Why Don't We Listen Better?

by Jim Petersen

Maybe it was at the University in Berkeley, maybe it was during the next year at seminary, maybe after I started working at an honest job, I don't remember exactly, but I began to notice that I have a very different view of life than everybody else at church. Except for the God part, my thinking is very similar to the techies I worked with. I didn't learn what it was until maybe thirty years later, I saw The Art of Speed-Reading People in a bookstore display, and it explained the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator  (MBTI) in a way that suddenly made sense of all the differences I had been seeing. I am INTP, and the American churches are run by, and for the exclusive benefit of, Feelers (the opposite of T=Thinkers). With one exception, every pastor of every church that I know about is FJ (Feeler-Judger, the exact opposite of TP). The one exception was an Associate Pastor of a church, where when the Senior pastor retired on disability, he refused the promotion and was invited to find another church (but that's another story).

The point of all this is that the pastor of pretty much every Christian church in America, the only people he ever sees and gets to know are Feelers. Thinkers are not welcome in his church, but he doesn't know why they don't come, nor even that they exist. Jim Petersen, the author of today's book is a retired pastor, first, last and always an FJ, and he has written this book from an FJ perspective, to an FJ audience.

This book is not written to people like me. We don't even exist in his world.

I kind of had a glimmer of this kind of outcome when the class leader announced his intention to make this book the focus of the class for the fall, so I asked him to loan it to me so I could read it ahead and see if I wanted to buy it on my diminished budget (see my conclusion at the end).

This is one tough book to read, probably the hardest read as far back as I can remember. Not just because it's not written for people like me, but even worse, the guy is not writing from a Biblical perspective. All my life I have been a "2Tim.3:16" kind of guy, not yet ready to burn down the library (as was claimed of the Muslims at Alexandria, "because the books there either agreed with the Quran and were superfluous, or else disagreed with it and were heretical"), but certainly I look to the Bible first for instruction on how to live. Five chapters in so far, the guy has quoted Scripture exactly once, and then refused to admit it was in the Bible, attributing the inspired words of the great Apostle Paul to "an ancient philosopher suggested..."

I flipped to the back of the book, where they usually put the author bio, and sure enough, he went to San Francisco Seminary, which (last I heard) was pretty far down the tubes theologically. He referred to his congregation as "the parish," a term I never heard in any church I ever went to, but I hear often on the lips of Catholic and Anglican priests in the movies. In a pinch, I might have chosen his church over a Mormon or Catholic, but not over anything else that is usually available. Reading his book confirms that prejudice.

When I was a child, my father often spouted worthy aphorisms, some of them recorded in my "Meditations on the passing of my father," but not the one that seems most relevant to my reading this book:

No matter how smart you are, no matter how dumb you think the other person is, there is always something you can learn from them.
Sometimes "pop-psych" (what this book seems to be, it certainly is not the good Scriptural advice I would expect to find in a Sunday morning class at church, nor a careful distillation of the best academic research) has some useful insights, and I can still read this book looking for them. But it's still a tough read, not what I'd hoped I could work through in a couple days. Jurrasic Park is twice the size, but I read it in one sitting, because Michael Crichton is a very readable author, and he writes from (and for) a personality type very much like mine. Other books I got in this church were (like Petersen) written for Feelers, but at least they were written from a Biblical perspective. This has none of those advantages. sigh

The "N" in my INTP stands for "iNtuitive" by which Myers & Briggs not-very-obviously mean I'm a "Big Picture guy," not a "S=Sensor" detail person like Petersen seems to be. God, in His Bible, gives instructions both ways, because He is the God over both kinds of people (He made us all the way we are). So when I read instructions of any kind, I try to distill the details down to a small number of general principles, of which the details are just that: details or explanations.

The Bible is great: All those 616 (or however many there are) rules boil down to exactly two:

1. God First, last and always, and

2. Whatever you want people to do to you, you do to/for them.

Jesus said so. Paul said so. Both of them quoted Moses. How much more Big Picture can you get than that? It's awesome.

