Saturday, January 13, 2007

Experiment (game) : Non-verbal decision making

We rely heavily on speech to communicate with each other. words are reasonably precise nuggets of iinformation that can convey pretty much any idea (how well they do that is subject for more discussion). But they are far from our only method of communication. So when we are making up discussion models to acheive particular goals within a group, we will do well to consider how non-verbal communication affects our models. And since there is no stone not worth turning over, we can play around with discussions that use exclusively non-verbal communication. I expect there to be all sorts of obstacles and new opportinities with this kind of discussion.

Here is a very simple game to play with non-verbal communication: With a single partner, use a single body part (e.g. a hand, a finger, or if you're really adventerous, an eyebrow) to communicate information. The info-nugget in question is how each person feels about a particular issue. Then decide how the pair of you together feel about the issue in question. Communicate ONLY with the chosen body part. When you think you have reached a decision, compare your answers. Were you right about what you thought you'd been told? Now make the discussion more complex. Add more people. Or instead of simply surveying the players, try to come a conclusion about how the group feels about an issue. Or try to come to concensus about something. Some kinds of issues will work better than others. There are all kinds of variations you can make on this theme. It could be a party game like charades, where teams get points for how well they communicate information.

While we are experimenting with this, we should record what we learn. How is index-finger communication limited, and what is an index finger good at communicating? How can games like this be useful at an event? As an icebreaker? Something else?

Fingers crossed,

1 comment:

Mariel said...

I think this is an awesome idea with lots of eye-opening possibilities! The first thing that came to mind when reading this was an exercise I did during the customs interview process. In order to see how all the prospective customs people could communicate, the candidates were put into smaller groups and given a puzzle to put together. However, the pieces of the puzzle were placed upside down so that we could not just fall back on the image to put it together. On top of that, we were not allowed to speak. We had to use gesture and eye contact to put it together successfully as we raced with the other groups. It was incredibly frustrating not to be able to speak, and if I remember correctly several groups wound up making noises to communicate (I don’t recall if noises were allowed in the exercise). We got fairly far. But in spite of the frustration, we were a lot more in tune with each other than we had been during the exercises in which we could speak, and furthermore, no one person could really dominate the activity. Well, they could if they managed to hoard all the puzzle pieces, but doing that would ultimately slow the group down, so it was not a productive course of action. There’s an idea! Making a means of communication in which dominating is not beneficial to either party. Words do not have that benefit. Someone can always think faster, use a more lofty vocabulary, drown their listeners in rhetoric.

Soo. . .with regards to the speaker’s discussion of a “gestural” argument:
After comparing answers from a gesture conversation with another individual, one could learn a lot simply from discovering how close one’s interpretation of the other person’s viewpoint is to their actual viewpoint. If one makes incorrect conclusions from gesture interpretation, one could just as easily be incorrect or misinformed in interpretation of words. The fact that use of words is the universal primary means of communication allows us to fall into the trap and under the assumption that just because we can hear the words and volley them back and forth, that we just as easily know what they mean. When we see that this is no the case through using this forum, we could then go back into the use of words with a keener ear and more of a willingness to comprehend.

Another successful way to explore this exercise could be to use drawing. The benefit to drawing over a single gesture is that it forces the individuals to more thoroughly survey the ideas of an argument. One could argue that it would be just as easy to skim a drawing as to glaze over words. However, since drawing is not a usual means of communication it would, at least in its initial use, merit a more focused attention. Furthermore, a person really has to look not only at the image, but the way it is presented, in order to construct an appropriate response. The nuance that has been extracted from successful arguing over an issue via words, could return with this method. The individuals would understand each other and each others arguments.

If debates could be structured so as to use some of these other methods before resorting to words, perhaps arguing or discussing or planning, would be more productive once words are allowed.