Don't Be a Blowhard: Listen and Learn

Last Updated Oct 27, 2008 7:39 PM EDT

We live in a time of instant everything. We anxiously await and eagerly respond to emails, IMs, text messages, voicemails, anything that distracts us or makes us feel relevant.

How did we get this way? I have no idea and, even if I did, it's too depressing to think about.

If all that isn't enough, there's the blogosphere. Talk about a platform for getting attention, you can't beat the blogosphere. Still, I used to think that most readers would be discerning about their sources for content, advice and discourse. Now I'm not so sure.

Some bloggers bypass the whole content thing entirely and still get tons of page views and comments. They do it by lobbing ludicrously one-sided rants into the blogosphere and letting their readers fight it out.

Some call these bloggers provocative. I call them blowhards. Blowhards are common in the political blogosphere, but you can also find them in technology, business, lifestyles, pretty much anywhere.

The problem with blowhards is that they're so desperate for attention, so focused on pushing their fanatical ideals on others, that they never listen. And I think folks who never listen aren't worth listening to. Here's why.

You know the expression listen and learn? Well, there just might be something to that.

You see, over a 20-something year career, I've had the good fortune to know and work with some very smart and accomplished folks.

There were executives-turned venture capitalists like Bill Davidow, L.J. Sevin, and Berry Cash; serial entrepreneurs like Mike Farmwald and Andy Bechtolsheim; even lawyers (that's right, lawyers) like Mel Sharp and John Goodrich.

All these distinguished people and others I've respected for their ability to reason, inform, and provide considered viewpoints, share certain unusual qualities:

  • They don't consider themselves experts on anything, even when they most certainly are. They know better than to claim they have all the answers.
  • They possess self-confidence born of experience. They're comfortable in their own skin and don't need to be the center of attention.
  • Their intellect and confidence is balanced by humility and self-doubt. The only thing they're sure of is that they might very well be wrong.
  • They never overstate or understate their views. Their goal is to inform and communicate, not to convince or be controversial. They respect others and trust them to make up their own minds.
  • They primarily listen because that's where learning begins. It's how they got to be smart and successful to begin with.
In my experience, these attributes are relatively consistent across the board. No kidding.

Blowhards don't possess these qualities. On the contrary, they're self-proclaimed experts with all the answers. They know what's best for you and everyone else. They have oversimplified solutions to complex problems. They reach broad conclusions from one or two data points. And if you disagree with their infallible logic, then you're an idiot.

Now, don't get me wrong. Nobody's perfect and we're all blowhards from time to time. I'm talking about characteristics that are unmistakably part of people's behavior, just as the color of their hair is part of their DNA. Only you can't color or disguise the blowhard gene.

So, if you find blowhards entertaining or distracting, have at it. Whatever floats your boat, right?

If, on the other hand, you're looking for intelligent content, advice, and discourse, it might not be such a good idea to listen and learn from those who rarely do it themselves. Just a thought.