Creating Technology for Social Change

Talking the Talk: Communication Styles for Diversity at AlterConf

Photo by jordesign

The first AlterConf Boston hosted a mix of techies, gamers, and journalists to discuss diversity in these communities. As a self-identified communication-nerd, I was excited for Shauna Gordon-McKeon‘s “Talking the Talk” presentation on the role of different communication styles in encouraging diversity inclusion. These notes are from her talk.

Gordon-McKeon wants to dispel the myth that arguing is the road to truth, that truth = people + talking – emotions + data. She suggests memorizing stock phrases so they’re like second nature when you need them. For a deeper analysis of communication, she suggests the work of Dr. Deborah Tannen.

She begins by addressing interruption. There are several kinds of interruptions: Classic interruptions (cutting someone off completely), interjections (a short interruption), pause (beginning to talk while someone pauses), overlap (when two people start talking simultaneously, and one stops). Pause and overlap, although not always thought of as interruptions have the same effect of allowing one person to talk and not another.

One strategy is the 5-second rule: requiring a 5 second pause before a new person begins talking. There are phrases that can help: “I can’t tell if you’re done talking, were you finished?” Some of these strategies can result in push-back. Using the buddy system can reduce push-back.

Derailing, by manipulating the topic of a conversation is another obstacle. Some people are more comfortable than others refocusing a conversation back to the original topic.

Speaking less, or not at all, is a sure way to prevent dominating a conversation. It can help to acknowledge that your comment is a tangent. Some phrases to refocus: “I’d like to get back to what Sam was saying before,” or “That’s an interesting point, but may be part of another discussion.”

She notes that tumblr and Twitter are anecdotally known to be conducive to social justice conversations. She asks whether the ability to fork conversations and prevent derailing might be responsible.

She ends by suggests that truth is really people, talking, empathy, mindfulness, and hard work.