Rule 3: Be Concise
Posted by bonesiii , Apr 07 2011 · 27 views
How to Disagree Well: Rule 3: Be Concise
Continuing my explanation of how to disagree well, today I'll look at rule 3. I know, it might seem so obvious there's no point in elaborating -- but there's a very important point here that might not seem obvious from a first glance that I think many BZPers need to hear.
To restate, the four rules are:
How to Disagree Well
1 Listen fairly
2 Avoid negative labels
3 Be concise
4 Speak your mind
Important points are bolded for optional skimming.
Let's jump right into the less obvious point first.
And that is the issue of semantics.
Many times I have encountered people who try to argue their perspective by picking out a key word in an opponent's argument, and nitpicking it to death, trying to argue to redefine it unnaturally, etc. But at the end of the day, they miss that the opponent was simply using the obvious, plain-English definition of the word. They spend a ton of words to really, in the end, just restate the exact same concept but with tons more words, and to try to enforce an awkward ban on using plain English.
Instead, we should try to relax and read people's posts for how they probably obviously mean them, and almost take it on ourselves as a moral that we try to use and appreciate Plain English with a Capital P and E. If you're unsure how they meant it, ask, etc.
That said, there IS such a thing as a poor word choice.
But just to use two examples from recent topics (names shall not be included here), someone seemed to try to argue how to define down the exact details of the words "MOCability" and someone else did the same for the word "poseability". They came across as trying to arbitrarily ban some concepts from counting, so that others couldn't use those words to describe those concepts, based on their own personally preferred emphasis on other concepts.
Neither are exactly normal English words. But if you relax and just ask "what do they mean by that?" you can intuitively understand what they meant by them.
And word definitions are determined by usage anyways -- any dictionary will usually list multiple meanings for any given word, for example, and new develop all the time.
What these members really meant was to simply say "I don't care personally as much about those aspects of MOCability or poseability; I focus more on these other aspects" and then list them. That could concisely get the point across without appearing to be argumentative.
I don't blame those members for missing this. Instead I try to explain in this entry what the better way would have been. =D
And the point is, in the end they spent many more words to say what could have been said with a few. Making walls of text.
The elaborations were interesting -- don't get me wrong. There's nothing super wrong with this as long as everybody is civil and in the end they all realize what I just said up there. At the very least it can generate more posts, lol.
But in practice, most people don't end up realizing that in the discussion and this is a good way for things to get antagonistic fast. People really don't like it when someone not only disagrees (which is their right), but appears to be trying to take even their own words away from them. It feels unfair to them, and for good reason, and many people don't know how to react to it. So they get angry.
So avoid it yeah?
Now -- you're probably shouting at the screen right now, "but bones, but bones, professors hate plain English? Should I be super concise and use only Plain English words in my term paper due tomorrow?"
Well... yes and no.
Frankly, a lot of teachers/professors have an attitude about the English language that isn't logical. They have an emotional desire to preserve "Standard Proper [read fancy-schancy ] English." And they loathe casual tones in papers.
That said, it's their class.
Let's just say I didn't get on the Dean's List at my college and get almost all As by putting this philosophy of mine into practice in school. That matters, so if you want the grade, do it their way.
Also, there's something understandable and easy to sympathize with about someone wanting to preserve the variation of English they personally love.
I put it in terms of dying languages. It's sad that knowledge of these languages is dying out and there's something admirable in someone who wants to preserve knowledge of it. That could be important for many reasons besides just cultural enrichment (okay, not really much enrichment in Professorspeak... but that's my bias maybe). At the very least, knowledge of past languages, dialects, or Standard Proper versions can help go back and understand things written in history, etc.
Plus even I agree with Profersorspeak folks about certain rules of grammar which when violated make for harder-to-understand communication or just silly looking mistakes. (Like "there" versus "their" or using the apostrophe s when you mean plural.) There's something to be said for professionalism even while using Plain English.
All that said, I do hope that one day Plain English will be embraced as Standard Proper English, along with a well-educated understanding of the benefit of immediately embracing the ongoing crafting of newer and better words and uses of words. While simultaneously documenting past incarnations of all speech and people learning old words just for variety, etc. The internet and computers are making that closer to a reality even as I type, heh.
Beyond focusing on using Plain English (where currently appropriate, like on BZP posts where it's just casual discussion ), you can also be concise by being careful not to just repeat the same idea over and over.
(Unless, possibly, you see that in discussion people missed that point, for example; it can be useful to repeat just that idea again, taking it out of all the other distracting points you'd previously raised.)
I for example have a really bad habit (yeah, I know you know ) of saying the same idea three different ways throughout a post. Usually 'cuz I'm just typing on the fly and I kinda forgot I'd said it lol. And in my mind I DO think of many different ways to word it -- and that's good. But at the end of the day, often it's better to pick the most effective one and cut the rest, versus showing people multiple facets of it (though that has its uses ) and losing them due to Wallotextitis.
Another very helpful idea is to watch your paragraph lengths and the "meter" of them. Paragraphs beyond four lines get very hard for human eyes to read. Break them up.
Also, the occasional one-liner paragraph or nearly so makes posts much easier to read. And feel concise.
Often what I do is I write a post, then I first go back and ask "does this paragraph have Wallotextitis? Yes, cut it up." Then I'll notice "hey, now the whole post seems long." And since it's now split up, it's easier for ME to see where I've repeated myself, and which wording I like best. Then I cut. Reorganize to improve the logicoemotive flow of it, and cut it so both the paragraphs AND the overall length are short. Ish.
For spoken equivalent, it's basically something you gotta learn as you gain experience, how to do a mental equivalent of this before you speak. Develop an intuitive sense of the most concise ways to say things -- that'll help ALL your communication.
And if you're still saying "But you've said HOW to be concise, now WHY?" at this point... that's basically it. Wallotextitis.
It's a Plain English made-up word that describes the reason. Get it? 'Cuz I'm not gonna bother using it to explain it further.