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Home | Opinion | Op-Ed: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

Op-Ed: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

Stephen Covey, in his book on highly effective people, has a chapter entitled “Seek First To Understand, Then Be Understood.”

He states:

“If you’re like most people, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across. And in doing so, you may ignore the other person completely, pretend that you’re listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely. So why does this happen? Because most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. You listen to yourself as you prepare in your mind what you are going to say, the questions you are going to ask, etc. You filter everything you hear through your life experiences, your frame of reference. You check what you hear against your autobiography and see how it measures up. And consequently, you decide prematurely what the other person means before he/she finishes communicating.”

I was ruminating about Covey’s thoughts and about how many bloggers and commenters on social media create posts that are purposely designed to stir the pot without adding the ingredients of thought first.

For instance, a blogger might be writing about an issue with a local school district, or with a local politician’s decision to do something. The sum total of the blog entry might be: “This XXXX is a problem!”

That’s it. No backing info. No pre-discussion. Indignation reigns as the blogger might ask “How can this be happening?” “Who is overseeing this problem?” The blog post might end with a call to protest or ask the readers to comment on the supposed problem.

Of course, the readers of the blog or the Reddit, or whatever, are self-selected to agree with the blogger, and quickly chime in, many times with the civility of Black Friday Walmart shoppers trying to get to the $125 55-inch TV or $25 microwave oven.

Outrage. Indignation. Umbrage. Disgruntledness. The daily butt hurt. Lots of CAPS locks and lots of exclamation points!!! How dare they XXXX!!!???

“Because most people listen (or read) with the intent to reply, not to understand. “You listen to yourself as you prepare in your mind what you are going to say…”

More often than not, responses are pre-thought, with little or no critical thinking taking place. This is especially true of the responder can continue a narrative that they have been virtually yelling about for months or years.

Public schools bad! Trump bad! Politicians Bad! Liberals Bad! Taxes bad! Yea America! Boo socialists!

I have a keyboard, hear me roar!!!

How many of these types of posts could simply be solved by calling the organization that there is a question about and getting clarification? Five minutes would be all it takes for the blogger to get clarification.

But that is not what happens.

Here is a sample of what actually happens:

A blogger that specializes in stirring the political pot, will post a single slide/handout/screenshot from a much larger presentation, or perhaps quote a single line from a longer interview, expressing anger or confusion about the contents said single slide/handout/screenshot.

“How can this be happening?”

“What is going on here?”

We are doomed!

No context is provided other than that lone nugget of information. From that mote, the writer will then create a narrative about poor outcomes in local XXXX or school districts, or taxpayer abuse by local politicos, or how the little guy is getting screwed by the local secret cabal of well connected background unelected leaders who really run things.

“See?” The author might loudly proclaim, this proves my point! The deep state is alive and well! From that, the “Comments” section becomes a bombastic plethora of nattering nabobs of negativism. Agnew would be proud.

The commenters are not in any way trying to find an answer. They simply are anonymously yelling their confirmation biases at their fellow anonymous nabobs from within their own self centered anonymous echo chambers. And while Agnew was complaining about the press, his phrase pretty much describes any comment section of Youtube, Facebook, or blog.

What would be more interesting – to me at least – would be an article that poses the question or problem and then tries to find out an answer. For the vast majority of local blogs that have issues with local government or school districts, the answers to the question is simple: Call or email the entity that is giving you grief and ask for clarification on the topic.

That slide from the presentation showed something that upset you? Call the presenter and ask for clarification.

That school district official said something or did something that was unclear, call them up. Get them to explain themselves. Of course it is much easier to simply present a problem and let the crowd do what the crowd does.

But rarely, if ever in these posts or comments does any kind of viable resolution present itself.

Then the blog entry becomes much more interesting when the author first seeks to understand the problem and not just comment that there is a problem. Here is the problem that I perceive, here is who is responsible, here was their response to the questions we posed (or perhaps they did not respond, but that becomes part of the story as well), here is why I agree or disagree with the results.

Now I, as an author, understand the problem AND the solution, and here is why my readers can now understand the situation as well.

Instead of planting bombs of indignation, confusion and anger, plant trees of knowledge and understanding. Readers should be allowed to respond of course, but it would be very interesting to see if the negativity persisted if the blog post were written in that style. (And let’s not even discuss the how the elimination of “Anonymous” or the use of pseudonym comments would cut the negativity to close to zero.)

Seek first to understand. Don’t just seek first to be angry. Then write the blog entry. Then be understood.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

About Tim Holt

Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

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6 comments

  1. I live in Phoenix and that happens here as well.There are a lot of negative political blogs, mostly right winged ones, spouting the line of whatever Fox News or Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity has to say. Almost verbatim. Like little copy machines. It still amazes me how many Maricopa residents still support Joe Arpiao even after his convictions. There is no accounting for taste.
    But these are the dangers of social media. You take the good with the bad I guess.

  2. This has been happening. Since the dawn of social networking or Web 2.0 as it was known a decade ago. Nothing new hear. Bloggers blog because they have an agenda, they aren’t joutnalists. What you are asking for is for bloggers to act like responsible journalists. It ain’t gonna happen,

  3. In a time when everyone can have their own channel and their own opinion I surprised by how many adopt those of someone else. I guess it’s easier. What you share may have been true for a while but the symptoms are indeed becoming more and more acute. In a democracy that was designed to work on compromise I worry that nobody either wants to or can easily here the other side from where they’ve chosen to stand. Keep sharing these insights we need to see it, hear it and read it all the time!

  4. I feel the worse part of all of this is the way that the anonymous commenters attack anyone that might disagree with them on these blogs. I have seen it on a wide variety of comment sections from national to local. Getting rid of the ability of anonymous commenting might alleviate the situation. Anyone feels that they can say anything if they think they won’t get caught. Not a good example for our children, that’s for sure.

  5. Thank you all for commenting. I appreciate that you carefully read my column.
    Tim

  6. I wonder why everyone defaults to angry? What does it say about humans that when you don’t know who it is, you just become an assh*le?

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