Nobody’s Listening

Rants16 Comments

For a long time, I have always had this edge to my personality. These types of things are hard for one to understand about themselves. It takes a lot of self introspection and noticing reactions of others. Who has time for that kind of crap?

Once in an annual review at work, I got labeled with something that suited this edge I speak of. One word to describe me. “Brandon is very direct”. What the hell does that mean? Do I actually agree with this label? The more I thought about it, the more I agreed with the evaluator’s opinion. I wasn’t sure I loved it but I surely didn’t hate it.

It starts with simple things like not sprinkling please and thank yous in my email communications with people. For example, I might say “Take out the trash”. I found the recipients often going “What’s up your ass today?”. Nothing. I just told you directly what I wanted done. You should appreciate the efficiency of my communication.

But it wasn’t working as intended. So I experimented, the next time it was “Hey buddy, how’s things? Say can you take out the trash? That would be great. Thanks much. Peace out”. Or something to that effect. And the actual result seemed to go better. I just had to surround it by a dozen words of padding AKA bullshit. OK, then.

I literally have to finish an email or whatever and then go back and insert this type of nonsense into the message because it doesn’t flow naturally out of me. Maybe its because there is no body language that goes along with an email message. So you have to add “filler” to make it more palatable.

Now, oddly, about a decade ago I found myself taking this a completely different direction with some of my closest friends and family. I got tired of being direct with them. I am so clear that you should just know what the fuck I am thinking and just do it. I played this mind game on my wife repeatedly. Without her knowledge.

This often ended up with me setting up some arbitrary task that needed to be completed to win back my affection. “I am not talking to her until that floor is mopped”. I would not mop the floor. That was her job. But I would be shitty about everything in life until she figured out that this was the goal and fulfilled it. It never really worked. Imagine that.

It actually drove us apart more than anything.

Some number of years ago, I sort of figured out I was doing this consciously because she was doing it back to me and I didn’t appreciate that. I am a direct person. I can take it. Just tell me what the hell you want me to do to make you happy. I will just do it. But don’t make me play guessing games.

Wait? Wasn’t that the same thing I was doing to her? Yep. What dysfunction.

We had a talk at some point and I felt like I had figured out the secret to relationships. I told her that we needed to make a pact. We would both agree then and there that we could not read each other’s mind. Neither of us held that special skill. If I want her to do something, its kind of easier just to tell her. I suppose there is a place there where you think to yourself “I shouldn’t have to tell you that, you should just know”. But I guess it was a waste of time to try and figure that angle out. Just easier to say it and move on.

Not too often but once in a while, I get an opportunity to share relationship advice. Maybe to a younger couple or something. Being my direct self, I simply say, “Your partner cannot read your mind.” They look at me like “duh?” but I feel like there are years of wisdom behind that simple little piece of advice.

So I struggle with this direct thing daily.

When do I have to say more? Adding those pleasantries to soften the message. I have surely burnt relationships of the past by not addressing or understanding this early enough. The other person likely misinterpreted me. Sorry about that.

When do I have to say something instead of nothing? Being sure that I communicate instead of just thinking the other person is dumb for not automatically knowing what I wanted.

This is possibly why I do the things I do. I write software. Its very direct. I run. I don’t have to talk to anyone while out there. And I write on this blog from time to time. Its been different levels of raw over the years. But you don’t have to read my mind. I just tell you what’s on it. And nobody has to listen.

  • georgezack

    Software is “direct.” Insert eye roll here.

    Otherwise, I hear ya. I get the “you are direct” crap all the time at work.

  • georgezack

    Software is “direct.” Insert eye roll here.

    Otherwise, I hear ya. I get the “you are direct” crap all the time at work.

  • Lucho

    Good post Brandon. True and honest introspection is difficult but important. Keep being direct if it’s honest. Honesty is admirable and rare these days.

  • Ashley

    I have this exact same problem. I appreciate directness from others (I’ve always called it bluntness). It doesn’t go over very well in the South. I roll my eyes at emails that are padded with niceties and peppered with smileys, and like you, I have to reread emails I’ve written and add that stuff in to some extent. And I often expect those closest to me to read my mind. Still working on that one.

  • footfeathers

    On the surface, you and I seem very different. We’re actually pretty similar. I guess that’s why I was eventually able to overlook the H2.

