Interpersonal Legibility

Interpersonal legibility is approximated by how quickly a stranger can grok you. Choosing how legible we want to appear involves making an interesting trade-off.

On one extreme we can become a Deleuzian persona of “pure difference”. You are totally free to be “yourself” but simultaneously you present as an enigma to others. You are totally unique but also hard to understand — you find yourself on your own planet. Think John C. Lilly.

On the other hand, if you maximize your interpersonal legibility you become a stereotype. You appear as an “average” — an everyman. People will think they can quickly understand you but the “you” on display is likely in tension with how you see yourself. “Oh, he’s just a NYC finance-type”.

We shape our legibility to negotiate a balance between being inscrutable and being uninteresting.

Navigating the balance of interpersonal eligibility is a good case of Scott Alexander’s “law of equal and opposite advice”. Some people may find themselves feeling more connected to others if they become more legible, whereas others may benefit from getting weirder.


Also published on Medium.

One thought on “Interpersonal Legibility

  1. This is great! 🙂 Just reshared this on Facebook. I’d also like to comment that legibility increases when one creates efforts to publish their “story” or identity into the public discourse. I think bell hooks is a great example of making a life based on increasing legibility.

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