Speaking of pictures, there are a lot of these goofy cartoon pictures of the various body parts Petersen imagines to be associated with different modes of thinking. These are his own invention, no correspondence with any reality I know of -- except he puts emotions in the belly (gut) same as in the original Bible (but none of the modern translations), but he imagines physical pressures from the gut to other parts of the body. The effects are undeniable, but I'm a Thinker, the contrary-to-fact description is so off-putting, I have a real problem getting anything useful from it.

Petersen is repetitious. He admits it with obvious pride. That's another negative for me, repetition tells me you have run out of useful things to say, like the say-nothing "Seven-Eleven" songs ("seven words repeated eleven times") they sing in church most Sundays. The repetition in Petersen makes it more work for me to figure out what the Big Ideas are. Mostly (so far) what he has to invite us to do are particular cases of what Jesus called "the Second Great Commandment" (I call it "2C" #2 above). Got it. Next.

What follows are my running thoughts while reading, sort of like I did with Come Let Us Adore Him last year.


I sensed that most people were more interested in telling their stories than hearing mine.
Petersen starts his book -- most of the first chapter -- "telling his story." He even said that's why he wrote the book. He's right about one thing: I'm not that interested in his autobiography. He writes in the first-person plural, like he thinks everybody is just exactly like himself. Maybe most of the people in his church were, but I'm not. This book is not written to me. But I did early on notice that nobody cares what I think (see "I'm a Nobody" eleven years ago and again "Zero" seven years later). Does that help with my understanding his book? No, he got the premise wrong. I'm not a Petersen clone. I'm not even a Feeler. Half of the country are not Feelers, and most of them never darken the door of any church at all because of people like Petersen. I could wish to be part of the solution, but that only gets me crucified. Oh wait, that happened to Jesus too! At least I'm in good company. sigh


We'll start with acknowledge. It helps people accept themselves and feel real support from the listener.
None of the MBTI stuff I read anywhere clearly explained the difference between Feelers and Thinkers, I had to spend a lot of time watching them. It's about values (they said that, then added...) Feelers have values, Thinkers don't (or words to that effect). What utter nonsense! Everybody has values, what they consider most important. It's just that Feelers value most "relationship" (by which, I was able to determine precisely) they mean Feelers crave unconditional (unearned) affirmation and are willing to give it out in order to get it, while Thinkers value Truth, Justice and Duty above affirmation. Petersen's "Technique #1 (out of 31 listed in the Table of Contents) is nothing more than granting people (Feelers all of them, at least in Petersen's universe) the affirmation they crave. In other words, doing the Golden Rule (2C). Actually 2C is better than Petersen's Technique #1, because it acknowledges who the person is first, then does for them what they value most. Most (Thinker) husbands know -- or eventually learn, because their own disposition values Truth = conformance to Reality -- their (Feeler) wives want sympathy, not a fix. This is Petersen's Technique #1, which is aimed at Feelers. When a Thinker complains about something, he doesn't want sympathy, he wants a solution.

The best way to deal with the complainer is (as Petersen says) to listen to what the real problem is -- including whether they are Thinker or Feeler, then respond accordingly. Jesus told about a farmer who asked his two sons to go work in the vineyard, and the first son gave him Petersen's Technique #1, "Sure thing, Dad, I acknowledge that you want me to work in the vineyard," but didn't do anything. [Aside: Feelers do that to God, but that's another story.] The second son said "No way," but later went and did the requested work. Which one better communicated with the Father? The father valued Duty above affirmation. He's a Thinker, you know, the guys who are not welcome in the church.


