Why You Should Spend Your Time Looking At The Real World


Monday, 7.32pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away. – Philip K. Dick, I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon

I caught a bit of a conflict resolution podcast and what caught my ear was how the same principles lie at the heart of defusing an argument, whether it’s a hostage negotiation or a dispute between children in school.

In addition, some much overdue tidying uncovered a copy of the Psychologist which had a special collection on how people communicate.

The introduction to the papers, by Elizabeth Stokoe, introduces you to how powerful words can be.

In a hostage negotiation, for example, the objective is to keep talking until the situation can be resolved.

Each “talking” encounter is like a pass in a football game – a series of successful passes is needed to get the ball to where it needs to be to score.

When Stokoe and her her colleague, Rein Sikveland, looked at the recordings they found that when the negotiators used the word “talk” the negotiation often broke down – the bad guys didn’t want to “talk”.

But they would “speak”.

One explanation, perhaps, that the word “talk” has been so overused over time that people have become resistant to it.

Parent’s want to “talk” to you, teachers bring you up to their desks for a “talk” and managers set a time for a quick “talk”.

You often don’t end up feeling better after that.

“Speak” has fewer of those associations, so maybe people react less poorly.

The thing, Stokoe points out is that you’d never have seen this if you hadn’t listened to the real thing – the actual recordings of the encounter.

Too many people study things that describe the real thing – what Stokoe quotes Roy Baumeister as calling “proxies” – surveys, questionnaires and the like.

What we should be doing is spending more time pushing through the force field that separates us from the real world and looking around.

Doing what’s called “naturalistic observation.”

It’s not easy to do, clearly, and it’s hard to pass off as science.

But it is – it’s anthropology, action research, grounded theory and gemba.

Think of it like this.

You could look at any place on earth now and probably find a picture and descriptions and videos and recommendations.

But would you still learn something new if you went for yourself?

I think the answer has to be – almost certainly.



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