Curiosity – Misquoting Is Conceptually Similar to Deadnaming: A Suggestion to Improve EA Norms

It seems like EA doesn’t want some types of criticism and consistently gives some types of critics a cold reception.

The written rules say they want/value/appreciate criticism, but I seem to be breaking some unwritten rules and no one will tell me what they are and what changes to make to stop breaking them.

Purpose: Explain some of my current thoughts about criticism bounds and giving criticisms that people actually want. Context is bounded criticism and actually caring about / trying to avoid saying things that will make people mad, not just trying to say true things or true things that are within explicitly stated bounds.

Caveat: I’ve read most, maybe all of what’s been mirrored here from EA, but nothing more on the EA site itself. Though my comments/examples might be applicable to EAs I don’t have any unique knowledge that they actually are, so I’m just speaking generally.

Figuring out people’s actually desired criticism bounds seems hard and I get it wrong a lot. The bounds vary widely and people won’t (and I think often can’t) say what they are. When they try to say boundaries on what they’ll be happy to hear about, they seem to consistently get it wrong.

A common example of getting it wrong is topic boundaries. People will supposedly set topic boundaries on what they want to discuss but then be demonstrably happy to talk about some stuff that’s definitionally off-topic and unhappy if someone brings up some stuff that’s definitionally on-topic. The topic isn’t really the boundary. But then what is?

People don’t seem better at actually wanting criticism that’s related to some very specific goal. Someone preparing for a speech might ask for criticisms that will make their speech better, which seems pretty straightforward. Telling the speaker where to look to improve connection with the audience, or what words to use to increase engagement are likely to be well received and (if correct) succeed at helping the speaker improve the speech. But telling the speaker not to drink their customary several drinks at the conference opening party the night before might not be well received even if it would actually improve the speech more than their gaze location and word choice (sadly, a real example). What’s going on with that?

One way I think about criticism is that it functions as a change agent. If I say a criticism to someone they’ll most often think about it primarily in terms of a message that they need to change something. Whether they’re happy or unhappy to hear the criticism seems to depend at least some on whether they were or weren’t already open to / interested in changing whatever the criticism implies they ought to change.

People are bad at hearing a criticism, understanding it implies a change they aren’t ready or willing to make, and nevertheless accepting it as valid/relevant without getting mad. They’d ~always rather not hear a criticism that implies a change they aren’t willing or interested in making right now.

So maybe Instead of trying to figure out what topics or goals people want criticism about or don’t want criticism about, I should try to give only criticisms that imply changes they want to make and avoid criticisms that imply changes they don’t want to make? But how to know that?

People do seem marginally better at accurately saying what changes they’re interested in making when asked about that specifically, as compared to goals or topics. Keeping with the speech example, if I ask someone preparing for a speech what kind of changes they’re interested in making, I think it’s likely they’d say they’d be interested in changing stuff about where they’re looking, tone of voice, word use, posture, etc. but unlikely they’d mention any lifestyle stuff like drinking or bed time. Maybe the stuff they’re interested in changing is a better clue to what they actually want to hear about than their goal of improving the speech.

I think looking at criticism through the lens of desired vs. undesired changes instead of topics or goals can be helpful at guessing bounds even without asking about it directly. I’d guess that criticisms are not likely to be well received regardless of topic or goal if they imply changes to:

  • things people commonly see as part of their identity
  • things people commonly find extra hard or effortful to change
  • things people commonly associate with maintaining their social status
  • things people commonly don’t want to / don’t find pleasant to think about

Tangential to what you were talking about:

EA is trying to control how billions of dollars worth of resources are allocated, so I don’t think only criticizing them in ways they like hearing would be reasonable. Similarly, Electronic Arts or Amazon should be criticized in ways they don’t like.

EA publicly claims to be open to criticism and to be more rational than other competing groups. They use claims like wanting criticism to get money from people who believe those claims. If those claims are false and fool donors, that merits (unwanted) criticism.

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Additional thoughts:

One thing that’s possibly going on, not the whole story, is people have a budget for change and are stingy about allocating it.

The basic idea of having a budget for change – not changing too much at any one time – seems OK. There is some kind of capacity constraint with being able to productively manage change. I don’t know where the constraint actually is though, and whether people’s typical change budgets are 1%, 50%, or 200% of it. I have an intuition that people’s budgets for change are typically too low - they should be willing to change more than they are actually willing to.

I also don’t know how much of people’s change budgets they’re actually allocating to changes. It seems like maybe people allocate change budget to categories instead of actual changes. So being willing to make changes in one area depletes willingness to make changes in another area even if no changes in the area they’re willing to change are actually being made. If that’s actually what’s going on I don’t think it’s a good idea.

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