Chapter 2 launches into more personal reflection on Petersen's experience in an office party situation (perhaps at his own church) where nobody has a clue about the social value of Jesus' Second Great Commandment because that's not what Petersen taught in his church -- nor any other church, as far as I can tell, but the Pastor where I park my fanny these Sundays preaches the text, and 2C has not showed up in his text... um, he did preach through Leviticus, maybe one of his associates was assigned Chapter 19, I don't remember, I certainly would have noticed if he had made as big deal of 2C as Jesus and Paul did, whatever -- so nobody gives a rat's behind for what anybody else is saying, they just want to hear the sound of their own voice. Petersen got that part right. His solution is "listen first, talk later" or something to that effect. Hank Trisler in No Bull Selling had a better way of putting it: "People buy for their reasons, not ours," so pay attention to what they are saying. Even if you are not trying to sell them something, it's a wonderful implementation of 2C.

I came at this rather naturally, with eight critical years in my childhood spent away from peer relationships, so I never learned to "think fast." The result is I cannot keep up with real-time conversation. Not only do the other people not make space for me to say anything, but it takes me so long to get my ducks lined up, the whole opportunity (even when it exists) is gone before I can get the first word out. So I sit there and listen. Just exactly what the other person prefers.

Petersen wants us to repeat back exactly what the other person said. Maybe that works for Sensors, but I'm N=iNtuitive, I have a rotten memory for their exact words, I'm busy turning them into Big Ideas that I can remember. Later he wants us to reword what we heard in terms of feelings -- that's low on my value system, so much harder for me to pull off than a Feeler like Petersen himself, and then later yet, he wants a different kind of paraphrase. I'm so confused, I don't know what he's talking about. If he were a real person, then 2C would require me to put the effort into "demythologizing" -- as a graduate from a non-conservative seminary, he would appreciate that term -- what he is trying to say, but he's not here, and he will never see nor care about what I learned from his book, and I have real things I can do that might actually improve somebody's life (at least I hope so), so I'm disinclined to spend any more time on this book than I signed up for.


Our culture tends to over-value the rational part of us and ignore the emotional.
No, that's just his Feeler response to all those Thinker guys who never came to his church. I would observe that our culture tends to over-value unconditional affirmation and ignore Justice, Truth and Duty. It's the distinction C.P.Snow described in his Two Cultures some seventy years ago. Petersen is under-educated. I like Hank Trisler's explanation in No Bull Selling better. It's sort of fun watching sellers who have read the book apply the principle to get me emotional. It doesn't work of course, because they didn't read Trisler's other advice (listen and pay attention).


Petersen likes his "Balanced Body Posture" which is somehow supposed to be able to make a person more comfotable and more responsive to incoming events. I tried it and almost fell over. He goes on to tell about how he is better able to control how other people react to him by standing tall like he owns the place. "Control" is a Judger thing -- remember, all pastors are FJs -- and control is all over this chapter. Jesus said "Don't do that." They don't teach that in left-wing seminaries. They don't teach it anywhere, it would empty the churches. I find that wearing a jacket and tie has the same effect, but that's not why I do it. Well, maybe a little bit, but it's not my personality type.


Chapter 6 describes a typical conflict in his gutsy emotive style, and Chapter 7 how to defuse it. Ignoring all of that, the real solution is for the Thinker partner -- this book is all about "partners" which sort of leaves me out -- to recognize that Feelers crave unconditional affirmation, and if they cannot honestly make it unconditional, they can at least pile on as much honest affirmation as possible (she won't notice the difference, all Feelers care about is the affirmation) and, in the words of one pastor I overheard, "Never criticize." In the real world you can't get any real work done without identifying the deviations from the specifications, thereby to get them corrected, so this only works where there is no responsibility for getting anything done.

