The little things you (don’t) say

Posted by on Mar 12, 2007 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments


The Japanese (of course) have a word for it, for those noises, grunts, nods and filler-words and actions we use to show that we are listening to what somebody else is saying (stuff we do without actually knowing we’re doing it).

And the word is:


Watch how often your conversation partners use aizuchi words, noises or gestures today. And see how often you return the favour. Now try not doing it – not only is it hard, it’s quite disconcerting to do so. And of course disconcerting to be on the receiving end of no or low attention (if you’ve done your improv – e.g. with Johnnie or Rob, you’ll know all about “blocking” and other anti-collaborative behaviours…). More ‘phatic‘ stuff, I guess.

Being a human with other humans is much more than just having a human voice (like a call centre speakbot) or having everything scripted. Mark makes this point well in the ongoing CRM debate over on Adliterate with some sound suggestions.

While it’s all fine to debate whole disciplines or widespread practices, what say we look closer to home: at how each of us interacts with those we meet today? And approach these personal interactions with a respect for the other fella? And actually listen to each other properly.

Well, it’s a start, isn’t it?


  1. Holycow
    March 12, 2007

    Love your last point Mark – i was inspired by meeting the author and polymath Theodore Zeldin recently who turned me on to the power of conversations and how they work and how to enrich yourself by immersing yourself in another’s view. He wrote a great book called ‘Conversations’ which has some wonderful suggestions and insights – all exactly based on the premise that you posit on your post.
    Also I picked up a lovely thought from a Maasai tribesman I was lucky enough to meet, who told me that conversations ‘nourish’ the participants and listening to another means that you will never leave a meeting ‘hungry’. That’s food for thought.

  2. Mark Earls
    March 12, 2007

    Teddy Z is an amazing ol fella. He was a big supporter of what we were trying to do at St Luke’s. Indeed, as I remember he was really keen that we did a “St Luke’s College Oxford” as a counterweight to the then new Said Business School. I was keen to do it, too.
    And the Masai idea of nourishing conversations is great. Wish more were like this – like the great rolling conversation we had last week.
    Let’s do it again. Soon!

  3. Johnnie Moore
    March 14, 2007

    Hi Mark. I think the umms and errs are a valuable signal that the speaker is being spontaneous, not scripted, which reminds me of this related and fascinating nugget:
    When drivers no longer have the security of kerbs and traffic signals or signage, their behavior shifts accordingly; they exercise greater caution and restraint, becoming more observant and psychologically attuned to pedestrains. Less delivers more…
    When customer service reps no longer have the security of scripted words and actions (or whatever else they depend upon for security), their behavior shifts accordingly; they exercise greater caution and restraint, becoming more observant and psychologically attuned to customers. Less delivers more…