Efficient communication in a stressful environment

It’s impressive how Scorekeeping Grand Prix is teaching. I’m not talking about the technical point of view, which is far from being as interesting as many believe it is.

Barcelona was Team Sealed. It’s no secret that a few things can go wrong with DCI-R handling teams. Actually, it’s such a no-secret that there’s always a latent fear that the computer could blow the tournament up at any second. I was of course very cautious about any action I was doing and many judges were paying close attention to what was happening. Therefore, there was a latent tension in the air and I could notice some consequences throughout the day.


The Master-Slave dialectic


This is a theory created by the German Philosopher Hegel that aims at describing the natural relationship between two human beings. The gross summary is that in any given relationship, each individual aims at being recognized as the Master by the other, who then becomes the slave. There are plenty of implications that aren’t exactly relevant in this topic, but about which you can learn here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Master%E2%80%93slave_dialectic if you like.

The interesting part is that the theory supposes that, naturally, an individual wishes to be recognized by the other. This can take many forms: Giving instructions, expecting to be obeyed, expecting to be complimented, etc.

The fact human beings have learnt how to socially behave for quite a few centuries now has fortunately led to mitigate that instinctive reaction.



The environment affects your behavior


Although I’m not a fan of excusing behaviors by overly taking into account the environment, it is fairly factual to say that there’s a direct link between the two concepts.

When the atmosphere is pretty tense, it’s very easy to forget you should behave socially and start behaving instinctively, which usually translates into speaking to the others in a, let’s say, direct and bossy way.  Basically, you’re so eager to ensure you’ll do a fine job that you lose sight of the broader picture and ask others to prioritize you own needs instead of theirs.

Honestly, I’ve done that in the past, still do that sometimes (no later than a few weeks ago in Richmond) and will probably go on doing that from time to time. All of this despite I’m fully aware it’s not the way to go. I guess the good news is that I can be pretty certain I’m a human being.



Barcelona’s issues


In Barcelona, there were Fixed Seatings for VIP teams. That’s pretty easy to handle in individual, but in team, there is an issue: Table numbers are not written on all of the result slips and there are match numbers instead. Therefore, to determine table numbers, you need to multiply the match number by 3. And here comes the issue: Match numbers are not affected by the fixed seating, only table numbers. The direct consequence is that it was completely messing up the distribution of result slips.



Black and White


This was therefore putting a lot of pressure on the Paper Team Leader, who was almost completely blind as to how to identify where each match was taking place. At that moment, there were several possible reactions, amongst which:

1-      “Ok, this is messed up, I can’t work efficiently, you must find a solution”.

2-      “So, I have an issue. It makes my life pretty hard right now but if you could find a solution whenever you have time, that’d be awesome”.


The first reaction, although fairly natural, is a description of a totally instinctive reaction that simply ignores the potential issues the other may be facing on his side. No matter how important the issue is, the interlocutor is very unlikely to access to the demand. Indeed, he’s unlikely to accept to be the slave here and in this situation, no consideration of any social relationship has been demonstrated.


The second reaction, however, indicates that you’re aware the other may have issues of his own. You’re not considering him as the slave in your relationship. You’re not giving him an instruction but are asking him a favor. You’re treating him as your equal. From that moment, unless he really can’t it’s very likely he will do his best to help you.


These two examples of reaction are located towards the extremes of the spectrum. 99% of the reactions actually lie somewhere in the middle.



Working with, not working for


Another key element to create that link is to detail not only the issue but also to come up with an embryo of plan that can guide the person whom you request help from.

In short, going through a process like:

1-      Defining the exact issue and why it is blocking.

2-      Presenting it in a way that the other can understand it.

3-      Assessing your needs to become fully operational.

4-      Suggest a plan.


It may happen that the first try doesn’t work. In which case, it’s pretty important to invest time to analyze the “wrong” version and give guiding feedback rather than a mere “this doesn’t work, try again”.

It doesn’t cost much to say “This doesn’t work because of [X], can you check into that direction?”. Again, it shows the other that there is cooperation.




You might wonder which fairly bad interaction happened in Barcelona so that it made me gather these thoughts. It’s actually the exact opposite: While I did not realize immediately, the way I’ve been approached by Steven Zwanger, who was leading the Results Slips team and who needed (rather than wanted) me to solve an issue, was so awesome that I couldn’t resist analyzing I’ve chosen to analyze what he did and to try to spread the word!



Kevin Desprez.