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Julia_Galef comments on Tell Culture - Less Wrong

109 Post author: BrienneYudkowsky 18 January 2014 08:13PM

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Comment author: Julia_Galef 19 January 2014 08:18:50AM 51 points [-]

"I'm beginning to find this conversation aversive, and I'm not sure why. I propose we hold off until I've figured that out."

I read this suggested line and felt a little worried. I hope rationalist culture doesn't head in that direction.

There are plenty of times when I agree a policy of frankness can be useful, but one of the risks of such a policy is that it can become an excuse to abdicate responsibility for your effect on other people.

If you tell me that you're having an aversive reaction to our conversation, but can't tell me why, it's going to stress me out, and I'm going to feel compelled to go back over our conversation to see if I can figure out what I did to cause that reaction in you. That's a non-negligible burden to dump on someone.

If, instead, you found an excuse to leave the conversation gracefully (no need for annoyed body language), you can reflect on the conversation later and decide if there is anything in particular I did to cause your aversive reaction. Maybe so, and you want to bring it up with me later. Or maybe you decide you overreacted to a comment I made, which you now believe you misinterpreted. Or maybe you decide you were just anxious about something unrelated. Overall, chances are good that you can save me a lot of stress and self-consciousness by dealing with your emotions yourself as a first pass, and making them my problem only if (upon reflection) you decide that it would be helpful to do so.

Comment author: Creutzer 19 January 2014 09:57:56AM *  19 points [-]

Interesting, I have the exact opposite gut reaction. It could be rephrased in slight variations, e.g. "until we've figured that out", or, as shokwave below suggested, with a request for assistance, but in general, if someone said that to me, I would, ceteris paribus, infer that they are a self-aware and peaceful/cooperative person and that they are not holding anything in particular against me.

Whereas when someone leaves a conversation with an excuse that may or may not be genuine, it leaves me totally stressed-out because I have no idea what's going on and now I have the burden of figuring everything out on my own, about another person who is obviously intent on not sending many informative signals. Great.

Comment author: ChristianKl 19 January 2014 05:56:32PM 7 points [-]

I also find that line a bit strange. In nearly all cases where I would expect that someone says: "I'm beginning to find this conversation aversive, and I'm not sure why" I think I would take it as a topic change to why the conversation might bring up negative emotions in the person.

If we are in an environment of open conversation and I say something that brings up an emotional trauma in another person and that person doesn't have the self-awareness to know why he's feeling unwell, that's not a good time to leave him alone.

Comment author: bokov 23 January 2014 03:08:01PM 2 points [-]

If we are in an environment of open conversation and I say something that brings up an emotional trauma in another person and that person doesn't have the self-awareness to know why he's feeling unwell, that's not a good time to leave him alone.

?! Depends. If you don't understand that person intimately or aren't experienced at helping less self-aware (aka neurotypical) people process emotional trauma, it's probably a very good time to leave him alone. Politely.

Comment author: ChristianKl 23 January 2014 11:44:40PM 2 points [-]

If you don't understand that person intimately

You don't need to understand another person to help them. Even if you do understand another person well enough to know what triggered them, telling them can be invasive and therefore needs some amount of implicit of explicit permission.

Being there and being a stable anchor is often better than trying to interfere with their state. That means if you are mentally flexible about changing your state opening up on your side and allowing the emotions to rise in you to a level that similar to the other person but more calm. If you are not flexible and can meditate, that usually a good state to go to.

For me the only reason to leave is if I'm myself not in a stable emotional place. But I can certainly understand if other people generally don't see themselves in a position to help.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 23 January 2014 03:56:27PM 1 point [-]

Interesting.

My default move would be to sit quietly in their presence and pay attention, rather than leave.
Why would leaving be better?

Comment author: blacktrance 23 January 2014 04:44:05PM 0 points [-]

Because if you don't know them intimately, you're likely to make them feel uncomfortable by intruding on their trauma.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 23 January 2014 04:48:26PM 2 points [-]

Is the likelihood of that greater than the likelihood of making them feel uncomfortable by abandoning them in their (recalled) trauma?

