A (Hopefully) Civil Discourse on Incivility

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civility

I remember reading a 1997 speech by the late, great Roberto Goizueta, legendary CEO of The Coca-Cola Company during its rock & roll years of the 1980s and ‘90s. It had been delivered a weekend or two before at a commencement exercise on some campus in some state somewhere, I don’t recall. The topic was “civility” and that intrigued me because Continue reading

Can We Get a ‘Do-Over’ on the ‘Talk-Over’?

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 “Everybody’s talkin’ at me, I can’t hear a word they’re saying … only the echoes of my mind.”

Everybody’s Talking – Harry Nilsson (1969)

“Talk-a, talk-a, talk until your jaws turn blue …”

Lip Service – Jimmy Buffett (1982)

“Blah, blah, blah … blah, blah, blah … blah, blah, blah … “

   You, Me and Everyone Else, it seems (2014)

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Cruising north on GA 400 yesterday afternoon, coming home from a business meeting, I flipped on Sirius XM’s College Sports Nation with co-hosts Jack “”I Got Burned by CBS Years Ago and I’m Still Bitter” Arute and Rick Neuheisal, the former UCLA quarterback, head coach, TV analyst, and a lawyer, to boot. A caller to the show, who had undoubtedly been on hold for a half-hour or more waiting to get on the air, made a statement then began to explain his position when Neuheisel jumped in — or rather jumped on the caller’s words — and never let him finish his point. (Great fun, wait forever to get about 6-8 clean seconds on-air before being rudely interrupted and shut down.) In the background, you could sort of hear the caller explaining himself while Neuheisel droned on and on and, painfully, on. Very quickly and annoyingly, it became a whir of words with none of them resonating.

Strangely, it’s not that Neuheisel was disagreeing with the caller. Heck, the guy hadn’t gotten enough time to truly put put forth his premise to invite debate. And Neuheisel is a smart guy with a point-of-view. He has the advantage of being a former player and coach with an insider’s perspective. He does have something to say but can be overwhelming, at times. He simply seemed to want the mic, the air, the attention, the glory, whatever. When he did it a second then a third time inside of a minute, I instinctively yelled “Shut up and let him talk!” to the radio — which had done nothing wrong, by the way. I felt bad for the poor bugger who called the show and was denied his deserved forum. Callers to radio shows should be treated as invited guests to the show and given the proper respect, in my never-to-be-humble opinion.

Which brings me to my point. We need a “do-over” on the “talk-over”.

Common conversational courtesy is apparently on the Endangered Species list, right after the Spotted Owl, American Eagle, and 8-track tapes. Sit in a conference room and observe. Eavesdrop at a party or cocktail reception. At your next gathering of friends and family, undoubtedly, someone will be talking over someone else. Blah, blah, blah …

At times, the victim simply continues to talk, ever more loudly, until it becomes painfully apparent to the “talk-over” turd that he or she just got busted for being, well, a “talk-over” turd. Other times, the victim simply shuts down and keeps their thoughts quietly to themselves, alongside a few unspoken choice thoughts about the character of the offender and something about “the horse he rode in on”. In either case, there’s not a scintilla of conversation occuring, just a person, or two people, talking at each other, not with each other. And they both walk away lesser for the experience.

We are all guilty of silently formulating our responses while the person opposite us is still making their point. The brain knows how to multi-task, for better or for worse. I do it. You do it. We all do it. (Yes … you do do it.) The brain, like technology, is a marvelous entity that can do amazing things. But not all of them are  good. A new friend shared with me last week that “We should use the brain as our servant, not the other way around”. This is one of those cases where we really do need to reel in the brain and focus on the person before us and genuinely listen to their words.

I don’t believe people make a concious decision to be rude in “conversation” and, if it is a concious decision, then we’ve got pretty crummy taste in the people we choose to hang out with. It speaks more to (pun intended) the ongoing erosion of politeness, respect, manners, decency, civility, kindness — all those words parents of a generation ago hammered into most of us while too many younger parents in the current generation don’t seem to think those are virtues that need to be instilled in their offspring. Or they’re simply too busy to bother and they end up with a somewhat boorish brood.

FOX News and its “talking heads” (appropriate, huh?) is, in my mind, the most egregious of “talk-over” turds. While I tend to agree with a lot of what I see and hear on FOX, I long ago burned out on people cutting each other off, dismissing someone before they’re finished, manipulating the dialogue to their own advantage and agenda, and just bullying their way through what should rightfully be a healthy debate. I really like Bill O’Reilly but, Lordie, let the other person finish, B.O.! I enjoy watching or listening to FOX’s The Five but I sometimes find myself switching channels or stations when the verbal sparring becomes too layered, too loud, and too lunk-headed. And don’t get me started on the 8-9AM “giggle fest” hour on Good Morning America — once a fine morning news show — that has emerged in the post-Charlie Gibson/post-Diane Sawyer era. It’s not just “over-talking” that takes place but “over-giggling”, pushing the cringe needle deep into the red zone. It’s simply not fun, not entertaining, and certainly not informative.

Couples can be the worst, tuning each other out or stomping all over each other’s words, thoughts and feelings as if they were just so much chum. Baseball managers and umpires in ballparks across America go toe-to-toe, if not jaw-and-nose to jaw-and-nose with each other and, aside from “You’re outta here!”, do you think either one actually listens to the other? And they may call it “talk radio” but maybe it’s time to call it “listen radio”.

Coach Neuheisel? Bill O’Reilly? GMA? Are you listening? And (you can fill in the name), are you listening ..?

Chemo drugs took away some of my hearing six years ago (partial hearing loss is a small trade-off vs. dying, trust me) and, since then, focusing in on peoples’ facial expressions, eyes, lips, and hand gestures has become a critically important part of me listening to you. My “I’m sorry, can you repeat that?”s can get annoying to others, I know. But I’m doing my best, I really am. Throw in the fact that hearing aids are called hearing aids and not hearing replacers for a very good reason. They simply amplify noise (even noise sometimes masquerading as “conversation”) and when multiple sources of audio are present — like two people talking at each other or over each other — it becomes very difficult to extract what’s being said.

There’s an old saying, “God gave us two ears and only one mouth for a reason”.

Ask yourself: Am I truly listening or simply hearing and, simultaneously, formulating my response before the other person has finished? (God forbid there should be even a momentary, reflective pause before responding!)

I find myself guilty of being a “talk-over” turd more than I care to admit. Starting today, I’m going to become more aware of such circumstances and resolve to listen more, and listen more closely. I’m going to dial back the silent responses being formulated in my head while the other person speaks so I can actually hear and feel what they have to say. I’m going to understand them vs. simply trading meaningless jibber-jabber with them. Hell, I might even learn something!

Wanna chat? You first, I’ll listen. Promise.

© PeteFoleyCreative – All rights reserved.

POINT-AFTER:  In my opinion, the best talk-show host in America who actually listens to his callers is Paul Finebaum of ESPN and ESPN Xtra. Though many of his callers are one bed shy of a loony bin, he politely and graciously gives them a forum and lets them say what they want to say. (He also knows how to give them enough rope to hang themselves when they stray down Lunatic Lane.) He can be heard on SiriusXM Channel 85 weekdays from 2-6PM EST/EDT.

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PETE FOLEY is an independent writer, communication strategist, and producer of videos, meetings and events. At the root of it all, he’s a story-teller. He serves corporate clients of all sizes across numerous industries and splits his time between Marietta, GA and Santa Rosa Beach, FL. He can be reached at petefoley1@aol.com or 404.405.8534. Oh, and he’s a good listener. Starting today …

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