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With so much content available for easy consumption, it’s easy for even really good pieces to get lost in the shuffle, or to fade out of memory soon after reading. But there is one passage, in one article, that has stuck with me more than anything I have read in 2016. And I wanted to share that with you guys.

Ezra Klein is the Editor-in-Chief at Vox, and he wrote an interesting article about Hillary Clinton in July. But today’s post has nothing to do with liberal politics, Klein, Vox, or Clinton.  Because the part that I retained from that article came from Deborah Tannen, a Georgetown linguist who studies differences in how men and women communicate.

Women, [Tannen’s] found, emphasize the “rapport dimension” of communication — did a particular conversation bring us closer together or further apart? Men, by contrast, emphasize the “status dimension” — did a conversation raise my status compared to yours?

Talking is a way of changing your status: If you make a great point, or set the terms of the discussion, you win the conversation. Listening, on the other hand, is a way of establishing rapport, of bringing people closer together; showing you’ve heard what’s been said so far may not win you the conversation, but it does win you allies.

Now, maybe you didn’t have the mind blown moment I had. This sort of thing may be naturally obvious to some of you.  But so much of our “communication” about sports — whether it’s from members of the media, comments on the internet, or talking with friends in a bar — is about the status dimension of conversation.  And given the dominant presence of the male gender in sports communication, it’s probably not too surprising that the status dimension of communication is the big driver.  For example, you’ve probably heard or said some variation of the following:

  • No, Joe Flacco is not elite, and let me tell you why, because I am so smart and after you hear my brilliant words, my status will be higher in your eyes.
  • Running and playing defense is the way to win football games — this is what my first NFL coach said, and because I played NFL football and you didn’t, your status will go down in my eyes if you disagree with me.
  • Here is some great stat that you didn’t know about but I did: look at how much I know! Now my status should go up in your eyes.
  • Yes, Tony Romo is a choker, look at what he did in this game; if you are going to disagree with me, I’m going to say you are crazy, and your status will decrease in your eyes.
  • If you look at what has happened over the course of NFL history, here is what you should expect to happen now: listen to me, I have studied history, and therefore my status should go up in your eyes.

Now, when you are engaging with an internet commenter, or listening to a talking head on TV, it’s easy to see why you might not think that bringing people closer together is the point of the communication.  But at least in the comments here, I do think there’s more to be had than just trying to convince someone of your point of view.  And there’s definitely more to be had when communicating in real life.

Stephen Covey wrote that most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. That’s something I’m guilty of, which is maybe why Tannen’s words have resonated so strongly with me. As the guy who has published an article every day for over 4 years, no one could benefit from this advice more than me.

But while “listen more” doesn’t stick with me the way framing communication as either a status dimension or a rapport dimension does. It’s not listening for its own sake, but listening to bring you closer with someone. For me, there’s nothing easier than to revert to the idea that the purpose of communicating is to persuade someone of something; that’s just my default setting, and it may be yours, too. But it’s just as easy, and maybe more wise, to think of communicating as a way of getting closer to someone. And I think that may be the more important goal.

  • Adam

    Thanks for posting this, Chase. I’ve long been dismayed by the one-upsmanship nature of sports dialogue, which often carries a tone of condescension and hostility. It seems that most people (men) who talk about sports are more interested in being right than actually trying to expand their understanding or considering the other person’s point of view. This is why I make a concerted effort to give a legitimate response to every comment at FP that’s directed toward me; even if I disagree with the person, I want them to know that I hear them and took a moment to consider their perspective. The FP community is full of readers who do this, which is one reason (maybe the main reason) why almost all of us get along and regularly generate productive discussions.

  • sacramento gold miners

    Couldn’t agree more about the value of listening, but it’s been my observation technology has degraded the ability of some people to listen for any significant period of time. They are so accustomed to firing off short texts, or multitasking, the ability to concentrate has been compromised.

    • James

      Maybe! But I think it has more to do with the impersonal nature of technology – you might be willing to write a long aggressive rant to someone over email or in the comment section, but if that person was standing in front of you with a face and a name you’re much less likely to do so.

      After all, I’m sure you’ve gotten mad at some impersonal car for cutting you off, maybe even swore at them or flipped them the bird, but have you ever reacted as strongly when a pedestrian cut you off?

