Thursday, June 7, 2012

Hey Grads: Work on Your CQ!

"The online world of social media -- Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, blogs, etc. is just like an oversized cocktail party in which everyone is talking but no one is listening."  -- Frequent critique of social media

"If you want to see a cocktail party in which everyone is talking but no one is listening, why not just go to an actual cocktail party?" -- My response

Well, we've officially entered cliche season, otherwise known as June, and otherwise marked by trite marketing cliches involving "Dads and Grads."

I've never had to give a commencement address, so I recognize that I'm playing the role of "critic who doesn't count." (to paraphrase TR)  Still, last night at the LHS ceremony, I was surprised to hear a student speaker reflect upon the amazing diversity of those present, and then talk about they all cheered together at a pep rally, and all preferred certain classes or hallways at the expense of others, so were really the same when you stop and think about it.  Maybe I'm being way too harsh on an 18 year-old, and applying the standards of someone who has had well over a decade's worth of additional life experience, but I thought that was kind of phoning it in.  [I'm not saying don't talk about diversity, but I would think a memorable anecdote or two, or a new angle/spin on the concept would be more novel].

But it's not easy.  You can be like the guy who gave the speech at Wellesley, who had the guts to "afflict the comfortable" by telling them they weren't so special, and generate a lot of controversy.  But that also involves a lot of risk.

You could also try giving practical advice, but the problem there, as Mayor Murphy pointed out in his brief remarks last night, is that no one typically remembers what gets said at those things anyway.

But if you've made it this far into the entry, I'll assume I've hooked you.  If you are familiar with this blog, though, I'll give fair warning that I'm about to wade into familiar waters:  conversation.

Quick: Think of three people in your life that you would really like to see at a dinner party.  Seriously, please do it.  Just close your eyes, think of your three people, and you're good.  Thanks.  Now, think of three people in your life you would really not like to see at that dinner party.  Again, thanks.

Here's what I can guarantee without even knowing who you chose:  Members of the first group each have a high CQ, or Conversational Quotient, and members of the second group have a low CQ.

No surprise, CQ has two important factors: Your ability to talk and your ability to listen.  Now, there are TONS of books out there that tell people to be good listeners.  In fact, almost every single book written about leadership, people skills, networking, getting ahead, etc. offers this piece of advice: be a better listener.  Generally speaking, it's good.

Not enough of it happens.  To see the proof, remove yourself from the equation.  Take a period of time - a day, a week, a month, whatever - and just make a point of observing all the conversations around you.  Really pay attention.  Notice how many people are either pretending to listen while doing something else, or doing the jaw-slightly-agape maneuver, just chomping at the bit for the speaker to stop so that they can say whatever it is they're waiting to say, never mind that it might be a non sequitur to whatever precedes it.

Okay, but all of that was obvious.  The problem with all those books that tell you to be a better listener, or even try to tell you how to be a better listener, is that they all presume an obligation on someone's part to listen to whatever jaw-jacking is going on in the first place.  As far as I'm concerned, that obligation doesn't -- and shouldn't -- exist.

So here comes the second component of CQ, which you won't see in all the advice literature:  Try becoming a better talker.  When you decide to open your trap, stop and think about whether you're "improving the silence."  In particular, ask whether the person you're subjecting your words to might care.  It's like, if you bump into your neighbor that's a huge sports fan, by all means bring up the Celtics and the Heat.  See where it goes.  If the interest is there, keep the conversation flowing.  If not, don't subject him or her to a 15-minute out-of-breath analysis about the impact of Chris Bosh's playing time on the series.  That would be bad talk in that instance.  To a different set of ears, though, it might be good talk.  That 180-degree turn hinged only on the way one variable changed.  Know your audience, and gauge your audience.

One thing I've observed is that High CQ people tend to land big on both components of the score, and vice versa.

Someone who subjects me to twenty straight minutes about her three year-old's dentist appointment (demonstrating Low CQ, and I was trapped), then unsurprisingly cuts me off when I try to get a single sentence in later about something that mattered to a task at hand.  Alternatively, some people are very quiet, but despite the stereotypes about "talks little, says much," they just aren't all that interested either way.  They're not going to corner you into a never-ending series of observations about their time at Martha's Vineyard, but they also might be tuning you out after about 15 seconds.  They're obviously way preferable to the former group of Low CQ types, but they're not exactly showing much spark, either.

High CQ types (the ones you wanted at the dinner party), tend to *get it.*  They are intellectually curious enough to listen to others when it's appropriate, and simultaneously possess enough interpersonal skills/empathy to know when it's appropriate to speak.  And when to stop.  Some are more loquacious than others, but that's not really what it's about -- it's the interaction that counts.  One of my best friends (I won't name drop but will say he stirs north of the mighty Merrimack) has a reputation for being talkative, which his wife gives him a ration of crap for, but he's actually one of the highest CQ people that I know, which is why I always welcome his company and/or his calls.  When he talks, it's what I care about hearing, and when I talk, he's listening.  By contrast, a particular senior citizen who calls me every morning isn't really interested in conversing, he's just interested in talking.  There's a mountain of difference.  I have all the time in the world for a conversationalist, but I would honestly prefer not to waste a single, irretrievable minute on a talker.  If you already knew the difference between the two, you probably didn't need to read this blog entry.

Part of CQ is probably innate.  There may be cultural factors, and some of it may be in the wiring.  However, it's something that can be improved upon, which I think is worth passing along to anyone about to leave a period of formal schooling to enter the workforce or do just about anything else.

If all this sounded like a lot of mumbo-jumbo, I have one last favor to ask you:  Spend some time thinking about which of your peers' (co-workers, siblings, classmates, roommates, or whatever) company you enjoy the most, and which you enjoy the least.  A garrulous Low CQ type is the worst possible combination, right?  Yet someone who is actually listening when you talk, and is simultaneously *aware* enough to respect your interests when s/he does, is a WAY rarer commodity than most people realize.

Which is why we like those people.  We hire them, we promote them, and we put them in leadership roles because we trust them and want to be around them.  With apologies to Jack Kerouac, the High CQ types are "the only ones for me."  I think they're "the only ones" for lots of other people, too.  

1 comment:

Progressive Veterans said...

Um .... Er .... Well, ya know ... Um.

- Jack