What does human conversation really sound like? A study in leadership style

This blog entry is a follow-up to the previous blog entry. I am happy to have had some feedback on it, both offline and here in the comments section. It was an issue at work, as you may have guessed, and it all blew over completely a while back.

However, not surprisingly, some people wrote and said how much they hated when people “talked over” each other. I suddenly realized there’s a major misunderstanding here, in fact, a myth propagated by our early schooling (maybe) that has shaped our idea of how a human conversation supposedly happens, and how it really happens.

As a writer, I learned this, but most do not learn the truth about human conversation since most do not learn how to write dialogue, that is, dialogue that one might write in a work of fiction or any other creative written work.

As a child, of course, I thought all you had to do was to put quotation marks around what people said.  Maybe you thought the same thing.

Now when I instruct people in public speaking, which I do on occasion, I might recommend that people speak in complete sentences. I might also point out in feedback on a given speech that a particular person made productive use of pauses, and took a breath at the end of a sentence. Thus, the speaker punctuated that sentence with a period. Even better, the speaker may have placed emphasis on the end of that sentence with the use of an accented syllable and a strong word.

Take the sentence, “I have a dream.” See how that four-word sentence ends on the word “dream,” which is the downbeat? Not only that, but the eeee in dream is a long vowel. If MLK said “Nightmare,” it wouldn’t be as strong. “Mare” is unaccented. See? And so on.

However, conversation is not public speaking. Public speaking is monologue with limited audience participation.  When we converse, it’s different because the speaking is back and forth.

When people speak, do they speak one at a time? I challenge anyone out there to go listen to humans. Not humans a your local board meeting. Humans at a coffee shop. Children playing. Guys at a bar. Teenagers outside the library. Moms with babies talking about their babies.

I bet you anything they don’t talk one at a time. Do they? NO! They overlap. Not a lot. Some. Listen carefully. In fact, they don’t actually complete many of their sentences. Why? Overlap. One will start, and the other might complete the sentence for her. Or perhaps…add something like.. “Really? You did?” Or…”Hey, yeah, I agree!” Or, “What a jerk, I think he’s an ass, too.”

Is this interrupting? Or is it joyful enthusiasm?

Check out any really good novel or play. Notice how the dialogue is written. I have taught writers how to write realistic-sounding dialogue and I almost always have to tell writers that people do speak over each other. Why? Because humans simply are that way. It is not even considered rude until someone decides to be obnoxious and call it that. Humans converse in an overlapping manner. I see no reason to correct what is culturally already the accepted norm, just because we have false beliefs drilled into our heads about what it should be.

If anyone out there thinks that humans are actually supposed to talk one at a time, guess where we got brainwashed? Likely in school. Elementary school. Way back when. It’s not true! Humans simply do not talk that way.

Let’s think for a minute about the book, Lord of the Flies. Remember that one? Right at the start, Ralph, who somehow ended up the leader, decided…or was it a group decision?….that they needed to be organized. Somehow that translated into this rule that one person talked at a time. This was an enforcement of an unnatural way of human speech during these meetings. Because they were human, they were unable to do this without a tool to help them. Do you recall what that tool was?

I remember. They made a rule that whoever held the conch shell was the one who would speak. If you didn’t have it in your hand, you could not speak.

In a word: Power. You have the shell, you have power.

Now translate this all back to the workplace meeting or the classroom, or perhaps, the therapy group.

The group leader or organizer says: Please, group, you must speak one at a time here. If you do not I will ask you to leave.

Power. Do you hear that in the statement? The leader is demanding unnatural behavior from her subordinates, because speaking with no overlap whatsoever isn’t the way humans speak. (Honestly, folks, what could be more unnatural about Group Therapy? I mean…..) The group leader, or supervisor, has the power to decide if you are too human (or if she doesn’t like the content of what you are saying).  On a whim she exercises her power and, in front of the group she admonishes you like a kindergarten teacher about “interrupting” when all you did was to speak normally.

