Friday, September 10, 2010

Communication Evaluation

Personal Debates
I have been evaluating a debate this week between myself and a couple of my friends that I play fantasy sport games with. The subject isn't important, what I've been trying to discover is whether I am doing a sufficient job at looking at the matter from their point of view, and at the same time requesting from them that they do the same.

In these back and forth message board posts, I believe that I have tried to take as honest a look as I can at their point of view. You know how sometimes when people debate something, they actually are not even debating the same subject, their retort is nothing more than a spin of the original argument that takes the discussion in a completely different direction? It's a turn of the debate to a topic similar but not exactly on point. I'm no communication master, so I don't know what this is called. Maybe a Red Herring or some cousin to that fallacy, I'm not exactly sure. No, a red herring fallacy is more deliberate, I guess the term should be Ignoratio Elenchi.

Anyway, I think I've made an honest attempt at seeing things from their perspective, but the debate points never seem to stay on topic. I've searched in their arguments for signs of an attempt to view the matter from a point of view not their own, but that has proven pointless. No, I'm not saying I'm a better man for making the attempt, I'm saying that their stubborness is increasingly frustrating. I think this is what some polititians go through, or at least zealouts in a political debate, or two lovers in a quarrel - they often get into arguments but not over the same subject, they just release their frustrations by making conclusions of things that may or may not be right but don't have anything to do with the suject at hand.

Guild and Raid Communication
There are far fewer methods of communication that are available to wow players than to you in your personal life. Not being in front of someone, seeing their facial expressions as they react to what you say, that's a big one. We communicate through text and voice, there is no body language (to the degree and significance of RL). But I think one of the mistakes that occur in debates with fellow guildmates or raid team members, is we fail not only to see things from the other's perspective, but we don't make the attempt.

Why is it important to make an honest attempt to see things from another person's point of view?

People often define the same experience in different ways, and yet can define different experiences in the same way. 10 People witness the same crime, each one had a different point of view, saw different things, felt differently. One may have been a mother with a baby and her instinct was to protect the child, and from that point of view she didn't take the time to study the features of the criminal. While another person, single, strong male, had nobody else to worry about except himself, and then makes a concerted effort to study the criminal's features in detail to relate to the police after. In order for the man to understand why the woman, who was standing right next to him, couldn't see in detail who had committed the crime, he would have to place himself in her shoes (not literally, of course) and try to understand what it means to have a child that you love, and want to protect even over your own life. It may be hard, and that man could probably never truly knows what that feels like until he has a child of his own, but he can still make that attempt to understand, and in that attempt he has acquitted himself.

Let's say you have someone in your guild who takes some time off from raiding to get a surgery, but your guild has a strict rule about attendance, that if somebody misses 2 raid nights in a row they are kicked from the guild. This example may be real or not, but that's not what I'm talking about here. Let's move forward.

So in this example the person who gets a surgery and is out for a month or so will come back online to find himself kicked from the guild. Or so he/she may expect due to the rules. But more than likely, this individual spoke with their guild leader and obtained an exception to the rule. Why did they grant the exception, in effect breaking an important guild rule? Because that guild leader, and hopefully all the guild members, were able to consider the situation from the perspective of that person needing the surgery. They could have subconsciously (or even consciously) asked themselves how they would feel in the same situation, needing time off for surgery but with the intention of returning to help the guild. They did what many people would consider fair (a word I hate, it's too ambiguous and relative, but you know what I mean).

Now, let's turn the situation around, and assume that the guild leader told this individual that the rules would be upheld, no exceptions for any reason. The person needing this surgery would probably be upset, leave the guild in anticipation of being kicked, and decide that either people are jerks or they will just take their medicine and search out a guild willing to work with them. I believe this would be a case where a guild leader not only failed but refused to look at the situation from a different point of view. What if he was the guild creator and was in the same situation, would he want himself stripped of the guild that he worked hard to create, like many owners of business are the moment they go public and leave the decision making to a board of directors? I don't think the guild leader would have liked that very much, he would want others to see the situation through his eyes, it would only seem "fair" to him.

This ability to see something or someone from their point of view is not as easy as I may make it seem. Often long-standing biases, traditions, moral values, ethic norms, or whatever influence us to approach the debate of a particular subject with massive barriers. We are unable to communicate effectively because of these biases, and it takes a great deal of effort to overcome them. But the principle is sound, trying to see things from a different perspective enhances communication and understanding between people. It does not mean that you, in making this attempt, must be swayed by their logic or reasons, but it does mean that you just may come to understand the pathway of logic that they used in forming their opinions.

Guild "Misunderstandings"
How well do you know the people in your guild? Do you know how they feel about wiping? Does the raid leader HATE wiping (I mean really hate it, as if they = complete failure)? If so, after a wipe do you make a funny comment about being cleaved in your pretty dress, only to be yelled at for not taking the raid seriously? The truth is you do take it seriously, but you don't view wipes and complete failure, and both your insensitivity and your raid leaders unwillingness to view wipes from a different point of view, which causes contention where understanding could be had both people known each other better.

Debates rage on many fronts. On the blogosphere, in guilds, in raid, in your work or your home. How many of these debates could be softened and concluded if we sought more actively to understand the other person's point of view before attacking them? Can men truly understand feminism? No. We're not women, we will never be and therefore lack that quality which would give us perfect understanding. But we sure as heck can TRY to understand, through education, listening skills, and taking the time to see them from their point of view.

Can Hardcore vs Casual ever be resolved? Well, that's a bad example, too many definitions for both, let's just move on.

Talent Complaints
Over on I read an article about the new T11 Set Bonuses. The comments opened up with some Warlock complaints. By the end of the first page of comments, there were people complaining about "the Warlocks complaining", and I couldn't help but think 'Do you play a Warlock? If you did you might just understand their point of view.' I'm not saying whether the Warlock's complaints were valid, and frankly it doesn't matter, but to argue with somebody without knowing why they are upset reeks of not making an attempt to see their opinions from their perspective.

This sort of thing I find quite often on forums and in the game itself. It's ok if you don't like it when people whine and complain about the new Cataclysm talents or tier set bonuses, but I think it would be better for everyone if they took the time to try and understand 'why' class X, Y or Z doesn't like talent/ability i, ii, or iii. If you take the time to ask them to clarify their complaints, you might just come to sympathise with them. Even if you don't, you have bridged a social gap and created a tie and a bond that is healthy between two people. When you show someone that you at least are trying to understand them, you have earned yourself loyalty and respect. When you don't try, when you just sit back and argue about things not directly related to the true issue, you only prove yourself to be selfish and closed-minded.

I don't know how my debate with my friends will end, I don't really have hope of them opening their minds, I think they have too many biased traditions that they hold on to. But I can try, I can still do my part. The same goes for all your communication, I would suggest that before you criticize somebody else that you take the time to step into their shoes and see things from their perspective. You don't have to end up agreeing with them, but you'll be the means of creating atmosphere's of mutual respect and understanding, something we all could use a little more of in this game that we love.

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