4Joined Feb 2022


I recently wrote a note in CEA's work slack and thought it might be worth writing up for the Forum, too. All of these are my own perspectives and not those of my employer.

Here’s a shower thought about evaluating people/what happens during high-pressure interactions:

  • Talking to ~powerful people can be scary
  • When I'm stressed or feeling judged, my reasoning and communication abilities seem to get noticeably worse, at least some of the time
  • I think this is common
  • And hard to control for in evaluative contexts (like job interviews)

So, if Powerful Person and Being Evaluated Person are talking, and BEP is having trouble articulating their thoughts, I often see one of three things from PP:

A. Silence
B. Quickly moving on to another topic, mentally tagging BEP’s answer as insufficient/poor
C. Putting words in BEP's mouth

  • and sometimes continuing as though the answer BEP parroted was generated by BEP

I think C can be pretty hard to avoid, but avoiding it is vital.

What I try to do instead:

1b. (common tactic:) Be generally reassuring and soothing.  

  • I think this tactic can be helpful, if you don’t let it lead you into B or C.

2b. (less common:) try to help them scaffold their arguments without actually providing the answer. It takes a lot of curiosity and patience. Poke, explore, ask. I don’t think I’m great at this, and I don’t have bullet-proof guidance for how to do it, but I try to:

  • Reflect people’s positions back to them to check I’ve actually understood what they were trying to say
  • Ask “why” a lot
  • Explore reasoning chains step by step, digging in when I notice confusion or disagreement
  • If they say something hyperbolic or bizarre, I check in to give them a chance to tweak what they’ve said (“All EAs should do X immediately!” “All EAs?” “Well, ok, what I really meant was. . . .”)

I want more PPs who are in evaluation mode - formally or informally! - to remember how nerves can throw noise into the interaction. I want people to be doing way more of 2b.