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Basic: the map is not the territory, even when it’s a flag


I’ve put off commenting on this controversy, mainly because I have no interest in taking part in whatever the current social media flavor-of-the-month might be. But this particular one is continuing, and the discussion almost inevitably neglects to take into account a basic principle of communication, a neglect that not only fuels controversy, but fuels violence.

Alfred Korzybski in particular made us aware of this basic principle through his insights in the field that became known as general semantics.

General semantics involves a lot of insights, actually, but the one I’m focusing on today is this: the map is not the territory.
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Some advice about giving advice

Advice button

I have it lucky, in a way. Because I post on a blog, I can assume that if you are here, it’s OK for me to give advice. After all, if you don’t want it, you won’t come here in the first place–unless you just like hearing me bleed!

Perhaps you have noticed (as have I, though I am still working on remembering what I’ve noticed) that face-to-face advice works differently. Just because people have problems doesn’t mean they are open to your advice. Even if they say, “I have a problem,” they may still simply seek a sympathetic ear rather than advice.

Why People May Not Want Your Advice not only looks into the psychology of the phenomenon, but also offers solid advice about how to avoid giving too much advice. But don’t go looking at it unless you actually want advice!

Photo from Flickr user GotCredit under CC attribution license.

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Dear “Insurance” Company


Dear “Insurance” Company:

You have once more taken me on a journey of cognitive dissonance. When I went to the pharmacy to pick up my daughter’s new anti-seizure medication, they told me they couldn’t release it yet because you were requiring “prior authorization from the doctor.” Here’s the thing: A medical professional evaluated my daughter’s symptoms, considered all his options, and decided this medicine was the best way to address them. That’s about as close to prior authorization as any reasonable person would require.

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Knowing and “knowing” are not the same

doctor smoke

I just came from the grocery store. You see people you know there if you live in a relatively small town. As I was checking out, I saw one of Hannah’s respiratory therapists outside the front of the store. I knocked on the window to get her attention, and she reacted, but didn’t seem sure what the noise was or where it came from.

She then put a cigarette to her lips and pulled a long drag.

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Communication lessons from my daughter

Road Closed Detour sign

I’ve mentioned my special needs daughter here before. I don’t talk about her here a lot, although in many ways she is the center of my life, because the focus of this blog is on communication skills. But every once in awhile these major areas of my life intersect. Today is one of them. Here are some things Hannah is reminding me of today.
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Appearances changing

Yes, the old place looks a little different. We became aware that our old theme was not, as they say, responsive. That means it didn’t play well with mobile devices. Not only does my site need to play well with mobile devices just because, but also because at my college I happen to be one of two faculty liaisons for mobile technology. I think it would be a little embarrassing if my own site wasn’t mobile friendly.

But that means I have some rebuilding to do. When I switched over to the new theme, I lost my widgets (those things over on the side that perform special functions). I have some of them restored, but others I have to recreate. So please excuse the wet paint. The smell will dissipate soon.

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Marking passages

Glass graduated cylinder-50ml pl

If you’ve been around a science or medical laboratory, you have almost certainly dealt with a graduated cylinder, one of those ubiquitous devices marked off for measuring liquids. It is no coincidence that we use the word “graduation” to mark a passage from high school, from college, from graduate work. Graduation isn’t an ending; it’s simply a mark in the larger cylinder of life, though a significant one.

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Wisdom lies somewhere in here


Whenever you seek to improve something like your communication skills, you tend to hit a plateau. It’s part of the learning curve, perhaps at the junction between conscious incompetence and conscious competence. In any case, despite putting effort into it, your advance seems to have stopped.

A lot of people quit at this point, especially if they’ve heard the self-help slogan, “Insanity is doing the same thing while expecting different results.” Another version: “If you keep doing the same thing, you’ll keep getting the same outcome.”

That’s a useful insight, of course. No one wants to keep beating his head against a wall.


A paradox is when something is true, and its opposite is also true. Here’s the opposite truth: By this reasoning a hen looks stupid for about 21 days. It looks as if nothing is happening. But then something remarkable happens. A stone mason may hammer on his wedge a hundred times, apparently without effect. But then on the 100th or 110th or 120th blow, the stone face may suddenly shear off.

Just because you can’t see anything happening doesn’t mean nothing is happening. Consider the egg.

So how do you know when to quit (because it’s truly useless) and when to persist?

I don’t know.

I just know that most of us tend to give up too soon.

I think ultimately you develop wisdom that comes from experience, an intuition that allows you to sense changes where others see nothing. That takes a certain vulnerability, the willingness to be wrong, the willingness to make mistakes. You learn more from your “mistakes” than you do from your successes, but always be learning.

And learn to live with paradoxes.

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Conflict is inevitable; effective communication is not

Fear vs. trust

This weekend I will be presenting an education session for the District 63 Toastmasters Spring Conference in Chattanooga. We’ll be talking about Healthy Conflict, aimed at managing such within a Toastmasters club, but the principles apply to any organization.

Here’s the gist: conflict is inevitable. If you are alive, you will experience conflict. Many of us spend a lot of time trying to avoid conflict, and while we certainly don’t need to seek it or cause it on purpose, we should face the reality that it will happen, and so focus on developing skills for effective, healthy conflict. Continue reading

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Hector and the Search for Happiness

Book cover

I’ll say right up front: the book is better. But I still think it’s worth seeing the movie.

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