Wednesday, March 07, 2007


At the beginning of the year people were asking me if I’d sent any New Year’s resolutions. I avoided the typical responses like, loose weight, get more exercise, etc and responded with a more esoteric goal. “I’m going to talk less and listen more.” Somebody once said that there are three kinds of people in a conversation; talkers, listeners and waiting-to-talkers. Unfortunately most of us switch from talking to waiting-to-talk without the most important step of listening. I long ago recognized this in myself and I’ve been trying to make amends.
Today I was listening to a podcast while working. Penn Gillett, of Penn and Teller fame, was interviewing Adam Savage of “Mythbusters”. Adam was considering doing an episode on psychics. Specifically he wanted to see if psychics did any better than a cold-reader. Cold reading is a process of listening carefully to everything said by your target as well as paying close attention to physical clues and body language to learn something about a person. Sometimes they will use little “fishing” lures like just making rapid fire vague statements in hopes that the victim will unknowingly provide information to them. This is the major technique used by alleged psychics like Sylvia Browne and John Edward. Incidentally, neither of them is very good at it. Max Mavin does a much better job and doesn’t pretend that he’s using paranormal powers.
Anyway, as Adam was talking about his plans for the episode, Penn told an experience of his own that happened while working on an episode of his Showtime series, which will remain unnamed on this blog. They trained a friend to do exactly what Adam was planning on doing. The girl posed as a psychic at a book signing and gave readings to several people. She was a phenomenal success and many people thought that she was the best they had ever seen. Then she had the heartbreaking task of fessing up to them and telling them that she had just been putting them on. She felt morally bankrupt and it took her week to forgive her self for betraying these people’s trust.
Penn then shared with Adam and his listeners that this just shows how few people in this world actually listen to each other. All this girl did was listen a little bit closer than most people and just pay attention to them. In turn they credited her with supernatural powers. How sad a commentary it is that when someone simply pays attention we think they are psychic.
This exchange just reinforced my resolution to talk less and listen more. Perhaps someone with in turn think that I am psychic. Perhaps this is something that all of us should be accused of more frequently? Maybe only then with the simple act of listening loose its supernatural mystic.


  1. During all my years working tech support, I was always amazed at how easy it was to calm an angry customer by simply repeating everything they say back to them. It works to maximum effect when you rephrase what they've said, because it shows you've processed the information and aren't just parroting them.

    It works outside of tech support too.

  2. So if I understand you correctly; Rephrasing someone's comments into your own words can help show that you care enough to want to understand the issue.
    All too frequently I've had to deal with "support" people who try to solve the problem before they really understand what the problem is. Having been on on both sides of the issue many times, Sometimes understanding one another is its own reward even if no "technical" progress is made.