July 13, 2018

Verbal scaffolding

This is about communication.

What I want to do is start at the beginning. I mean, isn’t that the most efficient way of bringing someone else up to speed? To give them all the information, to walk them through your thinking and then have them immediately understand and follow you?

Life has a start, a middle and an end, sure; but living is a continuum. There’s no way of communicating all of my experiences, education, conversations, hard won knowledge, and off the cuff heard comments in a short enough space of time that the other person will just Get It. They’ll be asleep long before then.

So I take short cuts.

I try to condense the context and background into a cohesive story that explains my point of view, or at least offers a starting point, but what comes out can be unintelligable. With time and preparation the story can be crafted properly, but on the fly, it’s much harder.

Recently I’ve found myself using a small collection of stock phrases, “verbal scaffolding” if you will, that help me quickly set context for things I’m about to talk about. These have helped me feel like I can afford to be wrong, which has been really powerful.

“In my experience … “

I have personal experience with this thing that you’re about to hear. By all means challenge it, but be aware this isn’t hypothetical for me, I lived it.

“Something I’ve seen before (but haven’t tried myself) …”

Variations on this theme are where I’ve been witness to someone else doing a thing, that seems eminently repeatable, but I haven’t actually done. This is harder for me to defend, because it’s not my experiences I’m recounting, it’s someone elses.

“I once read/heard about …”

Now we’re out of what I’ve done and what I’ve seen, and into the realm of what I’ve read about or heard about. I read a lot, sometimes I make connections, and sometimes things pop up that seem like they might be relevant. The best thing I can do in these situations, is if it seems important, to dig out and find the article/talk/blog and send it directly, for you to assess yourself.

“My gut response to this is …”

I don’t have anything except an instinct, and here it is. This could be a great thing to do, or a terrible one, and it’s going to be very personal to me so you may struggle to execute on this if you’re not similar to me.

All of these can sometimes be accompanied with my favourite disclaimer “free advice is worth as much as you’ve paid for it” and where appropriate “if it breaks you get to keep both halves”. Not to say what I say isn’t helpful, but I like to help and for my own sanity I need to make sure you take the right advice from the right people, and don’t start holding me responsible for something I read about once upon a time.

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