(I realize that "abandoning" is a very connotationally loaded term; I choose it here to counterbalance "intruding." I'm happy to switch to less loaded terms if you prefer.)

Comment author: blacktrance 23 January 2014 04:58:56PM 1 point [-]

It's likely to be worse than leaving them politely. Whether it's worse than just getting up and leaving depends on the person and situation.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 23 January 2014 05:55:23PM 0 points [-]

Fair enough. I'm not at all sure that's true -- certainly when I'm experiencing recalled trauma I would far prefer that people sit quietly with me than that they politely leave, but of course one data point isn't especially useful in this case -- but certainly if it is true the rest follows. Do you have any data to support that?

Comment author: blacktrance 23 January 2014 06:01:54PM 0 points [-]

No data, just introspection and personal observation. Maybe it's a variation in people's preferences.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 20 January 2014 01:29:40AM 9 points [-]

Yes, my version of this always goes, "I'm finding this conversation aversive and I don't know why. Hold on while I figure it out." In other words, it doesn't delay a conversation until later, but it does mean that I close my eyes for 60 seconds and think.

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 20 January 2014 09:45:29AM 11 points [-]

I'm finding this conversation and I don't know why.

You accidentally a word, I think?

Comment author: DaFranker 20 January 2014 02:06:18PM 28 points [-]

If you speak the words fast enough and with enough conviction, your audience's brain will fill in the gap with whatever pleases them while you retain full plausible deniability. Win!

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 21 January 2014 03:04:28AM 3 points [-]

Fixed.

Comment author: shokwave 19 January 2014 09:51:51AM *  8 points [-]

I hope rationalist culture doesn't head in that direction.

Something like "I'm finding this conversation aversive, and I'm not sure why. Can you help me figure it out?" would be way more preferable. Something in rationalist culture that I actually do like is using "This is a really low-value conversation, are you getting any value? We should stop." to end unproductive arguments.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 19 January 2014 04:53:58PM 20 points [-]

To the latter, your interlocutor says (or likely, thinks to themselves):

"Uh, actually, I was rather enjoying that conversation. I thought it had value. But I guess I was wrong; it seems you do not find me interesting, or think that I am annoying. That hurts."

Working as intended?

Comment author: Lachouette 06 April 2014 10:39:02AM 3 points [-]

Actually when a person is hurt they might not be in a state of mind to phrase it like that. I know that I tend to focus on the feeling of being hurt first, and it is incredibly difficult to not react indirectly with defensiveness which would be directed at something other than "I guess you don't find me interesting", because that shows vulnerability. A person (like unreflected me) might instinctively attack in a different area to "retaliate" to what they felt was a surprise attack on their self-worth. I am working on this, but I doubt most people with this problem are.

Which should be kept in mind, I think: I agree with ChristianKI that open communication is preferable here, but in a situation where you create emotions in the other person they might find it impossible to stay rational even if their system 2 wants to.

Solution? I actually do like the idea of ending useless conversations very much. I would rephrase it less bluntly which reduces the confrontation. What bothers me about this one is definite statements, e.g. "We should stop". It implies you expect the other person to have the same opinion as you, which isn't in the spirit of Tell Culture.

Suggestion: "I got the feeling that this conversation is not really helping me right now. What is your impression on this? If you agree with me, perhaps we could switch topics?" (or offer to shift the conversation into a specific direction that you would enjoy)

Generally I would match the carefulness to my impression of how much the other person enjoys the conversation.

Comment author: maia 21 January 2014 12:25:30AM 2 points [-]

Alternately, they say: "Uh, actually, I was enjoying that conversation. In particular, I was interested in the part where [stuff]. Maybe we could focus on talking about that part?" And then maybe you compromise on a conversational topic, rather than interpreting the rejection of the conversation as a rejection of you.

