Thursday, September 22, 2016

How to Converse Better in Infosec

In a previous blog, I spoke a bit about what to do when the data doesn't seem to agree with what we think.  But what if it's not data you disagree with, but another person?

We've grown up in a world where the only goal in a conversation is to simply be right. It is all around us and, unfortunately, drives how we converse with other professionals.  Whether it's a twitter thread or questions at the end of a conference talk, we tend to look to tear down others to build ourselves up.  The mantra "Defense has to be perfect, offense only has to succeed once" pushes us to expect it in our technical dialog even though no one and no thing is perfect.

Let's change that.  The next time you are on twitter, at a conference, or engaging in discussion with colleagues, try and follow the Principle of Charity.  I highly recommend you read the link, but the basic premise is:
Accept what the other says if it could be true.
Now, obviously it's more complex than that. It's more like "dato non concesso" which means "given, not conceded". You are accepting their statements where logic otherwise does not prevent you from doing so, not because you believe they are true, but simply because you believe they were given in good faith. It also means interpreting statements in the way most likely to be true.
If the other says something that sounds conditionally untrue, ask questions that would help clarify that it is true.
It doesn't mean you have to accept statements that can't be true. It doesn't mean you can't confirm your interpretation. And it doesn't mean you can't ask clarifying questions.  If the other's statement could be conditionally true, ask questions that help clarify that the conditions are those that make the statement true.
Do not ask questions or make statements to try and prove the other's assertion false.
It does, however, mean not nitpicking.  It does mean not taking statements out of context or requiring all edge cases be true.  If the other's position truly is false, you will simply fail at clarifying it as true.

And if we do we should be doing this, we should do one more thing:
Expect others to follow the same principles.
We should not, as a community, accept members not following this principle.  Conversations contradictory to the Principle of Charity bring our community down and they inhibit growth.  However, we will only root it out if we take a stand and speak out against it.  Whether at conferences, in blogs, in podcasts, on twitter, or anywhere else, it improves us none to tear down rather than build up.  I challenge you to adopt the Principle of Charity in your conversations, starting today, and make it a goal for the entire year!

Update: Also check out the follow-on blog: How to Handle Being Questioned!

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