Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Understood ... misunderstood

The blog at herdingcats provided this little bit of wit:
Don't write so that you can be understood, write so that you can't be misunderstood. — William Howard Taft
Taft has a good point there:
  • Not only to be understood (meaning + context) 
  • But to not be misunderstood (meaning + context + motivations or expectations)
Not so fast!
It's often not that simple

You want not to be misunderstood:
First, for understanding, start with the three step process for communications

To be understood, steps 1 and 2:
1. Tell 'em what you're going to tell them
2. Tell them

To not be misunderstood, step 3:
3. Tell them what you told them

Second, to avoid misunderstanding, deal with these hazards:
  • Missing or ambiguous antecedents (Pronouns should be banned! Be specific with names, as example: Tom and Jerry wrote the report. But there were complaints about the analysis that was done; he should have done it more carefully)
  • Big words not commonly understood (intellectual arrogance) 
  • You've got in your head, but you don't get it down on paper (and you don't know you didn't get it down on paper)
    Typically the context or connections with prior thoughts are missing on paper.
    The best way to address this missing material: compose the words now and read them a day later .... does the wording still make sense?
You want, or can tolerate, misunderstanding by some, but not all
You don't want your intended correspondent to misunderstand, but it's ok if everybody else misunderstands, even as they seemingly understand.
  • In politics: plausible denial (everyone's favorite go-to). The words are understood, even as the intended understanding -- deliberately open to misunderstanding -- is obscure. (Make them an offer they can't refuse)
  • In security: You and I have the code for the plain text, but others see and understand the coded text differently.
    As example: Coded text, i.e. what the world understands: "Play the piano"; Plain text (what you and I really understand): "Start the process"
  • In command and control: interpretable instructions or vision. To wit: strategic wording written down, but implementing details and interpretations left to others
    (In effect, delegation to the tactician or field commander. But sometimes you let interpretation "live" with the times and circumstances [so-called "living documents"])

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