A more nuanced approach is to recognize that most people (Feelers and Feeler-wannabes) keep a kind of double-entry ledger with affirmations added to the positive side, and disaffirmations subtracting. There may be some kind of weighting that can be applied, but I have not yet figured it out. If you pile on the affirmations, then an occasional negative slip or correction takes the account down, but not negative. But if the disaffirmations ever exceed the affirmations, Wham! The trap-door slams shut, and you never ever will be able to get back out (FJs do not believe in forgiveness). To a Feeler so inclined, even pure unadulterated praise will be seen as criticsm. There is no such thing as "Just the facts, Ma'am," everything is affective, either positive or negative, and there's no way to tell how something will be taken, so pile on the positives and forego the negatives as much as possible. I had a fine relationship with my sister by doing that. She considered me her best friend right up to the end. From my perspective, all those affirmations took a lot of work, but it was just compliance with 2C, and I was sort of glad it was only one day a week. All my positive friendships have been with Thinkers, where being constantly on guard is not a necessity. You don't want to insult the guy, but we have factual things to discuss in a neutral way, no problems.

Petersen tries to lay out a hypothetical Talker/Listener conversation where real work is expected to get done, and every one of his recommended lines could be taken as at least two different criticisms if the receiver so chose, which he calls

...a healthy partnership in which the shared intention is to collaborate for the good of the company.

"Let's describe the situation accurately so we can understand it and fix any fall-out from the mistake..."

The word "accurately" implies that previous efforts were inaccurate = erroneous, a criticism.

Atomic bombs have "fall-out", as in "My my, what a bomb you dropped." Mistakes are always negative. Three criticisms in that one "neutral" sentence alone.

He says "Alternate feelings and thoughts," but that's really irrelevant or at best misleading. My experience is that you want to alternate unconditional positive affirmations with facts that describe what needs to be done, preferably two affirmations to every one fact. The situation is much easier in the workplace, where people are getting paid to be there (and they need the money). There is usually plenty of opportunity for the boss to lavish on praise for actual (possibly partial) accomplishment, and the employee is under an obligation to respond impassively to the facts that (if there were no money involved) could be taken as criticism. The praise is still needed, but the weighting factors are different from a volunteer situation, and therefore more conducive to actually getting things done.

Many of Petersen's communications scenarios are husband and wife, which because more men are Thinkers and more women are Feelers, tend to be Feeler-Thinker conflicts. The only solution I know of is for the guy (because he's a Thinker, he can reason this out as a combination of Duty and What is True) to lavish on praise -- she wants it unearned, but as a Thinker that violates his values, at least he can find honest things to praise her for -- and forget about getting anything useful done in the home. If she accidentally does something he wants done, heap on the praise (being careful not to make it sound like a criticism of not doing it previously, which is really really hard) and maybe she will do it again. Full disclosure: I am not in a position to test this in a husband-wife scenario because I'm not there, but I used it with great success with my sister(s) and with other women I happen across. I recently failed to do it in the work environment and "she" quit.


In Chapter 7 he shifts his focus to "The need to win." Of course winning is a Judger thing and totally contrary to 2C -- if you want the other guy to win (2C), then you cannot win yourself, except in the so-called win-win outcome, which I see as the only valid Christian way to do any transaction. Anyway, he takes a previous dialog presented as counter-productive, and describes (again) his emotional reaction to "You don't pay me enough for the job I'm doing!" I did not succeed in following his reasoning, it seemed like he didn't offer any changes at all.

I've been here this year, I was the one saying "You don't pay me enough for the job I'm doing," so I understand the problem. The facts of my situation are another story, another place, but (perhaps unlike Petersen's example, I couldn't tell) it was a valid criticism. Saying so was the Wrong thing to do, but the other guy had other issues that to this day he is unwilling to tell me. So I don't know.

The 2C solution does not waste time alternating facts and feelings. But then I'm seeing this from a Thinker perspective. Petersen is a Feeler, he sees it from a Feeler perspective. Feelers don't want the problem fixed, they want to be affirmed. The problem they complain about isn't the real problem at all, not even in Petersen's scenario. The real problem is that they are not getting enough affirmation. But Truth is not high on the Feeler values list, so the misrepresentation is allowed. Having actually been there, I wrote up what I (as a 2C Christian) would want to see happen -- then deleted it. Petersen has Clue Deficit Disorder. This whole chapter is bogus -- except it probably works for Feelers, but for reasons Petersen himself does not understand: This long dialog he proposes is giving the complainer the attention they crave. Problem solved.


