“I’m From Chile. I’m From Chile…” – Contextualization Problems Happen Often
The following is the story that a friend of mine, Mr. Reinhard Glump, told me 35 years ago when I studied in Munich, Germany, in the 1980s.
I’m from Chile, I’m from Chile:
A short man from Chile arrived at Munich airport hoping to enter Germany. However, when asked for his passport, he explained in broken German that he did not have one. The immigration officer informed him that he could not enter without a passport and threatened to send him back to where he came from. The short man became agitated and began shouting, “But you cannot send me back, because I’m from Chile!” As more people gathered to watch the scene unfold, the immigration officer made the decision to send the man back to the airplane. Onlookers heard the man shouting “I’m from Chile, I’m from Chile!” repeatedly as he was escorted away. Little did they know, the man was likely a member of the opposition party that was persecuted under the military dictatorship in Chile.
A short time after that incident, one of my friend’s peers, a law student who had interned with the border police, shared this story with him, and after that my friend Reinhard told me. Reinhard’s peer had considered whispering to the short man to say the word “asylum” which would have saved him from being sent back. But Reinhard’s peer did not, as he formally was a member of the border police corps.
Apart from the experiences of those who were persecuted under authoritarian regimes and their struggles to find safe haven elsewhere, this story highlights the difficulties that arise when people assume that their communication partner knows the same information they do, without sharing this information.
I am since then using the tagline “I’m from Chile, I’m from Chile” as a clue that I give whenever I have encountered a person that does not communicate properly.
Some Communication Theory
The following self-explaining picture illustrates what has happened:
This picture can be extended as follows, for illustrating what the recipient of the communication thinks:
The main problem above was that the short man from Chile made an assumption that the immigration officers knew the situation in Chile. He did not provide context.
That situation was extreme, but most people (wrongly) assume you know the context of any statement that they make.
The same principle applies to continental law. A statement of claims has to be filed with written reasoning. If that reasoning alone is not sufficiently detailed so that all claim features are covered, that complaint would be considered inadmissible by the court. That is different under Common Law.
Contextualization Is The Word
I believe that this concept is different from ‘framing’. The Cambridge dictionary defines “framing” as “to express something choosing your words carefully”. The term “framing” has to do with the language chosen, and not with the amount of information that is transported. This is a different level. Framing is about providing context and setting the listener’s expectation/mindset. The German word for the “I am from Chile, I am from Chile” situation is a lack of “Schlüssigkeit”, which Google translates to “Conclusiveness”.
Here is what a tech startup supporter told me in that context:
I constantly struggle with the some issue with many tech startup founders. They tend to provide only the information in their “pitch” that would be understandable to someone with substantial domain knowledge. After substantial discussion we can build a pitch with sufficient content to be comprehensible to a much larger group of potential investors, grant-providers, etc.
Perhaps if the man from Chile had simply said, “If I am returned to Chile, I will probably be killed.” Then the discussion of the “why” could tease out the reasons for his concern and whether he has a reasonable basis for asking for asylum.
It is remarkable how often a simple “consequence” statement can clear up things.
A catchphrase “I am seeking political asylum” cannot be expected by an asylum seeker because he may not understand what “asylum” means. If he shares the likely outcome of a possible course of action (returning him to Chile) then the other party has the opportunity to explore the alternatives.
“Framing” is the correct phrase. It’s from the social sciences rather than Cambridge dictionary definitions. You “frame” the context. Or you might prefer the term “contextualize”.
And this is one practical application of the above:
Master communicators know the above model and they try to figure out how their communication will be understood by the recipient.
It is not enough to assume that the recipient knows what the sender is thinking.
Martin “Chile” Schweiger