All Hat and No Comprehension

Silver Fern, national symbol of New Zealand

One of the sessions I’m supposed to present at the Romance Writers of New Zealand conference has to do with how an author can keep her balance in an industry that combines the worst of big tech with the worst of the commercial arts. Writers are supposed to stay on top of a business environment that’s growing more complex by the nanosecond, while protecting a creative imagination that’s increasingly endangered, to a significant extent by the very tech we rely on to generate a product.

What’s an author to do?

Write books of course, and stick with the readers, because they support the core agenda of getting good stories into the hands of the people who will appreciate them most.

Flower from which manuka honey is made

Everybody else–the publishing houses, marketing weanies, tech giants, agents, editors, and various other support personnel–takes a backseat role to the readers. If an author doesn’t have or value readers, the circus folds in short order.

But beyond that Prime Directive, I’ve also spotted a few potholes that wait to trap the unwary author, and one of them that seems to cross many professions is the person whose receptive language skills can’t keep up with their expressions language skills.

Whazzat mean? These are the people our grandmas and grandpas said, were, “All hat and no cattle.” They can talk a good game… as long as that game is about themselves. They are articulate, knowledgeable, and even charming, but the more closely you listen the more you realize, they can’t process what you’re telling them. A basic question, “What platform do you find best suited to discovery of a dinosaur-shifter-suspense series?” gets a lot of blah-blah-blah in response.

These folks can always tell you what they want you to know, but when it comes to dishing on what you need to know… more blah-blah. They can’t process incoming information well or quickly, they aren’t good analytical thinkers. They are tapdancing as fast as they can, hoping you (and they?) don’t find that out.

I have met many receptive-language laggards in the courtroom. Attorneys, social workers, clients… as long as they are on “send,” they manage quite well. When it comes to “receive” or “acknowledge,” the speed is much slower and your message has a hard time getting through. Of course, nobody wakes up at the age of three and says, “Who needs receptive language skills? Not me. I’ll just express myself at top speed for the rest of my life and I’ll be fine.” This skill deficit that makes life hard, and I don’t wish it on anybody.

Kiwi Tree

But I also don’t wish its results on me, or one my author buddies, so in my presentation, I’m dropping a flag on people with this communication pattern, authors included. If this is your cross to bear, then you’ve probably learned to ask, “Could you repeat that?” or, “Let me make sure I understand…” or, “How, exactly, does that work in a cause and effect sense?” In the absence of compensating habits like those questions, dialogue can become monologue very quickly.

What are some communication styles or habits that drive you bonkers? Are there any skills or habits you’ve come across that are particularly helpful for keeping conversation productive? To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of my laaaaasssst (I think) ARC of My One and Only Duke.


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15 comments on “All Hat and No Comprehension

  1. Active communication works best for me. I need to listen and so do the other parties. I find the active style keep the conversation flowing; questions are asked, ideas are shared with positive results.

    Open ended questions work when you are stuck on a project or need some new ideas. If you ask a friend or a co worker an open ended question you will be able to get new ideas or a new perspective

    The dismissive style doesn’t work for me. I have a manager who uses this style every day.

    Enjoy your trip!

  2. “… as a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

    Guilty, as charged.

    My mind wanders, horribly, when I’m talking, so I rather need to say my piece all at once. With our son home who is like his mother in that respect, we often are talking past each other to our mutual frustration. Communicating by text helps.

  3. I have a son with autism (who is an adult). Every year, it seems, there is a *new* term for some aspect of autism treatment or diet or characteristics. These new terms, essentially, describe something in a new way but not really in a new and HELPFUL way. We have to keep up with these terms or……we are accused of not knowing *very much* about autism and what our son needs.

    Now, I happened to be a past-president of a local chapter of the Autism Society of America and my husband (a physician) wrote the first children’s book about autism. We try to keep up with how things are now and they are not much different from when our son was in school. The treatments are not much different–other than the new and shiny terms–but if we are meet someone with a young child or a special educator and we don’t know the new term (ex. AIT Therapy for Listening Therapy etc.) we are chastised. Really. The interesting thing is, when they describe, condescendingly of course, what they mean, we say “oh you mean *****” and they look at us like like we’re crazy. They can’t imagine that we had the same therapies as they do but with different names.