  • James

    “As the guy who has published an article every day for over 4 years” – I’m impressed at your humblebrag, your status is raised. =)

    But more seriously, it’s why I talk/argue about sports on the internet, but don’t like to do it in person. Because on the internet I want to be “right” and make sure other people are “right”. But in person being right isn’t nearly as important to me as rapport, as I probably want to be friends with whomever I’m talking to. And honestly, being “right” provides no value to my life, while having friends does. So while I think the early 90s Bills have too many HOFers, I’m never mentioning that to any of my friends lest it gets back to my two hardcore Bills fans friends – they don’t want to hear it, it’s not going to change their minds, and nothing good will come of it.

    And even then on the internet, the smaller the community and the more often you interact with the same people the more important rapport building becomes. Even if I vehemently disagreed with something Chase says, I’ll phrase my response entirely differently than if someone else said the same thing simply because I value following/commenting Chase here and on twitter. It’s weird – it shouldn’t make a difference – but it does.

    • Adam

      I don’t discuss sports in person, either. I’ve had some heated arguments with friends over emotionally driven topics, and it almost never ends well. I have a Saints fan friend who staunchly believes Drew Brees is responsible for the team’s recent failures, and another buddy who is convinced that he’s better at picking games than any of the Vegas sharps. I’ve realized it’s better to let these things go and avoid the topics altogether. I’d rather have friends than be right about Drew Brees.

  • One life hack that has been very useful for me is, when someone disagrees with me, before I respond to their disagreement, I first say “so what I hear you saying is ________. Is that fair / accurate?”, and if they say no, have them explain why and repeat the question until I get a yes. Then respond to the substance of their claim.

    Nice things about this hack:
    1. A substantial percentage of disagreements, (perhaps a majority), are misunderstandings. This resolves those before anyone gets worked up and ill will is engendered.
    2. You spend more time engaging with the meat of their argument instead of jousting with straw men, which feels satisfying but makes you look silly to objective observers.
    3. It communicates quite clearly that you value the other person, their opinion, and reaching a mutual understanding, (or an informed and respectful disagreement). Which tends to make all future interactions with them much more pleasant.

  • Tom

    Great post, and great comments. It’s remarkable when I think of football conversations I’ve had with friends and family, how often I’ve been tempted to whip out some clever stat or quote some stuff I’ve read here or at 538, etc., and the reason I want to bring it up is not to add anything to the conversation, but to raise my immediate status in the conversation! Because it’s also my default setting, I have to constantly check myself, and ask “Why are you bringing this up?”. I’m fortunate that most of my friends, and the readers of this site, are pretty intelligent, and we’re usually just trying to get to the truth, or learn new things, etc. Anyway, great post.

    • Adam

      I also have to check myself quite often in sports conversations. To me, sports are an analytical puzzle begging to be solved, but for most people sports are simply entertainment. I’ve learned to let people just enjoy the games, even if they buy in to media-created narratives or engage in blind fan devotion. And I can relate to the “entertainment only” point of view for things like movies or music – it’s annoying when a movie buff badgers me with hypercritical analysis of every detail when I just want to watch the damn movie, or I mention liking a certain band and the music snob chastises me for listening to something that isn’t hardcore enough, etc. The lesson: Don’t be that guy!

  • Richie

    “Stephen Covey wrote that most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

    Ugh. I hate when people do this. I can tell they aren’t really listening. They are just waiting for their turn to talk.

  • Ryan

    Excellent comments all around guys/gals.

    Kibbles mentions a great way of framing a discussion so that each party can learn from one another without issues.

    Tom, James, Adam, I take the same vantage point, if you are fortunate enough to find friends worth keeping, you aren’t likely to nitpick on the “little” things arguments, you value the person, not the singular opinion. I’m a believer that LeBron James is already in the argument for the best NBA player of all-time, many local Michael Jordan diehards have smoke coming out of the ears if I were to argue this point.

    Sacramento, technology has made interpersonal communication more challenging for sure. My best friend is heavily phone/technology driven and might appear to be ignoring me or others, or it feels as such, but he has a heart of gold and gives his undivided attention and the shirt from this back to others when his phone is away.

    Adam, great point about the community here, football by nature lends itself to subjectivity no matter what level of objectivity we try to use, the quality and civility here are a touchstone to the internet and football community.

    Personally, I learn more by observing and listening than by hearing myself talk, so building rapport with others is my preferred modus operandi.

    • Adam

      I’m with you on the LeBron / Jordan comparison…I don’t think there’s an athlete in American sports history whom fans zealously sanctify more than Michael Jordan. The nostalgia with MJ is off the charts, and his fans take it as a personal insult if anyone dares to suggest another player might be better. I think LeBron might be better, but I generally keep my mouth shut about it 🙂

  • Nuclear Badger

    “While we’re talking, let me offer you some free advice: Talk less, smile more…”