Another tactic of such supervisors is to silence you to the point that you are fed up, and then, near the end of the meeting, finally, turn to you and say, “What was your question?” She knows damn well you’ve forgotten it by now, or hopes you have. She waits two seconds and says, “Okay, you have no questions, let’s end the meeting.” If you protest and tell her one second too late that you have suddenly recalled what that question was…Ooops…you’ve interrupted her. Time for another lecture, and then, meeting’s over.

Jimmy Carter: Who here voted for him? I did!


I’m not sure if readers can access this article but when you do you will not be surprised.

JC is the same age that my dad would be if he were alive. I remember when I voted for Jimmy Carter. This was the very first pres election I voted in, the very first time I voted. I was 18 years old and it was 1976. I voted in Amherst, Massachusetts.

I remember that summer clearly as if it were yesterday. I worked as a dishwasher and I had two roommates, both of whose names began with P. We had a dog and a couple of cats who lived with us. One of the P’s had a boyfriend, too, and I can’t remember if he lived there or just stayed there. We had a little TV and all TV’s then worked via an antenna. There was no such thing as “cable” and if you’d asked us we wouldn’t have known what you were talking about.

One of the P’s had told me about JC. I remember her talking excitedly about him. As excited as you can be when you are stoned on pot. (She was like that about 24/7.) She told me I should listen to this guy. I did.

Did any of us, me, or either of the two P’s, admit that we were on the tearful side while watching Jimmy Carter? I didn’t admit it, but I suspect we all were. All three.

You gotta realized we’d been through years of broken promises over Vietnam, dead bodies coming home, worries about our brothers, cousins, neighbors, scared the war just wouldn’t end, and police violence then was a problem like it is now, too. And of course the issue with Nixon.  Could we ever trust a politician again?

Carter was this idealist guy. This guy who came out of nowhere untainted by the previous corruption. You bet we wanted something new.

Jimmy Carter as president was refreshing, honest, no-nonsense, and human, and in my opinion….as my late boyfriend Joe would said….”A First Class Act.”

I am glad I voted for him. How about you?

The Non-Stop Talker: A common Workplace issue

I have encountered the issue of the nonstop talker at my workplace. Have you? Do you have a chatterbox in your department? Do you have one you are supervising, or, even worse, one that is your supervisor? What do you say to a coworker who won’t stop yapping?

Now these yappers seem to be commonplace in the workplace so let me describe their characteristics in a bit more detail.

Diagnosis: Yapper. 1. Person speaks way too fast, over 160 wpm, in a way that many humans cannot understand except perhaps those trained to understand a screen reader. 2. Person speaks without pausing, not even to take a breath. Person doesn’t breathe, apparently. 3. Person speaks indefinitely, without allowing others to acknowledge that they understand. 4. If others ask questions, or even say, “Okay,” they are accused of “interrupting” by the yapper. 5. If the listener asks the chronic yapper to slow down, typically, instead of apologizing and progressing at a more appropriate speed, she refuses or accuses the listener of being rude.

What do you do when someone at work constantly yaps? Some people tune it out as if it’s radio static, in such a way that their brains do not process it as incoming sound. You really can do this, but it’s easier with some types of sound than it is with others.

Imagine you are at a large gathering, say, a bar mitzvah or wedding. Say there are 200 people there. Or if you are an old fogie like me, a funeral reception. What do you do when many are in a large room and many conversations are happening all at once?

I have had to leave such gatherings due to the ridiculous noise level produced by too many humans. However, I do my best to stick around and socialize if I can. If the place has decent acoustics (what is decent?) then usually the sounds are muffled enough so that the ear can focus on the desired speaker.

If that is possible, then wouldn’t it be possible to focus one’s attention or one’s hearing on something else other than the annoying yapping speaker?

Didn’t we do this back in elementary school (or church)?


What if the speaker is saying something you actually (I had to put that “actually” in there….) have to pay attention to? Such as important instructions, vital how-tos, stuff to do with your paycheck, or…directions to the nearest exit? Now what?