Or in the ideal case, "Oh, I wasn't actually enjoying it either, I was just talking about it because I thought you still wanted to. Great, let's change the subject."

Comment author: ChristianKl 19 January 2014 06:15:27PM 2 points [-]

Yes. Getting good social feedback is valuable. If the person says that you can reassure them that you generally like them as a person but that going down that particular argument to decide who's right just doesn't interest you.

There are arguments about who's right that are unproductive and stopping them and explaining your reasoning to the other person can be valuable for a person with low social skills even if it hurts them a bit.

I rather prefer getting honest social feedback and not getting looked down upon to not knowing what I'm doing wrong and getting looked down upon.

But it does depend on the culture in which things are said. There are situations where one can be open and other's where it's more difficult.

There might also be cases where the other person think the conversation has value and says: "Actually you making that argument is the first time I heard it, so even if you already made in ten times in the past, I'm really interested in understanding that argument better."

That's very useful information and hearing it might make the conversation a lot more fun for both participants.

The sentiment could be worded nicer, but it does achieve it's ends.

Comment author: Creutzer 19 January 2014 06:25:31PM *  4 points [-]

The end is you getting out of a conversation that annoys you with total disregard for the other person's feelings? Because the way shokwave phrased it is really incredibly blunt.

Comment author: ChristianKl 19 January 2014 07:01:58PM 2 points [-]

The end is you getting out of a conversation that annoys you with total disregard for the other person's feelings? Because the way shokwave phrased it is really incredibly blunt.

There are plenty of unproductive discussions in rational circles where you can reasonably assume that the other person is arguing to win a debate and not because he finds a discussion interesting.

I think those discussion are situation where shokwave might say those words. In those cases they are spoken with the interest of the other person in mind.

Of course you can be wrong about that in your reading of the situation. If you pay attention to the other person you should notice when they have a meaningful emotional reactions to the words that you are saying.

In those cases you can readjust the emotional impact by telling them something nice about them and starting a new thread of discussion in the process.

While I personally wouldn't be as blunt I have meet plenty of people who have no problem being that blunt while also doing enough to signal that they like the person they are interacting with to avoid harming them strongly.

Additionally I would personally prefer that if I'm walking around with body odor that someone would tell me, even if he would tell me in a way that produces a bit of temporary emotionally displeasure. I would predict that a significant amount of people who are part of the rationalist community share that preference.

I like getting honest feedback from other people. If someone puts me in a state of deep emotional turmoil I think they are responsible to stay there and do what they can to fix it if they aren't requested to leave. But to the extend that I do have control over myself I won't look down on them for providing honest feedback.

Comment author: shokwave 20 January 2014 01:08:21PM *  1 point [-]

really incredibly blunt

It's possible that it is too blunt. My instinct (calibrated on around half a hundred nights of conversation with Australian LessWrongers in person) says that it's not, though.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 February 2014 12:10:24AM 3 points [-]

Something like "I'm finding this conversation aversive, and I'm not sure why. Can you help me figure it out?" would be way more preferable.

It seems that preferences must vary on this one. This one seems much more potentially problematical because it pulls the other into your (already aversive) emotional world. It can work if there is already a huge amount of rapport and intimacy but the other more independent request seems safer.

Something in rationalist culture that I actually do like is using "This is a really low-value conversation, are you getting any value? We should stop." to end unproductive arguments.

I really do like whatever variants of the theme "Agree to d̶i̶s̶a̶g̶r̶e̶e̶ STFU" that can be made to work.

Comment author: wedrifid 31 January 2014 11:50:59PM 2 points [-]

"I'm beginning to find this conversation aversive, and I'm not sure why. I propose we hold off until I've figured that out."

[I do not endorse that particular conversation move. Nor do I particularly discourage it, between Tell culture users.]

