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Repost: Seventeen seconds is all you get?

This statement really surprised me:

5. Refuse to interrupt. Recent research has indicated that the average individual listens for only seventeen seconds before interrupting and interjecting his own ideas…
(from The Five Love Languages Men’s Edition“, Gary Chapman, 2009)

Wow. I had four primary thoughtlines generated from that statement.

My First Reaction

The first was “Say, this is what I think, Mr. Chapman…”

My Second Reaction

The second, far less sarcastic, was … wow. Seventeen seconds. That’s… really not very long at all. I tried counting out seventeen seconds, and my attention really started wandering after about eight; I can easily see doubling that (because I want to listen to my wife, right?) and running out of patience and wanting to interject something about me.

That’s almost cruel. Chapman’s point is dead on here; if our wives need us to listen to them (which was the “Love Language” being discussed, called “quality time”), then forcing them to listen to us is just awful, and destructive.

Of course, if our love language is also quality time, we need her to listen to us at some point – but we’re not going to receive that by forcing the issue. We’d only make her need for quality time more intense, and when one’s needs aren’t fulfilled, we fulfill others’ needs more poorly.

To receive, you must give, in this case. Seventeen seconds isn’t enough. It’s going to take effort for me to track myself in this area, but I’m going to try.

My Third Reaction

What does it mean for other media? I write a lot; I help others write as well. One of the things I’m always repeating (over and over again) is that you have to consider your audience – and one of the things I really haven’t thought about is time.

Sure, everyone knows you have one chance to make a first impression; that first sentence has got to be a hook, or you’ve lost your readers.

But I haven’t done a good job of thinking not only in terms of a count of sentences, but in terms of the time it takes for an idea to be expressed, as well. How long do I read something I’m actually interested in before I naturally start drifting, or applying my own thoughts to the subject?

That drift is the web’s form of “interruption,” after all. I’m not interrupting the page I’m reading, but for the content’s purpose, it’s been interrupted; my attention’s wandering, focusing on myself.

It’s an interesting problem to work around. I don’t know that I have a good strategy for it, outside of being really, really interesting.

My Fourth Reaction

My fourth reaction was to think about the research itself. I cited my source in my quote; however, Mr. Chapman did not.

I tried (somewhat casually) to find some actual source research, and found some content related to physicians (“The Zen of Listening,” Rebecca Z. Shafir, 2003, p152), but …

I kept looking. I eliminated songs that referred to those seventeen seconds, and TV episodes (“Grey’s Anatomy” apparently had an episode using it); I found Ms. Shafir’s book, and numerous other references to Mr. Chapman’s statement, and I also found a lot of uncited other references.

I can’t find actual research anywhere. I’m fairly certain it’s there; anecdotal tests on myself correspond with the statement (although this may be confirmation bias on my part). But I’m really concerned about the lack of an actual research paper.

Even “The Zen of Listening” doesn’t cite an actual reference. This seventeen seconds thing may be entirely made up.

I’m not saying it is made up – I’m definitely not trying to accuse Mr. Chapman of fabricating research. But I do wish he’d included some reference, just so we could actually validate the science behind the claim.

In Conclusion…

I am really enjoying the book, honestly; I don’t want anyone to think I don’t, or that it’s not worth checking out. I haven’t finished it yet, but I anticipate it being a worthwhile read.

And seventeen seconds… just wow. I’m going to try to do some personal research and figure out if I think that number is high or low… the challenge will be to do this research without offending my loving wife.

Maybe I’ll observe my kids; however, my thought there is that seventeen seconds before interruption will be absurdly high. (I’m betting they get five seconds.)

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