Jackie Chan Has Slanted Eyes

If you want to be a really good communicator, you have to be good at engineering the sequence of the content you’re delivering.  This is also true in charades – since acting something out and trying to get someone else to guess it is a very raw form of communication – a caveman-esque form, if you will.  In any case, I got roped into playing Cranium recently, which has a charades aspect to it.  If you (or anyone else) ask me to play a board game, I will say no.  If you ask me again, I will probably say no again.  If you keep pestering me, I will either spit my drink on you or say yes.  You never know.  This past weekend, I said yes because it was obvious that my board game-loving wife had her heart set on playing.  So we cozied up with two other couples and started drawing, acting, humming, deliberating, and rolling.

One question in our game was an “all-play” charades kind of question.  The clue was person.  So an actor from each team had to get his/her partner to guess the name of this person – Jackie Chan.  I was the actor on our team.  Someone yelled GO! and we started.  The first thing I did was pull my eyes into a squint to resemble the eyes of an Asian person.  Then, I started doing a bunch of awesome karate moves.  Bam!  In about 5 seconds, my wife guessed correctly and we were victorious.  Then, the inevitable post-question discussions ensued.

Amidst the laughter at how silly we looked – standard fare for games like this – there were accusations of racism, which made me lol.  Since when does identifying something by one of its most recognizable qualities amount to racism?  Since the word racism has completely lost its meaning, I guess.  Aaaanyway….

Turns out, my friend Mike was doing almost exactly the same thing.  However, he sequenced the information differently.  He started with semi-awesome karate moves, and then moved on to indicate the Asian eyes thing.  That’s what messed him up.

By starting with the eyes, I was using the biggest demographic that would lead to Jackie Chan – race.  Then, once I had that established, I got more specific by indicating what the person of that race is most known for.  It was either going to be Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan.  (I don’t know that my wife could have gone much deeper on Asian martial arts guys.)  The idea was to go from general to specific.  The human brain works like that, so if you want to communicate successfully with one, it’s something to keep in mind.

The alternative – starting with what the person is known for – becomes a problem when you think that doing karate moves could indicate a lot of things – it could be Jackie Chan, Elvis, David Lee Roth, etc.  Without a clear idea of what the initial part of the act was communicating, the Asian eyes bit just created confusion.  And loss.

Perhaps one of the most common causes of miscommunication is a mismatch with respect to context – one person thinks you’re talking about one topic; the other thinks something else.  Avoiding those types of issues is simply a matter of providing context first.  In other words, what are we talking about?  After that, we can move to what is it we’re saying about it.

Normally, successful communication moves people forward.  It’s how business gets done and human connections get formed.  When you’re playing Cranium, it just means you get to roll.  Yawn.




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