Category Archives: Interesting

The Discipline of Listening Well

Harvard Business Review has a great article on good listening and it doesn’t involve keeping your mouth shut:

We analyzed data describing the behavior of 3,492 participants in a development program designed to help managers become better coaches. As part of this program, their coaching skills were assessed by others in 360-degree assessments. We identified those who were perceived as being the most effective listeners (the top 5%). We then compared the best listeners to the average of all other people in the data set and identified the 20 items showing the largest significant difference.  With those results in hand we identified the differences between great and average listeners and analyzed the data to determine what characteristics their colleagues identified as the behaviors that made them outstanding listeners.

We found some surprising conclusions, along with some qualities we expected to hear. We grouped them into four main findings:

Good listening is much more than being silent while the other person talks…

Good listening included interactions that build a person’s self-esteem

Good listening was seen as a cooperative conversation…

Good listeners tended to make suggestions.

The article has much more detail, but these main points give you an idea of where they’re headed with their findings. In a nutshell it’s not about just sitting there, nodding your head and saying “Uh huh,” and more about actively listening, asking questions at the appropriate time and even providing feedback.

In this day and age of constant interruption and distraction it’s becoming increasingly rare to find those moments when you truly engage with another human being. Your phone rings in mid-conversation and you feel compelled to answer, email and text “pings” chime and you glance down to read them while someone is talking to you, your to-do list hovers in the background of your mind and draws your attention away from the conversation, etc. All of this gets in the way of effective, concentrated listening.

Sadly, the people with whom we allow the most interruptions are those who are most important to us; spouses, kids and co-workers are often cut off while we answer the call from the boss, client or prospect. Why is that? Is it because we know they aren’t going anywhere and thus can talk to us any time? Maybe, but that means we’re devaluing the minutes we spend with them because of a perceived wealth of future minutes and that’s a fool’s trade because those future minutes tend to have a way of never materializing.

I’m a terrible offender when it comes to this bad habit of not actively and effectively listening, but I’m making a concerted effort to change that. To that end I’ve developed some rules for myself that I’m hoping to get better at following. This isn’t a particularly extensive, or comprehensive list, but it’s a start:

  1. Never, ever answer the phone when someone is in front of you having a conversation. (I’m actually pretty good at this, likely because I hate talking on the phone). The only exceptions would be if not answering could lead to very serious consequences like losing your job, sleeping on the couch for a week or getting the cold shoulder from your kid for a month. If those are possibilities then you’re likely expecting that call so that leads to rule 1-A: If you’re expecting a call you should tell whoever you’re talking to that you’re expecting an important call before you even start the conversation. That way they can decide if they want to risk being interrupted or wait for a more opportune time to talk.
  2. Mute your mobile so that you don’t even see/hear alerts for email, texts, etc. while you’re talking to someone. (I’m okay at this, but I need to get better).
  3. At home, leave your phone on your bed stand or in a drawer so you pay attention to your spouse, kids, roommates, etc. (I go through stages with this one and want to get better at it).
  4. At work, leave your desk and talk while standing in the hall or meeting in the conference room or on other neutral ground, and while you’re at it leave your mobile on your desk. Your almost guaranteed to have a shorter, more effective conversation that’s beneficial to all parties involved.
  5. Pay attention. I don’t think I’m alone in struggling with this one. My mind wanders – it goes off into la-la-land and returns via To-Do List road – so I’m trying to trick myself by pretending that I’m going to be tested on what’s being talked about. Results are mixed so far, but I think I’m getting better.
  6. Do what my wife does. She’s a WONDERFUL listener. She remembers everything, offers feedback and opinions and is empathetic, almost to a fault. If I can channel just 20% of her ability I’ll be on the right track.

I wish I could offer up some simple, listicle-like solutions to better listening, but I think it’s a lot like losing weight – you just have to work on developing good habits and stick to the program. Before you know it you’re skinnier and more attentive, which I think most of us would agree is a good thing.

