The constant theme of my blog is the title of this post — Listening is Hard.
The way people read on the Internet usually has nothing to do with listening. What people seem to do mostly is skim the article looking for their own name, the name of someone they hate, or if neither of those turn up, they look for a key word or phrase that’s linked to one of their canned schpiels. There are some notorious commenters here, people who make me groan when I see their names. I know what I’m going to hear has nothing to do with the topic of the piece. In the worst cases they just pick up a rant almost verbatim from The Ed Show or O’Reilly, and repeat it word for word. Nothing could be more boring. I usually turn those people off when I’m flipping through channels. I totally don’t want them here on my blog, by proxy.
How you can tell if you’re not listening? Here are some clues:
1. The person you think you’re listening to tells you that you’re not. They might be wrong, but before you dismiss them out of hand, consider the possibility that they’re right. And use the scientific method. Read the actual words they have written. Not the story you hear in your own head when you read those words. Read their words.
2. If you find yourself hearing someone familiar talking through them, you’re not listening. For example, if the thought forms in your head that “he is just like my brother” or mother or father, or former best friend — someone you have issues with — then you’re not listening. There’s absolutlely no doubt. Classic clue that you’re projecting. Instead take a deep breath, look at your surroundings, then look back at the screen. It’s just a screen. Not the family kitchen table when you were growing up. Your abusive parent isn’t berating you. It’s just some bits on a screen. 🙂
3. Try this puzzle. Most people don’t get the right answer. I didn’t. I was amazed. That’s another proof that listening is hard. If you can’t count the letters, what are the chances that you’ve actually heard what someone is saying by skimming their story on the net.
4. Read this piece. See how bad inference can be. 99 times out of 100 it’s not about you. So don’t respond as if it were.
5. A famous editor hated me for a long time, but then all of a sudden one day started being nice to me. This kept going on long enough that we’ve now had a discussion about why he hated me so much. It’s the old inference thing. I was saying “Sources Go Direct.” I wasn’t saying that I wanted sources to go direct, or that editors deserved to be routed around (although as a matter of fact I did, and mostly do). But that wasn’t what I was saying. I was saying that if you’re in the publishing business, in any way, you have to realize that the lower cost of production and distribution has radically changed the way things work. You must factor that in. Hating me won’t change anything. And if you actually listen to what I’m saying (there’s the rub again) I say over and over that I want professional journalists to make the transition. But you can’t make the transition by clinging to a system that has gone away.
6. Another clue is that the topic is something that you find repulsive. Most people can’t listen to topics that disgust them. For example, if I say that the OWS people missed huge opportunities because they didn’t listen, if you support OWS, you’re going to likely respond with a story that’s orthogonal. I know this because it happens every time. But isn’t it better to hear about the missed opportunity, esp when it’s not too late, because then you don’t have to miss it? To me, this is like a programmer who argues with a bug report. Why? If you listen, you can fix it. Good programmers do not argue with bug reports. And good revolutionaries are always looking for ways to be more effective at revolution. Dilbert-like revolutionaries insist on telling you why you don’t get it. Don’t be a Dilbert-like revolutionary. Nothing is more pathetic.
Now let’s see if anyone who comments has actually listened to what I said! 🙂