I observe that this objection to the exit strategy the problem is that 'Tell culture' is not being used by the receiving party. The receiving party is interpreting the information through the filter of some variety of non-Tell culture and essentially reading a different message than the one sent. This is a real problem but it is a real problem relating to speaking a language different to the audience, not a problem that applies to the communication via the language itself.

Speaking 'Tell Culture' phrases to someone who is not both familiar with the communication style and happy to use it should not be expected to work well.

There are plenty of times when I agree a policy of frankness can be useful, but one of the risks of such a policy is that it can become an excuse to abdicate responsibility for your effect on other people.

The complimentary risk here is that your opposing policy can become (or inherently is) an excuse to abdicate responsibility for ones own thoughts and behaviour onto someone else. Neither are particularly healthy habits.

If you tell me that you're having an aversive reaction to our conversation, but can't tell me why, it's going to stress me out, and I'm going to feel compelled to go back over our conversation to see if I can figure out what I did to cause that reaction in you.

Note that the speakers words explicitly claim responsibility and even go so far as to propose that even if the other person can figure the stuff out the speaker still has to figure it out for herself before the condition is met. It also contains no more (in fact, almost certainly much less) information than is contained in the uncontrollable communication via facial expressions, voice tone and body language while ending the conversation. The difference is there isn't level of social 'role play' where people pretend that information has not been communicated and where if that information is formally acknowledged to be communicated it is the equivalent to shouting or using all-caps.

That's a non-negligible burden to dump on someone.

Or if looking at from the perspective of assigning responsibility to the active party that's a non-negligible burden that, someone walked up and forcibly took as there own because it wasn't kept hidden. The speaker actually set up boundaries around the aversion-experience-analysis territory that imply that would be somewhat presumptive (or irrelevant) if the listener assumed responsibility for the analysis. The listener's problem is that she has incompatible 'Guess culture boundaries.

If, instead, you found an excuse to leave the conversation gracefully (no need for annoyed body language), you can reflect on the conversation later and decide if there is anything in particular I did to cause your aversive reaction.

Being able to reliably suppress natural body language is a powerful (and rare) skill and makes all sorts of social tasks easier. Of course even in the limit of perfect emotional emulation and poise any listener familiar with your skill an propensity to hide aversion is, on average, left with exactly the same p(I did something that caused an aversive reaction) as they would with the transparent person. The probability mass is simply shifted away from the correct outcome to the false ones. ie. You have to spend effort guessing whether as well as what.

Or maybe you decide you were just anxious about something unrelated. Overall, chances are good that you can save me a lot of stress and self-consciousness by dealing with your emotions yourself as a first pass,

(I do actually agree entirely. There is no way I'm going to go about sharing half-baked emotion revelations. That gives people the impression that can or should interfere with my internal decision making structures that my emotions are part of. I'll tell people things when it is useful for me and I know what I want.)

and making them my problem only if (upon reflection) you decide that it would be helpful to do so.

Again, as a Tell culture communication (to an appropriate audience) this isn't making it their problem. And this isn't just referring to 'ideal Tell Culturites in a vacuum'. In my experience more as a recipient of that kind of statement than a speaker it really doesn't provoke stressful rumination or analysis of fault. It is a whole heap more relaxing than the inevitable underlying friction that aversive feelings produce.

Conclusion: The moral here is that making (incompatible) Tell Culture revelations to people living in a Guess Culture mindset can be tactless, selfish, ineffective and frustrating to both parties.

Comment author: therufs 20 January 2014 07:57:19PM 2 points [-]

If I'm having some kind of internal experience that may color my interpretation of what my interlocutor is trying to tell me, I feel like I owe it to them and whatever we're discussing to stop the conversation as soon as I realize something is wrong, since if e.g., it turns out I'm sleepy, taking a nap wouldn't (I think) be sufficient to fully counteract the negative opinion of the topic I formed when I was crabby.

Could you give an example of a graceful exit? For me, interrupting a conversation without saying why I'm actually doing it feels dishonest/rude, especially if we're discussing something that's important enough for me to care that I treat it fairly.