Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘intelligence

No, it Doesn’t

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Crossed Arms

The current chaos surrounding the Rio Olympics, whether it’s Zika or the polluted water or over-priced and soon to be ghost venues led reporters at BBC’s “Newshour” to ask athletes already there, “Do you think the Olympic Games have been tainted by all of the bad news?”

One unnamed athlete said, “No, I don’t think so”.  But in the next breath said, “but I don’t think it’s in a good place” which they capped with the question, “Does that make sense?”

This post isn’t about Rio.  It’s about the question “Does that make sense?” and how obviously flawed it is as an answer.  As blogger Jared Fuller asked in January, “What’s worse than hearing this phrase is saying it.”  He admits that, “Asking “Does that make sense?” comes from a place of innocence – maybe even a place of compassion. You want to affirm that your prospect understands what you’re saying, so you ask the question and mean it. Unfortunately, it actually just confuses the prospect, which is the opposite of what you were going for.”

Fuller calls it a “transitional phrase” which is really just a place holder, like, “ummmmm”.  There is no real information in it because it’s strictly rhetorical; a device for passing the conversation back to the other person which, would seem to be a good thing since it facilitates more conversation.

But Fuller also calls it a dumb question because by asking the question, the asker is setting the answerer up to judge the intelligence of the question and consequently, the intelligence of the asker.  And in some cases, the asker may actually and passive-aggressively be questioning the intelligence of the answerer.  The Harvard Business Review says that besides making the person you’re talking to question whether you know what you’re talking about, it transmits the message that you don’t think the listener isn’t smart enough get it.

It’s been a long while since I’ve heard it.  I had hoped its corpse had already begun to rot.  But perhaps it is finally passing through the body of public usage.  With this interview, I hope it gets flushed.

Written by Interviewer

August 4, 2016 at 04:51

Last few interviews

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I have really been enjoying talking to these folks I’ve had the good fortune to interview, especially recently.

Dar Williams is sweet and petite, but she’s been making music for 20 years, so she may look like Strawberry Shortcake, but I’m sure she’s tough as nails to be in the music business.  And her music is wonderful.

Caroline Miller is a free spirit in a jet pack.  At 76, she is simply one of the most fearlessly thinking people I have ever met.  She cried at retelling a story from WWII, and practically squealed with delight when we started talking about fractals.  I loved it.

Irma McClaurin is brainy and beautiful and an inspiration not only to young African men and women who might be seeking to point themselves in multiple directions, but an inspiration to me.  I’ve always felt blessed whenever I’ve met someone that made me think, “I could be better.”  She did and I’ll be looking for more and newer ways to make old behaviors less inefficient and new behaviors more nurturing.  Thanks, Irma.

Russell Hitchcock, who is 1/2 of the group “Air Supply” was a very gentle and friendly person to talk to.  He was open about his passions for his craft and his professional relationship with co-member Graham Russell, which by the way, is as good as it has always been.  He says they’ll be making music for a long time, but they each are free to make their own music.  He has made a great CD called “Russell Hitchcock Tennessee” which has a wonderful single on it called “How far is far enough away from Colorado?”  Air Supply doing country?  But, it sounds great.  And Graham Russell’s website is, as this is written, in the process of being built.  So, they both are very vibrant.

Finally, Charles Murray…. he and I had a conversation on the terrace of the Library of Congress about 20 years ago.  He was there for a speaking engagement related to his last book, “The Bell Curve.”  As a black man, I felt like, “I have to talk to this person to understand why he hates us so much.”  Of course now, looking back, that might’ve been me buying totally into the hyperbole against him of the time.  We had, as I remember, a civil and even interesting chat, but I could’nt help thinking, “I wonder if he is looking at me thinking, ‘Hmmm, this is a smart one.'”  Talking to him again recently and reading his book, I wondered if the backlash from the Bell Curve either directly or indirectly contributed to one use of the word “Negro” and almost no uses of the words “Black” or “African American” in the 417 pages of his newest book, “Coming Apart.”  I wondered if the backlash against his research and scholarship was so intense and vitriolic at the time that it might’ve somewhat burned him.  Then again, it’s probably much more likely that because the new book is only about problems he sees with white culture, blacks and other non dominant culture groups simply weren’t his focus.

He called this book his valedictory.  Valedictory, mean final.  And as he mentioned both in the interview and in his book, he is 68.  But in the interview, he wasn’t saying he was through writing as much as he feels he’s said all he can say about intelligence and race.  I respect Mr. Murray for having the courage of his convictions.  We all must.