Having encountered this unpleasantry….If I had to do it again, and undoubtedly it will eventually repeat itself, I think I will remain totally silent and let the person yap. While on the phone, a technique to keep myself silent during the yapper’s diatribe that might work is to mute my mic, but if I have background noise, when the background noise suddenly stops on her end, it’s obvious that I have done this!

I will not say, “Are you done?” Why? This is so, so rude. Or, it is, in my opinion. It is a silencing remark. I will instead say “Thank you.” Just that. The yapper can interpret “Thank you” in any manner she wants.

When she is finally all done, whether I understand or not, I will thank her plainly without apology or explanation, by all means without sarcasm, make sure she hears the thank you, and end the conversation as quickly as I can.

Unfortunately, the message, whatever it is, or was, may very well be lost. If “excuse me, can you clarify?” is perceived as an interruption, if “can you please repeat that, I didn’t understand,” is likewise seen as “rude,” there’s really nothing you can do. What these kinds of accusations toward the listener really mean is that the speaker has no intention of communicating a message to you. The message is unimportant, in fact!  The speaker intends to wield power over you. That, in fact, is the real message.

I am more important. I earn more money. I have worked here longer. I know better than you. I have seniority. I am smarter, better, richer….

And so on. This is why a simple “Thank you” to such people might very well do.

Thank you for this information. I am sorry you perceive yourself as superior. I feel deeply sorry for anyone who perceives themselves as above the rest, or somehow believes they are of higher quality or made of better flesh than others. I am sorry you have been deceived into believing this. I am sorry for your suffering, and I hope you feel better soon when you come off your high horse and get over it.



The crisis team call center

Please take this post in the tongue-in-cheek manner in which it is intended.

Five men sit in their booths. The booths are divided by thin soundproofing, built up high enough so that conversations cannot be heard between one man’s headset and another’s. Their supervisor, Heather, sits at her desk with an office phone in front of her. She chews gum perpetually. She eyes each man with suspicion, her eyes darting around the room, as she wonders if the trainees have finally caught on to the rigorous sessions they all went through last week.

As soon as a phone rings, the caller’s number pops up on the agent’s screen. This is called Call Pop. Call Pop almost always works, and it’s extremely reliable. Now, the agent can access the caller’s call history, including age, gender, race, address, whether the caller has family and where they live, any children under 18 living at home, pets and their names and ages, names of therapists, past therapists, any “medications” the caller takes, past “medications,” diagnoses, past diagnoses, suspected diagnoses, and psychiatrist, (who is not likely to get a call because we call the cops first, and besides, he/she is out playing golf and doesn’t like being bothered).

If the caller has ever called before, the agent has been instructed to pull up the previous Case and read the notes thoroughly.  Is this the same annoying Case, or, should a new Case be opened? Each Case is given a Case number. Do not tell the caller this number and do not tell the caller he or she is a “Case.” Or try not to.

Each case needs to be dispositioned properly, or, rather, dispoed. There is a drop-down menu for this. If agents do not do this right, it is cause for dismissal since falsifying Case dispositioning could be a liability problem. For the call center.

Go through the screens and do not skip any. If you skip a screen it is cause for dismissal.  Follow the recommended verbiage if the caller complains. Follow the recommended procedures each and every time.

You will see a radio button on Screen Number Five. Is this an Emergency? You will see Yes or No. This is a toggle. Yes. Or No.

Any shrugging here is cause for dismissal.

Rarely do any callers ever complain, especially after being brutally hauled off by the cops, or after their loved ones were killed by the cops. We do have an office that handles these petty complaints. It is called the Kiss Ass office. This office begs the caller to not go any higher, such as to the Department of Mental Health (what a joke!) to make waves, nor to the state government to report our Call Center. The Ass Kisser will even go so far as to beg the caller, “We hope you will call again,” even though this is the last thing any reasonable person would ever do.

Working out a question of ethics

I need you all to help me out here because I am really too tired to think this one through.