    I don’t think re-naming a therapy (but keeping it the same) is helpful and I am not sure WHY many decide it’s a good idea to do so. IT creates a divide when there should be unity for helping everyone–child or adult–with autism.

  4. I have to do a lot of conference calls for my job and work with a lot different types of people including some who like to hear themselves talk but struggle when others are talking just like described in this blog. One of the things I’ve learned is to let them talk and once they are done, summarize what I think they were trying to communicate and confirm my understanding. It is still a work in process.

  5. Most frustrating coworker ever-I would go to her with a “time sensitive“ question. In instances where she did not know the answer (unfortunately 9 out of 10), she would provide a lengthy answer on a totally unrelated topic. She was inescapable, relentless and completely incapable of uttering the phrase “I don’t know“. She invariably wasted time I did not have with information I did not need. In very short order, I develop skills for avoiding her and often managed to go six months or longer without seeing or hearing her.

  6. One type of discourse which drives me absolutely batty is people who start in the middle of a story, assuming, for some reason, that I already know the beginning! I have several family members (some close, some extended family) who always do that! I sometimes ask my husband, “Is it me or do you also have no idea what the beginning of the tale is?” Although I’m 67 years old & certainly exhibit my share (maybe more than my share!) of senior moments, I don’t think it’s all me! Anyway, because I love & respect the people involved, I usually just try to piece together as much as I can. Thank goodness there isn’t a test afterwards!!!

  7. Well, I think the ability to communicate well is really the most important and difficult skill to master. There is so much more than just words! So much to do with culture, values, how one feels… Maybe because English is my 2nd language sometimes I have to really focus and try to understand. I got a new job doing nursing review and it can be a challenge because I really can’t believe how much people murder the English language!

    It bothers me when you are talking with people and they are answering and checking their email, phone at the same time… I am old fashion. I like eye contact and undivided attention… I tell my young nephews all the time!

    I told you before Grace, and it just happened again – my vocabulary increases when I read your books! I am reading “How to find a Duke in 10 days”…

  8. Those who talk only in commands/directives interspersed with boastful stories drive me crazy along with those people who turn every event and discussion into a story about their life even if they aren’t always the shining star in the story. I actually worked for a man who honestly thought he was ‘relating well’ to people when he always found a way to turn every converstion into a story about his life and of course how wonderful he was. He is my perfect example of a bad communicator. He still works for my company and unfortunately serves as an example for new employees as how not to interact with others.

  9. I enjoyed your post as you made me aware of something I’d observed but never thought through. And yep, once you pointed it out, I know quite a few people who do that *all the time*, and a few who do it as a way of blowing smoke in tight situations.

    Part of my job is finding what information people really need in order to do their job, so I have learned to ask questions and listen. Repeat the process until you have a clear picture and then repeat it back. (then do it again until you get it right)

  10. My stepmother will start a conversation with ” You know… so and so has passed away, or so and so has had a baby, or whatever.” I don’t know these things because you don’t tell me! sigh. At work they will say “Thank you for all that you do,” that means they have no idea what I do. sigh. What is helpful is “I statements rather than We statements.”

  11. Re: High Tech & Commercial Art Problems For Romance Writers

    All the high tech & commercial art may make the romance book cover look great, cue a reader to buy the book or eBook, but if the hair color, basic looks of the heroine & hero don’t match the couple on the book cover…buyer of book feels “cheated.”

  12. I appreciate how your mind works and that you freely share your insights. We live in a difficult and competitive world. Before people can really listen, they have to quiet their internal mental chatter and step outside of their own fears. It can be done, but it requires putting aside self and being fully present to the other person, with understanding as the main agenda. To actually be “heard” is a wonderful gift. I’m glad you wrote about this important aspect of human relationships. I think this is an important key to my goal of becoming a truly kind and gentle person. I am going to work much harder at making sure I hear and understand what is being said to me; rather than focusing on being understood. You clarified an important point that I had not considered fully. Now that I understand that better, it will make my task of being more fully human and available to others without fear, much easier. Thank you very much.

  13. I find meetings where people are more focussed on being seen to contribute than problem solving a real drain.

    We can go round and round in circles with different people making EXACTLY the same points more and more emphatically.

    I’ve find it quite helpful to cut in (at some point, usually when I’m out of patience) and in a firm voice summarize what’s been said, suggest a course of action or point out that it’s an issue we aren’t able solve right now, then move the group on to the next agenda item.