Monday, July 27, 2009

Don’t You Dare… Use “Gratuitous Information”

By Larry Rosenberg

Don’t’ you dare waste your (or our) time and dissipate our (or your) energy by giving information that is not necessary to the story you are telling.

Let’s say you are listening to a colleague or friend speaking about the economic recession, a new restaurant or his/her unfolding divorce. And he/she is going on far too long. You sense there are simply too many details coming your way. You are interested in the topic, probably out of respect for the person, but not that interested!

The problem is probably related not just to the quantity of information received, but even more to its quality – meaning its lack of quality. Let’s call this low-quality stuff “gratuitous information,” or GI for short. Gratuitous means superfluous, unnecessary or unjustified. We simply do not need it and so we do not like it.

Here is an example: Your colleague is describing how much he likes sushi, while everyone in the group is ordering their favorite sushi pieces and rolls. Suddenly he adds how last year he was at a sushi restaurant and what he ordered smelled funny to him, what he dubs the “great risk of sushi.” The issue is not the truth of his statement and experience, rather it is about his judgment. Or in this case, a dubious judgment of what he said and his not thinking through the unintended consequence of his words on the mood of the group.

Why do people include GI in their communications?
  • It could be they simply cannot tell the difference between what is important and want is fluffy or even off-putting.
  • Or they have a need to share and be understood and mistakenly think that their story is interesting to others as well.
  • Or they are thinking and speaking so fast that they are not evaluating the probable impact of what they are uttering.
  • Or they believe that “colorful” content, what we now call GI, makes them look more interesting.

Now that you realize how much you do not appreciate GI when others speak or write, how about looking in the mirror and identifying GI in you speaking and writing. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are my best points to make on this topic? And stick to your mental or written list. Oh, a few examples and short stories can add clarity and color, but don’t go too far off the track.
  • How much detail and what type of detail are appropriate to this listener, topic and situation? It is usually better to say less than you might like, thus giving the other person the courtesy of asking for more detail, if he needs it.
  • How much should I speak compared to listening to another person? Since you can usually learn more by listening to others than speaking yourself, endeavor to be focused and brief, thus allowing more time in the encounter to listen and learn.
  • How can I edit out potential GI from my conversations? Develop the skill of meta-listening, which is speaking slowly enough while you think ahead about what to say next, and then considering in a micro-second whether the prospective content is useful or GI.

So, don’t you dare use GI. And give gentle and constructive feedback to others about their GI. Let’s make the world safer for good communication!

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