The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Conversational Icebergs …

One of the things I am continually amazed at, is how few people know how to listen.

By that I don’t mean they’re not hearing the conversation, they’re just taking it all on face value.

The older I get, the more I have realised professional conversations are like icebergs.

What’s actually being said is often under the surface … clues, hints, admissions.

As someone once told me, people speak in words that are often designed to protect themselves rather than reveal themselves – and yet, if you listen really carefully – you can sense what is trying to be said … what they want you to really ask.

Police interrogators get this more than anyone.

Their ability to listen – and read visual cues – is what helps them solve their cases … whether that’s people who don’t want to be committed of a crime or people who are finding it hard to admit a crime has happened.

Subtext is everywhere.

It’s part of the reason I loved living and working in China, because everything had meaning.

To be quite honest, the easiest way to separate the people who appreciated Chinese culture and those who pretended to was to test their ability to read the invisible conversation that was going on during the conversation.

That or if they continually mentioned Confucius.

The ability to listen – and visually focus – is an incredible skill.

It lets you ask better questions.

It lets you discuss subject matters others may be finding hard to open up about.

It lets you judge situations through the context of the other parties body language.

It’s something rarely talked about in planning when – in many ways – it is the embodiment of planning, however it is also very easy to get trapped into.

Where you think nothing said is the truth.

Because if you think that way you’re doubley doomed – not just because there’s no way you can understand what someone is trying to communicate if you don’t listen to what they’re saying, but because the temptation would be to invent the subtext you want it to be and then you’re going to be in an even worse position than if you just took everything on face value.

As author Margaret Millar once said, “Don’t be one of those people who get so obsessed with what is being said between the lines that you don’t read the lines”.

21 Comments so far
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Aren’t planners the worst at all of this?

Comment by DH

only people worse than fucking planners are divorce lawyers.

Comment by andy@cynic

And you are Mr Subtext. I feel the last line is especially applicable to you.

Comment by DH

But I’ll give you that you are good at getting the real story from people’s stories. Even when they didn’t want you to have them.

Comment by DH

“why do you say it like that?”
“whats that mean?”
“help me understand what youre trying to say”

you cant order a fucking beer without campbell thinking theres some fucking existential crisis going on. probably so he can get out of paying, the tight fuck.

Comment by andy@cynic

Nailed it.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Funny, when I started at Deutsch I met all the planning team individually to chat and get to know them. Apparently the rumour that went around was I was analysing them and they felt they had just had a psychiatrist session. Makes a change from the usual, “what the hell is that?” traditional view … though I am sure they have come to that conclusion by now.

Comment by Rob

That explains their attraction to your couch.

But if they jumped to that conclusion, I think they’re all in need of therapy.

Comment by John

quelle fucking surprise.

Comment by andy@cynic

And then there are those who only hear what they want to hear, regardless of what was said explicitly or implicitly. They’re the scariest. That said, I think everyone, including me, has been guilty of it at one time or another…

Comment by Chikashi

True … I know many people who are like that and have the ability to interpret everything people say as further endorsing their perspective, despite it being the complete opposite.

Comment by Rob

There is incredible value in someone who can read what people are trying to say or what they are trying to hide. The power of listening and observing are skills too often overlooked. Great advice Robert.

Comment by Lee Hill

The definitely are in adland and planning … which is amazing given that is the foundation of making work that is effectively resonant.

Comment by Rob

I was going tocomment that this is a really good post, but maybe that’s not what I mean. Hmm, well it could have been imrpoved with a quote from our resident thought-leader, but it’s still not bad. Or is it?

Comment by John

I tried to ask him, but he didn’t listen.

Comment by Rob

more like i wouldnt lower myself to your shit level. well i would but not at the prices you would pay.

Comment by andy@cynic

Another great post Rob.

Comment by Pete

Hate to admit it, you did teach me a lot about exploring subtext. Last line is a killer though.

Comment by Bazza

fucking creep.

Comment by andy@cynic

A couple of small points about China and the UK.

The use of language in conversation in both is very similar – a focus on the tacit, oblique and indirect. Far more about what is left unsaid but understood. Americans are far more open and direct, which can be good but is often too blunt. So Brits may have some advantage understanding what’s going on under the surface in China (even if it doesn’t necessarily involve Confucius or a deep knowledge of Chinese culture).

Chinese and British humour is very similar too. Again, based on similarities in language – lots of homophones, so plenty of room for puns, double entendres, etc.

Comment by Ian Gee

One of the comments from someone in my team when they found I was leaving, “It took me weeks to work out when you were being serious and when you were joking” The dangers of deadpan humour.
Just out of interest, this line of thought should be applied to social listening and ‘big data’ scraped from social sites, its rare that anyone tells the whole truth on social, yet folks peddle the data from it as some sort of insight nirvana.
I guess we should take someone claiming to support Forest or liking Queen at face value, no one would make that up unless they had no idea of what people think is cool…oh, wait a minute

Comment by Northern

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