Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Most Disturbing Trend of All

I've noticed something over the last three years that I think is the most disturbing and annoying trend in America.

* Crocs? No. They're cute on kids, and adults will feel adequate embarrassment in 5-10 years.

* The tendency of sports radio personalities to stutter on the word "I"? No. That's been around a long time; I've just never heard a good explanation for it.

* Banner ads with annoying and irrelevant animations? Not quite, although I've noticed they're not going away, so they must work.

What I've noticed is that nobody listens anymore.

I'm serious. I know this sounds like the mutterings of a cranky retiree, but it's true. Sit in a meeting in any organizational setting in America, and what you will witness is an absolutely stunning lack of communication.

The main culprit: interruption. There's simply no shame in doing it anymore. In a meeting, rather than letting others around the table begin and complete thoughts, it is now acceptable to jump in whenever and wherever one chooses--even right in the middle of a sentence uttered by the person paying for the meeting.

The effect snowballs, as others in the room realize that UNLESS THEY INTERRUPT, they will not get a chance to speak. This leads to a kind of "interruption arms race," in which people struggle to interrupt more loudly and quickly than others in the room, which in turn leads to some seeming to plan ahead of time what they want to say when they interrupt.

When it's all over, everybody leaves having spoken but not listened. Each person has a completely different interpretation of what happened in the meeting and what is supposed to happen after the meeting. The next time the group gets together, they are astounded at the number and scope of their misunderstandings.

Two things are primarily to blame here: technology and the media. In my own work life, between the DING of emails, the PLOP of instant messages, the high-tech "RING" of my land line, the Kashmir mp3 ring of my cell phone, the BEEPing of text messages on my cell phone, and good old-fashioned people dropping by my office, I probably scrape together at most 30 seconds of continual concentration on any one thing. Last Monday, I jotted down the number of different projects I'm working on (even for a few minutes) for just that day, and it came to 15. Trying to do 15 different things when you're interrupted every 30 seconds is a recipe for insanity. And my situation is typical. Life is full of interruptions. It's no wonder we end up doing it ourselves.

Second, the media. Media trainers make a living teaching politicians and CEOs to see the media as nothing more than a tool to get out their message. I went through this training myself more than 10 years ago. I was asked, "What three things do you want people to know about product x?" I listed three things. "Okay, I'm going to ask you questions. No matter what I ask, by the time you're done answering, you MUST have communicated at least one of those three things."

It was damn near impossible. "Why is the sky blue?" "That's a good question, Bill. I'm not sure I can answer why the sky is blue, but I do know that it sure looks bluer when you use Acme window cleaner..."

This is why politicians sound so canned: They're actually trained not to listen. Or, more accurately, they're trained to listen, but only for one thing: the best opening through which to drive their agenda. Alas, we are all turning into the people we claim to despise: media-savvy politicians.

Can you hear me now?


michael f. said...

Excellent points you make.
I blame the Internet in general for these things, and blogs in particular.

Marc Conklin said...

I'm sorry, what did you say?

Anonymous said...

Did you write this entire blog just to set up the "what did you say?" bit?


Marc Conklin said...

Let's suppose I did, just because it makes me look clever...