Is lying sometimes okay? I think it is, and I think you will likely agree. Lying was okay when the Jews were escaping the Nazis. It was okay to say you were not a Jew so that you could get away, was it not? (Some Jews would disagree with me here.)

Is it okay to say, “I never saw a shrink,” to avoid psychiatric re-incarceration? Of course it is! If it means the difference between freedom and six months in the slammer, which do you choose?

Lying is okay if you are in exile or avoiding incarceration in an immoral society or an institution that is corrupt to begin with. But…Who makes the decision about which institutions and leaders are corrupt?

Is it okay for 50 households in a town to withhold paying the water bills if they have discovered lead in the water? Is it okay to stop paying taxes when you realize you aren’t represented in this thing called Parliament? Is it okay to boycott the bus system? How do these turnarounds happen? How do you make a Revolution?

While it very well may have been okay to lie to the Nazis, and okay to lie to get out the nuthouses,which were corrupt for sure, right now, I do not feel okay about lying to make a living. Paycheck and all, I hate lying in my everyday life, and I hate lying and getting paid to do it, and this is really getting to me. I dislike it to the core.

Never mind lying to customers. I hate being pushed into saying little workplace slogans they make us say as our “statuses” that I won’t repeat here. I hate the silencing on Slack. I hate the suggested “verbiage” that is written out to us (that honestly I do not follow because it’s more lies). I was lied to when I was recruited, lied to when I was trained, and the cycle of lies is being passed on and passed on.  At this point, I am at a loss for what to do.

How did the nuthouse staff feel about lying every day to patients? How did they feel when they came home every day after leaving us there locked up and going home free? Any nuthouse staff out there want to chime in on this?

How do you rationalize what you do for a job? How can a person take home a paycheck each week knowing they are doing something dishonest and knowing they paid for it? This is the question I am dealing with right now.

And…which is worse….Having a questionable dis-ability that isn’t even a disease, and getting paid a tiny check for that out of taxpayer money that is so inconsequential you can’t get by on it?

My job is not a scam. The company is reputable and you’ve all heard of it. It’s just that I am the one who hears the customer complaints day in, day out. One after the other. Every time the phone beeps I say the exact same thing. I am the one that knows how the complaints are handled and I know how often these bloopers are happening and why they happen. See?

I also know that a lot of other companies are doing the same ole shit. We’re not the only one. In case you’re wondering.

So, is everyone out there lying? Is life nothing but a big lie?

Lie, lie as best and as long as you can, take a deep bow and scurry off the stage when your time is up….You might even hear the applause….Maybe.

Is there such thing as an honest employer?

Is there such thing as an honest employer? I am beginning to suspect that “honest” and “employer” are incongruous and cannot be found together. Ever. It’s like “mental” and “health.” A total impossibility.

Employers do not follow ethics. They have them, or claim to, but they don’t practice what they preach. I don’t think it’s even possible to be “fair” if what you really plan to do is to boss people around, hold power over them, and manipulate the heck out of them.

Now let’s take the very first step in hiring. The application. Do you see all the dirty stuff on your employer like he sees about you? Do you know your employer’s Social Security number? Did you ask him for his ID, too? Did you ask him if he has reliable transportation to get to work, if he has a sitter for his kids, if he can work holidays if necessary, if he has “health conditions” that could keep him from working…all those nasty questions you were asked. Did you give him an odd look and ask him if he might be pregnant?

Did you do a background check on your employer and did he file paperwork with you? What about his disability statement? Did you require him to file one because he says he needs reading glasses sometimes, or asked to take time off so he can see the dentist? Did you demand that your employer go to rehab because you suspect he might have dropped in on the local CVS and had…god forbid… a flu shot….or didn’t get one. And what does he keep in that locker of his?

Are you keeping tabs on his workouts? Or how many days he’s gone without one? Let’s keep on with those workplace pep talks!

Is there such thing as an ethical company? I have not seen one yet. Is every company out there as dishonest as I suspect? Is this the definition of “company”? DISHONEST, UNETHICAL, TREATS WORKERS LIKE SHIT…….

