Tag Archives: Communication

It is Important to Speak, but not More Important than it is to Listen

A couple of days ago I wrote a post about leadership and followership, the overwhelming majority of literature dedicated to leadership, and the dearth of literature dedicated to followership. When writing that post, it reminded me of the same relationship between speaking and listening. That is, how much literature do we see dedicated to speaking or communicating and how much do we see dedicated to listening?

Don’t get me wrong, I think that communication is an essential part of the human experience, but dont we think that learning to listen should be equally (if not more?) important than speaking. We can make the same comparison we did with leadership: how much time do we spend speaking in relation to how much time we spend listening? We spend far more of our time listening. So, shouldn’t it follow that we need to learn how to be excellent listeners?

Of course, if we don’t know how to speak (at all) then the listening is futile, but I suspect that if the majority of people were excellent listeners, we might be able to aid the speaker in communicating their point. Just as I made the case with followers who can make a leader better, I think that listeners can make a speaker better, too.


A slight tangent: how many courses are there in communication? There are probably quite a few more than there are in listening. In fact, there’s even an entire academic discipline dedicated to communication. Is there one for listening? Some may argue that clinical/counseling psychology might be how listening creeps its way into an academic discipline, but that’s only one piece of the training for clinical/counseling psychologists. It’s important to note that psychologists who don’t go the route of counseling won’t get this kind of training, so it’s necessary to specify clinical/counseling.

I like to think I’m a pretty good listener (and have been given affirmative feedback), but I don’t doubt that I would benefit from the insights of academic research on listening. In fact, I bet we all could benefit from academic research on listening. Until then, we’ll have to rely on the wisdom of quotes:

“Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something.” – Plato

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemingway

“If A equals success, then the formula is A equals X plus Y and Z, with X being work, Y play, and Z keeping your mouth shut.” – Albert Einstein

“Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again.” – Andre Gide

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” – Stephen Covey

“We have two ears and only one tongue in order that we may hear more and speak less.” – Diogenes Laërtius

And one last one that I really like:

“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” – M. Scott Peck

Communication: Do They Hear What You Say?

Earlier this morning, I spent some time trying to unclog the toilet (note: if you live in an old building, be sure to get a high-quality plunger!) and I was reminded of my time living in a residence hall. At first, I did a double-take because that was almost 10 years ago. In thinking about my time as a resident of a residence hall, I remembered my roommate and his accidental slip up.

This story’s not about anything scandalous — in fact, it could happen to anyone. We were coming up on the winter checkouts and I was planning on leaving the residence hall after he was. As a result, my roommate had taken care of his share of the cleaning duties and was about to leave. Simultaneously, our RA (Resident Assistant) was knocking on the door — he was about to tell us about the events coming up that week and probably remind us to sign-up for a time to checkout.

The RA noticed that my roommate was about to leave and asked him why he didn’t sign-up for a time to checkout. My roommate explained that I was leaving in a couple of days and that I’d “checkout” our room. The RA then explained that we each checkout — individually.


The RA thought that his communication materials (flyers, bulletin boards, etc.) had clearly stated that each resident needed to check-out, but my roommate (and to some extent, me) thought that just the room needed to be checked out.

So, what’s the lesson here?

No matter how clear you think your marketing materials are, always, always, always have multiple sets of eyes look them over. If it’s possible, it’s even better to have someone outside of your area of expertise look it over. Meaning, if our RA had asked one (or more) of his colleague(s) to look over the materials, there’s a better chance than not that none of them would have interpreted it like my roommate and I did. It would have been better for the RA to ask one of the residents (or someone maybe even someone outside of the residence hall) to look over the materials to make sure that the message the RA wanted to convey… was being conveyed.

Consider the last important bit of communication you were involved in sending. Are you certain that your recipient understood what you were trying to communicate?

If You Can’t Explain It Simply, You Don’t Understand It Well Enough

The title of this post comes from one of my favorite historical figures: Albert Einstein. Although, there is some as to whether or not he actually said it. In today’s fast-paced internet climate, it’s important to be mindful of attribution. Remember the one that made the rounds during ? I’m sure you’ve seen attributed to Mandela. And one of the lesser known misquotes, H. Whitman when . I’ve read a lot of Einstein’s work (more than the average person, that is), and I would say that it sounds like something he would say.

I’ve had and as a result, have been exposed to quite a bit of jargon. The psychological literature has a fair bit of jargon. Part of that is necessary because researchers of psychology are — at times — creating new ways of understanding human behavior. Through this new understanding, new language is sometimes necessary.

In the business degree I’m currently working on (nearly halfway done!), I’ve been exposed to quite a few disciplines: economics, finance, marketing, operations, etc. All with their own unique set of jargon. Sometimes, it can be difficult to keep the jargon straight as some words used in one discipline are the same words used in another discipline — but in a different context or with a different meaning.

Jargon can be quite useful when communicating with people who understand the jargon. The “in-group,” as it were. However, jargon has a tendency to severely exclude the “out-group.” Sometimes this is intentional, but I’d rather talk about the unintentional exclusionary nature of jargon. And that’s why I chose the Einstein quote as the title of this post.

“If you can’t explain something simply, then you don’t understand it well enough.” As I said, jargon can be useful — at times — but at other times, it can be really painful. That is, it can be quite demeaning to be in a group of people who are speaking in what may seem like a foreign language, while you sit there trying to make sense of it. Part of the problem is that, sometimes, people using the jargon really don’t understand the material well enough to explain it to you in analogous terms. There’s also just the habit of using certain words when talking about certain concepts and as a result, it can take a concerted effort to not use jargon.

Don’t get me wrong, I like jargon. I enjoy expanding my understanding of language and the different words we have to describe things. (Today, I just learned what eleemosynary means: charitable or philanthropic.) Although, I think it is important to take note of one’s company. If you’re working on a project and not everyone is of the same understanding of the topic, it is of paramount importance that the language used be accessible to all (or most) parties involved.

For anyone that has been on the receiving end of jargon-filled discussion, there is likely greater compassion when noticing that someone else is experiencing a sense of , with regard to jargon. Maybe this all stems from a person’s . This is one of the personality traits from the “.”


It’s ironic that in a post about jargon, I find myself slipping into the habit of using some jargon to explain things. That’s how easy it can be to not notice that you’re doing it. The next time you’re in a conversation with someone or in a group-setting, take notice of the reactions of those people around you, particularly, when you hear a piece of jargon spoken. I bet you could use it as an opportunity to quietly explain the concept in more accessible terms and you just might make someone’s day.