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 “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.