Now…looking back……When I was a kid, I worked for this place called The Bagel Deli. This place served bagel sandwiches and I ended up being the waitress. We had a guy in the back named Tom baking the bagels and a gal who made sandwiches. It was the three of us pretty much on the shift. I am trying to recall names here. I remember my friend Sean who came in. He was CUSTOMER. My friend. I remember my coworker who was the very first bulimic I ever met. She did not fit the stereotype. My first reaction was, “Why on earth would anyone ever do that?” She was a hippie type. I think also a vegetarian. The fact that she did that didn’t impress me one way or another and I sure didn’t think of it as a disease or anything she suffered from. Just a very weird thing to do. It was 1978.

All that was going okay. The personnel manager was underage and an illegal but I didn’t deal with her much, not at first. Her name was Sylvia. I think she ended up okay because she married David, the owner, anyway. Sylvia was only 15 and from El Savador. I never quite understood the mentality there. Then there was Deya, who came from England. I didn’t know her age but there was something  illegal about her, too. People said Deya looked like a model and she very well may not have been from England. She really looked striking. She was dating one of the other guys who owned the place. She also worked as a waitress and wasn’t very nice.

All kinds of people drifted in and out of there. Now that got strange. People came, talked to the owners, left. Came, talked to them, money was passed, and they left. Yes, you know exactly what I was thinking, as did anyone who had half a brain.

One day they got rid of me, got rid of me and a few others. They brought in some of their pals from El Salvador to work there instead. I had moved away so it didn’t matter much. My friend Sean said the Bagel Deli didn’t last much longer after I left.

Are there nothing but dishonest businesses out there? Is the definition of business “dishonest” and “unethical”?

I don’t know anymore. Are we supposed to put up with this and is this what working is supposed to be like? Do you just kiss ass to the boss and then, laugh once you get home and take off your work clothes and assume your normal role once again? Or is all of life a stage and do we not get to laugh until after it is all over? Why can we not laugh right now? I think we damn well should. Life itself is far too short. Take off your work mask and let’s get laughing. Belly up.


Another one ….immediately after mental health treatment


Folks will believe me or they won’t. I can point this out over and over but it’s useless because people think mh treatment actually heals. They don’t realize the supposed treatment might be the cause. It’s pointless to say anything sometimes. Sometimes better to wait till the rest of the world figures it out.

Puzzle can’t hear the mailman anymore

Puzzle doesn’t hear well anymore. She usually doesn’t hear the mailman. Even when he makes a lot of noise delivering something, like when he stuffs the mailbox with circulars, she can’t seem to hear it. My friend came yesterday and knocked while I was working and Puzzle did not even hear that. It was a lucky coincidence, since normally I ask that people do not come by while I am at work due to the possible barking noise. Puzzle was in the bedroom at the time, not near the door. Although my friend knocked a number of times, Puzzle ignored it altogether.

Calling Puzzle when we are outdoors is a challenge since she can’t hear me. I do not like to shout, especially during times when my neighbors might be asleep. I have tried clapping. Indoors, this definitely works okay. Outside, maybe…but maybe not.

My solution?  A whistle. Not a loud human type used for athletics. I use a doggie one. These are audible but they’re not loud and they do not hurt human ears. Many humans cannot hear these whistles. I can hear mine and I don’t mind the sound too much. Puzzle hears it, too. It calls her to attention briefly and then she looks at me at least. This is all I need.

Attention. Please look. I am calling you. She can then see I am clapping my hands or beckoning her toward me, or motioning that she should sit, or making a “no” statement. Don’t do that. Come over here instead of eating the neighbor’s lawn.

If your dog is losing his/her hearing, you can get one of these dog whistles on Amazon for about $5. I would not pay $30 for such a whistle, though I see some are that costly. Some you can actually play tunes on. If you want that, maybe you can pay more, but I just want Puzzle to hear okay.

Of course, there’s the other method: You want your dog to come? Open the fridge. It works every time. If that doesn’t work try the freezer.