When universes collide

Have you ever suffered through a one-sided conversation? Maybe you have nothing in common with the other person, and you find the topic dead boring. Or maybe your conversation partner is an “expert” on everything, and is lecturing you about what you should do. This is sheer torture, you think. When can I make my escape?

Consider yourself lucky. You could be listening to Vogon poetry.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy tells us that Vogon poetry is the third worst in the universe. (Earth poetry is the worst, of course.) The Vogons know how much everyone hates their poems, but they force people to listen to them out of “sheer bloodymindedness.” Just witness what happens at a friendly Vogon poetry reading:

The sweat stood out cold on Ford Prefect’s brow, and slid round the electrodes attached to his temples. These were attached to a battery of electronic equipment—imagery intensifiers, rhythmic modulators, alliterative residulators and simile dumpers—all designed to heighten his experience of the poem and make sure that not a nuance of the poet’s thought was lost.

– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Let’s face it, we all have an inner Vogon. We can get so caught up in what we think is important that we ignore what everyone else thinks. We keep on talking or writing, hoping that the sheer volume of our words will convince others of our rightness.

If you truly want to get your message across, remember that you are not the centre of the universe.  Everyone sees things from a unique point of view. You need to connect with others, not collide with them. Here’s some ways you can do this:

  • Address the “So what?” factor. This is also known as WIIFM or “What’s in it for me?” Why should people care about what you have to say? How will it benefit them? You may think the inner workings of the Infinite Improbability Drive are fascinating, but that doesn’t mean they will. Focus on the “So what?” and your message will be more successful.
  • Show some respect. Respect your conversation partner’s time by keeping your message short. Respect that person’s intellect by listening to what he or she has to say. In any conversation, try to spend more time listening than talking. You’ll be amazed at what you discover.
  • Speak in their language. Don’t use uncommon words or jargon that a lot of people don’t know. Your audience shouldn’t need a Babel fish to understand what you are saying.  If you need to use an unusual term to get your message across, then smoothly define it and move on.

And if you find yourself stuck listening to that annoying person? Just remember what The Hitchhiker’s Guide tells us in “large friendly letters” on the cover:

Picture by Jim Linwood. Source: Wikimedia Commons.CC-BY-2.0

Picture by Jim Linwood. Source: Wikimedia Commons.CC-BY-2.0

It will be over soon. Then you can go back to enjoying your universe.

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