"What I heard you say was (fill it in)..."
Petersen's random, disorganized book structure makes it really hard for me to make sense of this section here, but it's still good advice, even though it contradicts his Technique #1. Feelers do not highly value Truth, so they might say things that are totally off the wall, just to get you to engage, to pay attention (that's a form of affirmation). Rephrasing the claim has two effects: First, it pays attention (what they really want), and Second, it gives them an opportunity to back off the bogus claim. My sister was an off-the-dial Feeler, but she grew up in the same Christian home I did. She valued Truth, just not as much as affirmation. So she heaped affirmation on me, silly stuff like "You're my favorite bother!" Which was necessarily true because I was her only brother.


In addition, what was actually said doesn't matter anyway. People don't act on what anyone said, but rather on what they meant or what they heard. [Petersen's emphasis]
Petersen lost me. I try very hard to say exactly what I mean, and to treat everybody else with the same respect I wish they'd show me, that is, to accept what I say as representing what I mean. Nothing is so offensive to me as when a person assumes they know what I'm thinking when it's different from what I said. Petersen has here insulted the very core of my being. But he's a Feeler, nothing he says can be trusted. He said so himself, right here. He has thus discredited the entire book.

No wonder he's not a conservative Christian, he does not believe anything anybody says, obviously not even the Bible. That's not me, and that's not the Thinkers I work with. And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is why the Thinkers never darken the door of any church. The Christians brag about being hypocrites. Hypocrisy is anathema to a Thinker. And also to God, if you believe the Bible.

So ends Part One. Petersen has given me permission and reason to ignore everything he says, and I'm inclined to take him up on it. But I committed to reading the whole book, so I'll try to do at least that much.


Chapter 8 introduces Petersen's "Talker-Listener" card(s) which are based on a flawed view of communication. Communication happens when one party knows something the other party wants to hear/see/know. Petersen's model assumes conflict, where one party wants to weaponize words and the other party has the job of defusing the weapon. It's bogus. Maybe Feelers think that way -- not usually in my presence -- but I don't want any part of it. Maybe that's why I'm not married. Whatever.

Petersen understands the problem, but not in Biblical terms. That's too bad. It's a real flaw in this book. By nature we are selfish. The Biblical word for "selfish" is "sin." We want people to approve our goals and experiences -- that's in Petersen's two-fish story -- and Feelers especially see that approval as affirmation. So Petersen builds this artificial "Talker-Listener" construct. Why would anybody want to do that? So they get their own turn at telling their own goals and experiences for the other person to approve and affirm. At least that's Petersen's model, and maybe it accurately models the office party. Underneath the veneer, nobody really gives a [insert invective] for what the other person cares about, they are just waiting their turn to be affirmed -- or in the case of the two-fish stories, not waiting. Maybe that's why I don't go to parties. Whatever.

I have, over my life, done a lot of work in engineering environments. There may be selfish actors out there in industry, but it's counter-productive. I was lucky -- I spell that "P-R-O-V-I-D-E-N-C-E" -- enough to be working with successful companies, and you don't get that way by selfish aggrandizement, you build a successful company by everybody contributing to the common goal, in my case a product that customers wanted to buy. The electrical engineer knew how to make working circuits ("hardware"), and I knew how to make working software, and we understood enough of what the other had to do that we communicated back and forth how the hardware and software would work together to achieve that goal. And then we went off and did our respective creative work. And when we were relaxing over lunch or whatever, we cared enough about the guy we worked with, we listened to the other stuff he wanted to tell about. But mostly we were both interested in making an awesome product, so that's what we talked about.

