Thursday, September 27, 2007


Something I have noticed for many years is that when people talk to each other they don't often actually listen to what the other person is saying. What are we doing, when we should be listening attentively to what is being said by someone else? We might be formulating a reply to what we think the other person said last, we might be wondering what the hell the person is talking about, or we might be trying to figure out how we can extract ourselves from the conversation as quickly as possible.

What is the result of our inattentiveness?

Misunderstanding. Confusion. Sometimes the results have little consequence, like when your wife asks you if you want tea or coffee, you ask for beer instead, and she brings you lemonade. If you're like me, you will probably drink what you get and be thankful that you didn't have to get up and pour a drink yourself. I think that's the way most men would react. Women might take something like this a little more personally; never having been a woman, I can't rightly say. Wait... I may never have been a woman, but I have lived with and been married to several -- I think I can safely say that women would be more likely to consider oversights like this as personal affronts, and might even take the time and energy to point out in great detail what the underlying meaning might be. Just guessing. Besides, this is another issue entirely and beyond the scope of this post.

When conversations take place about business or policy or something that can affect real life situations in significant and perhaps even deleterious ways, any misunderstandings that arise can cause serious harm. Still, I notice that people often don't listen. And even if instructions are written out in a letter or in an email, people just pick up some of the points and ignore or don't even notice others.

In business, this can be very frustrating.

In managing my business affairs, I necessarily have a lot of conversations and write a lot of emails. If I know exactly what I want, I take pains to be as clear as possible so there won't be any confusion. Naturally, if I want some original input or suggestions, I will express that wish.

What I find is that whether I am explicit or vague, some people simply don't listen, regardless of my intent. If I am explicit in expressing what I want, suggestions might be made that make me wonder if the other person was in the same room when I was speaking, or whether they read my letter or email at all. If I am deliberately vague so as to encourage original thinking, I will get questions about how the issue should best be dealt with. This is all infuriating to me, because there is so much time being wasted, both mine and the other person's.

Am I alone in experiencing this problem? Could it be that I communicate unknowingly in Klingon? Several times in the past week I have nearly ripped out some of my few remaining hairs because it was evident to me that someone had made little attempt to do what I had asked. Is it a bigger problem than mere communication failure? If so, what?



  1. Part of the reason your audience is not listening may be the fact you are too repetitive, and having just listened to your presentation, although rephrased, he is waiting for that chance to participate in your discussion. If you want him to listen more carefully to your words of wisdom, give him a chance to shine. This has nothing to do with communication, but rather is an attempt to show you he too is a thinker.

  2. 'Laconic' is my middle name, Bill. I never use two words when one will do, at least when I speak. In fact, in many conversations, I contribute a fraction of the words that others do. When I write, my love of Dickens' more wordy prose is more evident, but that is not how I participate in a conversation. The sad fact is that many people simply don't pay attention.

  3. Dear Laconic, my comment was not intended at you, but I meant it as a generalization of those who tell you the same thing in several versions, and still wonder why you are not getting the message. You have the unique skill of getting to the point when presenting a thought, which is why I listen carefully. You have been my mentor for several years now. I hope this faux pas will not cause you to change. Wild Bill.

  4. Didn't mean to come across as testy there, Wildbill. It is just that I observe this phenomenon wherever I go and it seems to me to be something that wasn't as prevalent years ago. Maybe I just have a faulty memory.

  5. The majority of people - without half-realizing it - have been dumbed down to the point they don't even know it, and amazingly enough, it's not entirely the fault of government.
    No one can teach you how - in a realistic sense - to think. Parents, teachers, instructors, professors, bosses &c can teach what to think and do in various circumstances, but once that information is conveyed, it's up to the individual to do something with it.
    Thought is seldom a major activity among those without major goals, and most have been discouraged into keeping their goals as tiny as possible: Make the rent. Buy groceries. Get the day's work over and done with. Avoid person/situation X. Watch Seinfeld tonight &c.
    Think back and tell me if this isn't true; how many obstacle-people and imposing "authority" types have blocked your path that you've had to, inspite of their efforts, hold your vision. Not everyone is so diligent.

  6. Galt: "Thought is seldom a major activity among those without major goals," is an expression of fact so profound that it should be patentable. You have hit the nail on the head perfectly with both that expression and with the logic that produced it.