The Odds of When You’ll Kick It

WhenIWillDie

Here’s a website that could depress you or elate you depending on your perspective. It calculates your odds for living a certain number of years based on your gender and current age. According to the odds I’m very likely more than halfway through my life (glass half empty) but I’m also more than likely to make it at least another 30 years (glass half full).

Here’s an observation: the older you are the less likely you are to see the glass half full.

Useful Typography

These 26 key rules from Butterick’s Practical Typography might be the most useful listicle I’ve seen in years. A sample:

  1. The four most im­por­tant ty­po­graphic choices you make in any doc­u­ment are point size, line spac­ing, line length, and font (pas­sim), be­cause those choices de­ter­mine how thebody text looks.
  2. point size should be 10–12 points in printed doc­u­ments, 15-25 pix­els on the web.
  3. line spac­ing should be 120–145% of the point size.
  4. The av­er­age line length should be 45–90 char­ac­ters (in­clud­ing spaces).
  5. The eas­i­est and most vis­i­ble im­prove­ment you can make to your ty­pog­ra­phy is to use a pro­fes­sional font, like those found in font rec­om­men­da­tions.
  6. Avoid goofy fonts, mono­spaced fonts, and sys­tem fonts, es­pe­cially times new ro­man and Arial.

My number one rule for this blog is “Pick a template and don’t deviate” since I figure someone much better at this than me spent a lot of time thinking about how it should look.

That’s One Expensive Comma

My 10th grade English teacher would have loved to have this real-world evidence that grammar truly matters:

In May 2014, Medfusion sued Allscripts, alleging breach of contract and other claims arising from an agreement to create and market an online patient portal for health care providers. Medfusion claimed Allscripts didn’t meet its commitments under the contract and sued for more than $4 million in damages…

According to the court’s March 31 ruling, the contract stated that “in no event shall either party be liable for any loss or damage to revenues, profits, or goodwill or other special, incidental, indirect, or consequential damages of any kind, resulting from its performance or failure to perform under this agreement …”

Allscripts argued that the comma before “or goodwill” is an Oxford, or serial, comma that sets apart three independent categories of damages barred by the agreement: revenues, whether direct or indirect; profits and goodwill.

Medfusion, on the other hand, argued the “or other … consequential damages” language modifies “revenues, profits, or goodwill,” meaning these categories of damages are only excluded to the extent that they are considered consequential, or indirect.

I’ve read this three times and I’m still confused, but truth be told I’m one of those rare English majors who wouldn’t recognize a prepositional phrase if it sat in my lap. Suffice it to say that law firms might want to employ a strong copy editor just to be safe.

Ever Wished You Could Just Crap Money?

If you’re really healthy you might be able to make a pretty penny selling your poop:

Some people with Crohn’s disease also benefit from fecal transplants. So a company called Open Biome has been facilitating fecal transplants to patients in need, and paying healthy poopers a hefty sum for their services.

Fecal matter is transferred either through endoscopy or swallowed capsules, and Open Biome has already shipped about 2,000 treatments to almost 200 hospitals, according to theWashington Post. They’ll pay you $40 per sample, plus an extra $50 if you come in 5 days a week (the donations have to be made on-site.) The only thing is, you have to be super-healthy: only about 4% of prospective donors make the cut.

As someone with a decidedly juvenile sense of humor I found this next part to be particularly good:

Open Biome gives their anonymous donors names like Vladimir Pootin, Albutt Einstein, and Dumpledore

Personally I prefer Sir Poopsalot or The Godfather of Poo.

Patreon or Support Your Local Blogger

Thanks to a thirty minute commute to work I spend at least an hour in the car every work day. Over the last several months I’ve started listening to podcasts more than the radio or songs from my phone, and it’s been an enlightening experience. Some of the podcasts I’ve found most interesting have been those that were spawned by a successful blog and that definitely includes Cool Tools, a blog on which people recommend their favorite tools in a variety of areas and describe in detail why they like the tool.

