The Most Difficult “Way of Knowing”: Listening

January 19, 2011 · 1 comment

by Raj Pandya, Annual Meeting Co-Chair

The theme of this year’s annual meeting is communication, and I think one of the hardest parts of communication is listening. I find it embarrassingly easy to slip into broadcast mode, and imagine that simply because I want to say it, others will be interested.  My 8-year old daughter can be brutal about this:  “Daddy, this is boring, can we talk about horses, please.”  (I will say, though, I can sneak in a little thunderstorm talk if we frame it around storms’ impact on horse happiness).

So, I am especially looking forward to this annual meeting as a chance to listen, especially to communities we haven’t interacted with before or in places we haven’t gone. There are lots of opportunities in this meeting. The presidential forum opens the meeting with some suggestions about how to address what audiences may be interested in and how to present information in a way that connects. There is a themed joint session on Thursday called “Ways of Knowing” that will explore things from an indigenous perspective. Sunday night, before the meeting kicks off, students will be presenting their research – a great chance to listen to the next generation. On Tuesday, a panel will tackle the challenge of communicating – and listening –across our various disciplines and another set of talks will focus on communication and diversity. Finally, there are sessions that explore communication from a user perspective – including public health, energy, and people interested in tropical cyclones.

The second hardest part about communicating is adapting. I find myself clinging to my preferred mode of communication, even when the audience and circumstance change.  It doesn’t always work – in the words of Hawkeye Pierce, “He doesn’t understand loud English, either, Frank”.  Even only in English, there are new social media and devices that are rapidly changing the way we communicate.

There are a number of talks at the Annual that tackle this. There are sessions on mobile devices and e-books and a more general session to explore technology that enables communication. There are special sessions demonstrating technology in education and a special session on Thursday looks at how data publishing may change the way we communicate science.

Yogi Berra is reported to have said a whole lot of things, including “You can observe a lot just by watching.”  In the spirit of this year’s Annual Meeting, with the theme of communication, I’d suggest, instead: “You can hear a lot by just listening.”

Have fun.