    This type of post is great, not only for you to express things but also makes people reflect on themselves. I appreciate the candid rawness and introspection. Most stuff I read on blogs seems contrived and self aware. Looking forward to the next time you’re stuck on a plane with time to “ramble”.

  • ff

    On the surface, you and I seem very different. We’re actually pretty similar. I guess that’s why I was eventually able to overlook the H2.

    This type of post is great, not only for you to express things but also makes people reflect on themselves. I appreciate the candid rawness and introspection. Most stuff I read on blogs seems contrived and self aware. Looking forward to the next time you’re stuck on a plane with time to “ramble”.

    • Oh god, not the truck again. I spent the first few years owning it defending it. Now I don’t care what people think. I love the thing.

  • mikehinterberg

    More good stuff. Again, it reminds me of some communication patterns stuff we learned about. I’ll try to look for it but you can figure out the gist: you are the direct, introspective/judgment (as in, black/white “best/worst”; as am I and most engineers) type, and others are more of the emotional and intuitive type. But the irony is that personality type is terse with personal communication, yet likely to share overly detailed factual analysis of a situation. See almost all ultra race reports!

    The main thing we learned for effective communication is “mirroring” the other person. So the answer to your question about adding “bullshit” is to get a sense for how the other person communicates first.

    But the other hurdle and mistake is thinking that our approach is the best/only way. While honesty is valuable, timing and context are also important. If we tell somebody something directly and they don’t respond well, then we have also failed to communicate. Heck, in the extreme, look at how you talk to your kids at various ages. So even if you still want to break it down into a logical problem, the /optimal/ way to communicate with a particular person may not be the direct way. And that means acknowledging that “filler” and “bullshit” (I used to agree with that but have since been more moderated, mostly by my wife and being surrounded by more non-engineers over time) can actually serve a purpose. It’s more motivating and productive for many people to work with someone who they have at least a casual interest in knowledge of them as a person. Interest in mutual success isn’t always driven directly and only by, say, deadlines and monetary incentives; other people want to succeed as a group because they care about the group as a whole, and not letting other people down.

    Some of us can run a race and call it “terrible” because we missed a goal by a couple minutes, while someone else might have a great time because they ran with friends, met new people, ran on a new trail, etc.

    Different metrics, different perspectives.

    So, yeah, it’s important to know ourselves: that’s how we function best. But it’s interesting to know other people, too: that’s how we learn.

  • mikehinterberg

    More good stuff. Again, it reminds me of some communication patterns stuff we learned about. I’ll try to look for it but you can figure out the gist: you are the direct, introspective/judgment (as in, black/white “best/worst”; as am I and most engineers) type, and others are more of the emotional and intuitive type. But the irony is that personality type is terse with personal communication, yet likely to share overly detailed factual analysis of a situation. See almost all ultra race reports!

    The main thing we learned for effective communication is “mirroring” the other person. So the answer to your question about adding “bullshit” is to get a sense for how the other person communicates first.
    But the other hurdle and mistake is thinking that our approach is the best/only way. While honesty is valuable, timing and context are also important. If we tell somebody something directly and they don’t respond well, then we have also failed to communicate. Heck, in the extreme, look at how you talk to your kids at various ages. So even if you still want to break it down into a logical problem, the /optimal/ way to communicate with a particular person may not be the direct way. And that means acknowledging that “filler” and “bullshit” (I used to agree with that but have since been more moderated, mostly by my wife and being surrounded by more non-engineers over time) can actually serve a purpose. It’s more motivating and productive for many people to work with someone who they have at least a casual interest in knowledge of them as a person. Interest in mutual success isn’t always driven directly and only by, say, deadlines and monetary incentives; other people want to succeed as a group because they care about the group as a whole, and not letting other people down.

    Some of us can run a race and call it “terrible” because we missed a goal by a couple minutes, while someone else might have a great time because they ran with friends, met new people, ran on a new trail, etc.
    Different metrics, different perspectives.

    So, yeah, it’s important to know ourselves: that’s how we function best. But it’s interesting to know other people, too: that’s how we learn.

  • Glenn

    The introspection posts are fun. You turn the same tools on people and relationships and you see what works and what doesn’t.

  • Ward

    Good stuff, man. I caught myself doing the same thing this year. made everyone miserable including myself. Thanks for putting it out there.