On one of the recent podcasts the guest recommended a service called Patreon, which is most easily described as a Kickstarter-like service for artists. Patreon allows writers, filmmakers, artists, bloggers, etc. to solicit patrons to support their work. Unlike Kickstarter, which is really a fundraising tool for the development of a specific product, Patreon allows its users to solicit funds for a project or a series of projects. So if you’re a filmmaker you can solicit funds for a specific film project or for your ongoing body of work. It’s totally up to you and your patrons how to set it up.

JonBobbleHeadCroppedI decided to test drive Patreon for this blog. Because I don’t have any specific projects in the works I decided to set it up on the monthly support model. If you decide you like the blog and find it of value you can simply go to my Patreon page and make a donation of any amount. As a “Thank You” I’ve set it up so that a donation of any amount will get you a free copy of a 20-page book (PDF format) titled Best of 2014’s Worthless Info, and if you give $25 then I’ll send you something from my library – a book, magazine or something else I’ve found incredibly useful in my accumulation of worthless knowledge.

This ought to be interesting.

20 Tactics for Paying Better Attention

While this list of “20 Ways to Win the War Against Seeing” came out of a project a professor created for a class on product design, I think all of us could benefit from trying them. Here’s a sample:

Spot something new every day
Another student, Gaïa Orain, focused her solution on a two-block walk she made every day, and that had long since become so routine she could have sleep-strolled it. So she made a conscious effort to “see something new” every day — turning this routine walk into a kind of open-ended game.

Let a stranger lead you
Thinking about strangers reminds me of Vito Acconci’s well-known “Following Piece,” performed over a period of weeks in 1969: Daily, he would pick a random person, and follow her or him around New York. This would continue until his subject entered some space Acconci could not (a residence, for instance, or a car that promptly departs). In one case, this meant sitting through a movie when the person he was following went to the cinema. The exercise could last a few minutes, or hours, depending on what the stranger happened to do. I doubt Acconci would characterize his goals as having much to do with “paying attention,” per se, but borrowing his practice would be an adventure in seeing the new.

Misuse a Tech Tool
This has been another recurring theme. One student used a chat/dating app designed for gay men to (“obsessively”) monitor the number and locations of users within 400 feet. Another used the macro filter on her digital camera to study the textures of street objects on her walks to and from school. A third started using the compass on her iPhone to orient her gaze — wherever she walked, she’d take a look toward true north, and whatever happened to be there, “introducing a degree of randomness into what I saw.”

Social Media, Greensboro Sit Ins, Malcolm Gladwell and Potential Plagiarism

In an extensive piece that explores whether or not Malcolm Gladwell engaged in plagiarism for several articles he wrote for The New Yorker, Our Bad Media cites a 1970 book on the Greensboro sit ins as one of the sources he allegedly copied without attribution. From the Our Bad Media piece:

In his 2010 New Yorker column “Small Change,” Gladwell took a skeptical look at the use of social media as a tool for activists, discussing the often over-hyped impact of Facebook and Twitter’s effects on protests around the world. He drew parallels throughout the piece to the civil rights movement, mostly by recounting the story of the historic 1960 Greensboro sit-ins, when four black college students began a protest at Woolworth’s over its whites-only lunch counter.

Whereas the previous examples may have been limited in scope, the entirety of Gladwell’s description of the Greensboro sit-ins in his column—including quotes, descriptions of the Woolworth’s, and the sequence of events—are lifted from Miles Wolff’s authoritative but obscure 1970 book, Lunch at the Five and Ten.

We double-checked the print versions of The New Yorker to check if the online edition omitted any attributions or citations. It doesn’t. Gladwell again makes no mention of the author or his book despite building an entire column around it.

Below are the side-by-side comparisons of all Greensboro-related passages from the print edition of Gladwell’s article (in order) and the relevant passages from Wolff’s book.

If you follow the link to the post you’ll find close to a dozen excerpts from Gladwell’s article that match passages from the book. Methinks he might be in some hot water.