I'm not in that environment this year, but I have an acquaintance in a tech industry, and his work involves understanding the physics of stress on plastic parts, and he has software on his computer to help with that analysis, and that's what he cares about, it's what he does all day. I care about him as a person, and I understand physics, and I write software, so these are points of overlap in our respective interests, I can actively listen to him talk about his work. Nobody else around has a clue what he's saying, so it's my 2C duty -- there's that "Duty" thing -- to let him talk. I too like people to be interested in what I'm doing, but nobody else around has a clue what I'm saying, and I see no benefit in empty affirmation, so I'm out of luck. It is what it is.


After listening awhile, guess what's going on with the talker. Spell it out briefly.
Suzette Haden Elgin said it much more clearly in her (mislabeled) Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense (read any single book in the series, they all say the same thing), where she attributes to
Miller's Law, In order to understand what another person is saying, you must assume it is true and try to imagine what it could be true of.
Somebody else (I don't remember who) described it as "thinking [the other person's] thoughts after them." When I do that, sometimes I get off track, but I can ask for a clarification. In a classroom, when I'm giving a lecture, I can see tbe heads nodding up and down, they are thinking my thoughts after me. Or they ask a question. If nobody asks questions, they aren't listening. The teacher can tell.

Petersen describes the same process, when a Black preacher engages his congregation in "Call and Response." It's a good correlation, a sparkle in an otherwise disappointing book.


After several tedious pages of examples of the Wrong Way To Do It, followed by his imagined Right Way using his Talker-Listener card, Petersen gives a very revealing basis for this goofy card. He has some difficult idea to work over, and he does not want somebody else helping him solve it, he only wants them to "listen" while he talks the solution over out loud. I've seen this numerous times, I call it "the wooden Indian effect," with reference to the wooden Indian totem that some cigar stores had out front. I need to explain my problem in sufficient detail that another person could understand it, and the explanation was usually sufficient to get me past the difficulty even before they actually understand it well enough to ask real questions. I don't have the self-esteem problem Petersen does, I can accept the solution from whatever source it comes. Lacking (as I do now, and most of my life) co-workers to talk the problem over with, I just pace up and down, talking to myself.


I found Petersen's Technique #9, "Both Hands" very confusing. Italians wave their hands around a lot when they are talking. I do a little, but not much. I was very near-sighted as a kid -- still am (sort of), but I figured out that getting new glasses every year made it worse, not better -- and mostly I couldn't see people's faces clearly enough to learn about non-verbal cues, so I just listen to the words, and I expect others to do the same to me, but the expectation is futile, they tend to get the wrong ideas. Reading further, he translated his "Both Hands" into spoken phrases "on the one hand... on the other hand..." OK, I understand ambivalence, but I couldn't make sense of trying to do it with hand gestures. I don't even have much appreciation for ambivalence, but then I'm pretty much a black-and-white kind of guy. To me "whatever" expresses indifference (lack of care), not an inability to choose between two important sides to an important question. Petersen seems to be arguing for checkerboard rather than gray. Whatever.

More and more, this book seems to be aimed at counselors, people whose job is to resolve conflict. That's not me. I can listen to a person and help them to see God's perspective (2C) in their situation, which is self-denial, not back-and-forth. But only if they want to. Otherwise, it's "Not My Problem." My mother would sometimes describe her ministry as "Talk about Jesus to people who want to listen." I liked that. I can do that.


I own the problem
Wrong. God owns everything (except our sin). Give the problem to God. But this is not a Christ-centered book.

Most of this chapter is about not taking ownership of somebody else's problem. Good Idea. I first heard it from Bill Gothard, who urged us not to take up other people's guilt. You can't make me feel guilty over something I didn't do. It's liberating. Hmmm, I see he spent the next two pages trying to fit the same message into his Talker-Listener card model. What a waste!


FIRST TALKER GOAL -- To share my feelings
I guess that's important if your real goal is to gain unconditiional affirmation, and the other person is looking at the Listener side of Petersen's card, and is therefore reminded (but not in so many words) to give you that affirmation. But that's not the Real World.

