Re: Use of email
From: Jim Mayer (
Date: Fri, 14 Feb 2014 19:42:11 -0800 (PST)
See comments below:

On Fri, Feb 14, 2014 at 8:09 PM, Moz <list [at]> wrote:
> Jim Mayer said:
>> Sure... look at a group of people interacting in a room.... It's
>> very fluid, dynamic, and extremely political. People are good at
>> political!
> It feels as though you've just denied that I'm a person. I'm *not*
> good with political stuff. More than one or two people in the room,
> add any kind of tension and my emotional processing ability just goes
> "there's me, and there's _them_". Some kind of amorphous "other" that
> makes no sense and can't be reasoned with.

So, here's an example of how an email conversation can go terribly
wrong.  It sounds like Moz felt attacked by what I said and, actually,
I feel somewhat attacked by Moz's response.  It's probably helpful
that Moz and I don't know each other at all, so the likelihood of our
deliberately insulting the other is pretty small :-)

> To me, some people are good at politics, some aren't. Some are good
> with written language, some aren't. Some are extroverts, some are
> introverts, some don't really fit one category very well. There's a
> lot of variation.

I agree completely.

> I suspect you're actually not so good with written communication, and
> you actually meant "people who like large group meetings tend to be
> good at politics", which I have no problem with, and largely agree
> with.

I agree with your statement, though it isn't really what I meant.  I
wasn't talking about being good at politics at all.  I was just trying
to make a point about the nature of communication.

Interestingly, I detest meetings, am mediocre at politics, am conflict
adverse, and generally prefer careful, written, communication when it
seems appropriate.

Some people (Barack Obama, John Key, etc.) are really good at
politics.  Some not so much.  I was trying to say that the act of
understanding another's motivations is essential to human
communication and is closely related how we get others to do what we
want (i.e., politics).  I first became familiar with this concept
through my field, which is Computer Science, where one of the classic
problems in artificial intelligence is natural language understanding.
 Early researchers assumed that language could be translated using
dictionaries and rules of grammar.  Later research indicated that
interpreting requests, statements, etc. requires developing a mental
model of what the other actor is trying to achieve.

Here's an example.  Suppose I say "Hamilton?".  By itself it doesn't
mean much.  But if you knew that I was asking the question at an
information booth at the Toronto train station, and that the train to
Hamilton was leaving shortly, my statement would make a lot more
sense.  You probably wouldn't be surprised if the official in the
booth answered "seven" and I started running!

There's also been some really interesting behavior done about the
ability of different primates to understand the motivations of others.
 The one that really struck me involved observing how a troupe of
primates related to two different "keepers".  The first keeper
sometimes dropped food, apparently by accident.  The second keeper
sometimes sat down and ate the food.  Later, chimpanzees related
differently to the different keepers (and were friendlier with the one
who "accidentally" lost the food), but monkeys didn't make a
distinction.  The article also talked about how chimpanzees formed
shifting alliances in the wild, and how all of these were examples of
"political" behavior.

I couldn't find the article (I think it was in Newsweek, or Time, or
something like that), but I did find this one
(, which
addresses the same topics.


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