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Hacking Verbal Communications

Ryan Alexander
June 24, 2016

Hacking Verbal Communications

An introduction to using the Occupy Movement hand signals to improve your group conversations.

Ryan Alexander

June 24, 2016


  1. Hacking Verbal Communication Systems #ConvoHack @RNAlexander [00:00] Hello! My name

    is Ryan Alexander and I am the Lead back-end Developer for the Money Advice service. Just a quick bit of housekeeping: These slides will be available after the conference, I’ll post a link to them on my site at RNAlexander.com
  2. [@]RNAlexander[.com|@gmail] #ConvoHack @RNAlexander This is how to find me. Please

    note you don’t need to capitalise the ‘RNA’ part. Also I’ve totally stolen the talk-specific hashtag idea and for this talk it’ll be #ConvoHack
  3. #ConvoHack @RNAlexander [00:40] I would like to talk to you

    about improving how we have our conversations. This is what google gives me for the definition of conversation. The word to pay attention to in that definition is ‘exchange’. Conversations are not a one-way thing. They’re made up of multiple ideas. Navigating the brackish water between technical and non technical people is one of our core skills as Leads. This often means we’re translating in both directions but before we can translate anything, we’ve got to hear it first. We need to bring diverse sets of expertise to bear on our goals, individuals doesn’t just need to be heard, their ideas need to interact. There needs to be a back and forth, and a lot of the time, that’s going to be happening through conversations.
  4. Flow Control #ConvoHack @RNAlexander [1:30] So I’m going to narrow

    in on a very specific part of conversation. Flow control (with a pinch of consensus modeling, ‘cause those are totally linked.) And that’s where we’re going to implement our hack. So, who controls the flow?
  5. We all do, but collectively #ConvoHack @RNAlexander The simple answer

    is we all do, but collectively. In fact, we’re doing it right now. I’ve got a lot of control, but I’m still paying attention to your feedback. Are you shuffling or still, are you staring at me or at your phones? The longer answer is where we get into some interesting , hackable possibilities.
  6. We have complex semi-conscious real-time algorithms which we use in

    collaboration with other people’s complex semi-conscious real-time algorithms to control the flow of the conversation. #ConvoHack @RNAlexander …and if that sounds like a big mess, IT IS. These algorithms are complex, and every person’s is different.
  7. So let’s hack those algorithms! #ConvoHack @RNAlexander Quick confession, this

    is not an original hack, most of us have been doing versions of this hack since we were kids, in fact, that very childhood association is usually one of the things that make people resistant to trying this, but I’m going to try to show you that it’s worth doing.
  8. #ConvoHack @RNAlexander [3:30] - Occupy Movement, coming from Quaker meeting

    - Speaking / flow control section - 1 symbol for stay on topic - 3 symbols for 3 kinds of interrupts - The Want to Talk symbol is like raising your hand in school - Feeling / consensus section - Agree and don’t agree used - oppose and block almost never used
  9. Flaws in our algorithms #ConvoHack @RNAlexander [7:00] To illustrate how

    these symbols can help our conversations, I’d like to take a look at what are, in my experience, two of the most common weaknesses of our existing collective algorithms:
  10. We use pauses in our language as part of the

    flow control signalling, this generates race conditions #ConvoHack @RNAlexander And this is why Latency screws us up. These pauses are the starting pistols for the next point in the conversation. Once they’re fired, the race is on. But what if it takes an extra second or two for some of the runners to hear that pistol fire? You can see this happening when there are groups of people talking over remote connections, and you can *really* see this happening when you have two or more small groups of people talking over a remote connection. The symbol hack mitigates this problem by removing that ‘starting pistol’ you can put up your hand at the moment you realise you want to enter into the flow of conversation, and you can do that because you don’t have to interrupt the conversation itself to publish that signal. It also helps you listen because you can spend more attention to the content of what’s being said, and less on early-pause-detection. But even when everyone’s hearing that starting pistol at the same time, some of us are just faster off the mark. In fact some of us, won’t even wait for the pistol, which brings us to flaw number two.
  11. Inserting yourself into conversation is a skill that is unevenly

    distributed and has no correlation to the value of what is to be said. #ConvoHack @RNAlexander Just to be clear, not everyone who’s good at interrupting is an asshole, but interrupting someone else is kind of an asshole thing to do. Even worse, when someone jumps that starting pistol, usually everyone else just doesn’t bother to signal and goes back to waiting to speak. And when than happens we only see the current speaker being stepped on, not all the people who were waiting to talk, and those are often the most marginalised voices. And again, this is where the symbols help in three ways: - you don’t have to step on someone else’s speech to make your bid to enter the conversation - they allow everyone to see all of the people who might wish to speak - they require you to classify the nature of your interrupt, so that someone who needs clarification within the current context can be prioritised over someone who wants to talk about the next thing.
  12. Bonus points! • Doesn’t work audio-only / disadvantages seeing-impaired •

    Can be much friendlier for neurodiverse individuals • Can help encourage underrepresented people to contribute • Works great with an explicit facilitator (makes their job easier) • Facilitator can implement a ‘progressive stack’ #ConvoHack @RNAlexander
  13. Give it a try, and Thank You! Slides will be

    on RNAlexander.com Handsignals image and more information: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupy_movement_hand_signals #ConvoHack @RNAlexander