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Congruent communication

Congruent feedback refers to the content, focus and words used in feedback. When feedback is congruent, the given information is directly related to what a person has asked for. It may be useful or not useful, it may be what the other wishes to hear or not, but it is directly related to the question or request. In-congruent feedback, on the other hand, can give information that may be important, but is either not related to the focus, or adds another focus. Some examples:

  • If I ask for feedback on a high level design, “Wow! But I am not going to support it with development!” is hardly congruent. The focus of the information is not on the design. And “Wow!” is hardly concrete enough to improve any design with. What such feedback does do, is leave a “black hole” of non-information that the receiver of the feedback can fill in (or not). I have learned not to interpret non-information (there is simply too often too much of it going around), but a lot of people will spend time and energy on trying to decipher non-information. A waste of time and energy.
  • If I inform a team that I will not be available for a while because of having too many other things to do, I have not asked for advice to keep my mental state sane. Nor have I asked for emotional support. And when I include the details of why I have things to do, that does not necessarily signify that I feel guilty for being away from the project for awhile. It could be, but does not have to. It could also be that I do not wish to leave others with a “black hole” of non-information. One can only ask why the details were given.
  • It is common in agile development practices to first develop a user interface, that will gradually be filled with more functionality over time. Such a first interface does not have much functionality, if any. One can provide feedback on the colours, on the placing of elements, and ask questions on how easy it was to implement, whether there have been hurdles, what formats are required to link new functionalities in and the such, all focused on what is there and known at the moment. It is not congruent to focus on details of what is not there yet, and it can leave the maker with feelings of insufficiency.
  • If a person asks for more information on a by the project desired end-state, “xxx technology is THE future” is not really useful in the context of making a grounded detailed project plan, but it can be congruent, unless it is an “my agenda” attack, then it adds another focus. On the edge, this one.

In-congruent feedback and information does not have much to do with learning how to communicate better, nor with applying some formulated sentences that do not sound authentic, nor with how to lower barriers (of others). The words necessary for congruent responses are (usually) already in the givers' vocabulary and can come out of mouths (or keyboards) authentically once one puts oneself in the shoes of the receiver of the information. In short, it has to do with a lack of empathy, and often also with (perceived) power plays. But what will there be first, the chicken or the egg? One can practice empathy by thinking first, and considering self, other and context before producing feedback (or meta-communication).

  • In a simple contradiction a person says two things that contradict each other straightforwardly: “I do, but I don't”. It consists of assertions that are incompatible, but are at least out in the open, and the receiver can ask.
  • A paradox is a special kind of contradiction, where the incompatible statements exist on different “logical levels.” That is, one of the statements is part of the context of the other statement, as is the case in the first example above. These are significantly more difficult to decode and comment on.
  • A double bind is a special kind of paradoxical communication in that it is a paradox with two additional rules, giving four total requirements:
    • A verbal statement
    • A contradictory (non-verbal) context
    • A rule that you are not allowed to meta-communicate
    • A rule that you are not allowed to leave the field

Meta-communication (communication about the communication) is the key out of all of these situations. In the case of a true double bind, a third person may be required, but meta-communication is still the key. Something like, “What can you say to me right now that your intonation, body language and facial expression will agree with?”, or just leaving the field as a form of meta-communication (in which case it wasn't a true double bind).


en/research/stories/pm/communication.txt · Last modified: 2020/03/02 15:28 by Digital Dot