words."

I think one way to avoid many of the problems with assumptions is to never
forget that an assumption is an assumption, based on certain facts that you
actually experience. Using the automobile accident example that Shaun brought
up, the person seeing the crashed cars may reasonably assume that one of them
was going too fast. This may or may not be true, so they should remember that
it is only an assumption, while the fact that they saw crashed cars is a fact.

So when they get home, they can tell their friends, "I saw a couple crashed
cars downtown. I think one of them was going too fast, because the other one
was smashed up really badly and thrown up on the sidewalk. Or maybe the one
that got hit, ran the red light and went in front of the other car. I'm not
really sure. But there was glass all over the street and sidewalk, and the
left side of one car was smashed in really bad, and the front end of the other
one was all mangled up. I bet the driver of the car that got hit was killed
or hurt pretty badly; there were three ambulances there and two firetrucks,
and the police were still pouring in and starting to direct traffic."

This way, they're stating the facts of what they saw and then stating what
they're assuming, given those facts. They've given a lot of facts and
assumptions, but someone listening knows what they actually saw and what
they're assuming from that because they use words like "I saw" and "I think"
and "I bet" and "there was". It's a matter of training yourself to accurately
say things. If you're talking about something you observed, then make it
clear that it is something you observed, and if you're talking about something
you are assuming from your observations, make that clear as well. If you're
expressing your opinion, make it clear that you're doing that. And it doesn't
have to be dry and boring, like my example shows; it just has to be clear to
the listener what you actually saw and what you are assuming.

I'm reminded of the part in _Stranger in a Strange Land_, by Robert Heinlen,
where a Fair Witness is asked what color a house in the distance is. She
says, "White, on this side." The Fair Witnesses are trained to observe
everything very carefully and remember everything fully. They are very good
at separating observation from assumption.

- David Musick

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