Great Expectations: When the Boss Talks, Subordinates Listen?

Several decades ago, there were ads on TV that said “When so-and-so talks, people listen”… (and then the commercial showed a crowd of people who would all pretend to be listening to Mr. so-and-so). Apparently, that seemed reasonable at the time. Today, in the age of “Weapons of Mass Destruction”, “click here” and novel-length fine print tomes, listening to Mr. so-and-so seems rather outdated if not even downright laughable.

Even though centuries ago Immanuel Kant, the so-called “Father of the Enlightenment”, warned not to simply follow orders — instead, he asked his readers to “dare to think” (for themselves), a legacy of a culture of subordination remains alive and well today in various hierarchical structures, first and foremost in the employer-employee relationship. Likewise, when a president, a king or some other prominent person steps up to the podium, we are expected to peak our ears and listen in. We willfully subordinate ourselves to the other person’s assumed authority — and we do so without thinking much about what this assumed authority is based on, or whether it is valid, or what its scope is. Some celebrity appears on the TV set, asks for people’s money, and many people simply comply without a moment’s hesitation.

In healthcare, the buzzword is compliance. In marketing, it’s all about persuasion. A leader talks, his/her followers are supposed to listen and also obey. “Good evening…. It’s 11 p.m.,  and here is the news.” If that is said over a television set, many people will still lap it up as indisputable truth.

What an anachronism! How can people continue to be gullible and naive?

I was not born yesterday. If you want me to listen to you, then the first thing you need to convince me of is why I should do so… — and I probably won’t on the basis of some one-size fits-all brand name that is supposed to impress upon me that anything you say must be right on account of the brand name backing it up.

A better way to impress me would be to openly, transparently and obviously put some skin in the game: To show me that you are engaged with topic X, you need to convince me that you sincerely care about the topic. Perhaps the best way to do that is to simply utilize the Wisdom of the Language.

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