Tuesday, July 1, 2008

That's Quite an Assumption There, Mister

Last week I attended a brief that was rather complicated. It was someone describing a rather byzantine process we might use in the event of a particular contingency and the accompanying instructions in a rather dry fashion.

Towards the end of the allotted time, he left room for questions. There were one or two from the floor, but despite his repeated entreaties after those, no one asked any more.

After the brief, a Mustang (that's a prior enlisted officer) Lieutenant said to me, "I'm surprised there weren't more questions. I guarantee not everyone understood what he was saying. That just goes to show that people are afraid to admit when they don't know something."

I'm not sure that I buy that line of reasoning. What's more, I find it a bit presumptuous.

There are lots of reasons people might not ask a question following a brief. First of all, they might have zoned out and don't want to show it by asking something that's already been covered. Second, they may not want to take up everyone else's time -- remember, if there are 30 people in the room, and your question (and its answer) take up 10 minutes, that's 5 total person-hours (that was for you, kd!) of government time that you've taken up -- it might be easier just to look the answer up or ask a buddy later. Third, they may not even know enough to ask.

If someone spoke about something I was very familiar with (say, U.S. military actions since the fall of the Berlin Wall) I could sit there, rapt, for as long as the speaker could go, and would probably have several thoughtful questions ready to go by the end.

But let's say the topic were something I had no knowledge whatsoever regarding -- say, how to get around Indianapolis using only the public transit system. It would be very hard for me to follow for more than five minutes. So after about thirty minutes, if someone asked me if I had any questions, I wouldn't, because I'd be so lost that I wouldn't even know what to ask in the first place.

Or it could be something else entirely. I can easily recall a time when I was in a new situation, a bit intimidated, and thought the best way to get through it was to just maintain a low profile and stay as quiet as possible. That failed badly, as the senior officer in charge interpreted the initial silence as something nearly 180-degrees out from what it really was (and of course things only went downhill from there).

To tie this entry back to a bottom line, and a bigger picture, my point is this: I'm not a big fan of any broad-brush statement that claims to have a person -- or group of people -- psychologically "dialed-in" based on a tiny sample of anecdotal evidence that may be falsely interpreted in the first place.

You may relate to this, or you may not. But what I'll promise you is that if you don't have any questions about the above text, I won't make some grandiose claim about the connection to your inner psyche!


Chris said...

There are few things more presumptuous than playing "Johnny Psychologist"

The New Englander said...


No doubt, young padawan. I can think of a time very recently where I misinterpreted something by 180 degrees because I saw it only through my frame of reference.

On an unrelated note, when Frank and Nick came up, we hit the Natty Park both days..."truly it was an Industrial Revelation."