The Real World I live in, my first goal shold be to not be the "first talker" at all, but rather let the other person say whatever their selfish heart wants to say. In my case, I'm a Thinker -- remember, Thinkers do not exist in Petersen's world -- and feelings are not important. Well, a little bit: remember Trisler? Emotions drive action. Something must be important, or I won't do it. Great. Make The World A Better Place (2C) is important, I can do that.

It's not like I don't have feelings. I was angry for six months after ObamaCare was signed into law. I didn't need to be: in these thirteen years since then, the Conscience Penalty Tax (the second highest tax increase on low-income American people ever, second only to when FDR raised taxes to pay for his war) it only hit me once, and only $35. I was unhappy (another word for "angry") when the boss mailed a check for my entire earnings of the year on December 31, so I couldn't tithe it in the year earned. "Sharing my feelings" probably made that check the last income I will ever get in my life, and it was so unnecessary. I think slowly, so usually by the time I have figured out that I should be angry, I have also had time to realize why I should not, but on that occasion the research into the IRS's undefined "constructively received" term took a whole week before I understood it meant "having the option to spend it," rather than when it is actually received or sent. My option to spend it didn't happen until January, so I paid my tithe (and taxes) in the year the check actually arrived. At least I won't have that problem again. Blech.

Four pages later Petersen admits what a minefield talking about feelings really is. Thanks, buddy, I needed that. NOT. One positive, I didn't see it here, but he did say this earlier in the book, feelings are irrefutable. Facts are facts about the Real World, different people can analyze them differently and argue over them, but feelings are entirely personal, experienced only by the feeler and nobody else. He does emphasize the first-person singular pronoun, which has the same effect. As a Feeler, he's looking to blunt the inherent disaffirmation built into facts that the listener might not see as positive. Once the trap-door ledger has gone negative, nothing you say or do will blunt anything. Petersen's Techniques become worthless. Been there, done that, bought the video.


TALKER -- Without accusing, attacking, labeling, or judging
Great idea, I agree wholeheartedly -- except when we are trying to get something done.

Case in point, the engineer has built his circuit board, and I have installed my software, but it doesn't work. I tell him "It's a hardware problem," and he responds defensively to this attack with "The hardware works." I say "I'm not getting my interrupt." See all the "I/my"? It's still an accusation, because he, the engineer, is responsible for the interrupt signal. To prove his point he brings over the oscilloscope and attaches the probe to the board, and we both see the blip on the screen. Counter-attack. So I look closer, and say non-judgmentally, "Is that on pin 5?" Of course it's judgmental, he wired it up. "No, it's on pin 6 where it belongs." Maybe the interrupt pin is 5 and he read the spec wrong, or maybe I forgot to enable the interrupt in the program, something is wrong, and it's somebody's fault, and any self-respecting Feeler (is there such a person?) will see the whole conversation as attack and counter-attack. That's why there are no Feeler engineers or programmers. We look at the problem, and he (the engineer) knows the hardware and I know the software, and there's a problem, and we both point fingers back and forth until we find it, then whoever the problem belongs to, that person fixes it and we resume. The whole dialog above is never seen as hostile, we are just doing our jobs, and handing off the responsibility as needed until everything works. I can't do that with Feelers, it just doesn't work. They get mad and stomp off, calling me "patronizing." Yes, that really happened last year. The other scenario? I did that for years in the 1970s and 80s. I didn't have to go marketing my skills, they came to me. This is the way we get things done in the Real World. One of those products we built, I was still seeing it in use out in the world, a decade or more later. That's a very long life for a computer program.


Petersen tells this cute story about getting his daughter to talk about her social studies class. It didn't connect with me. I don't have kids and I never learned about China in school, and I never would have imagined that people in China are only six inches tall. OK, it worked for him, his daughter is a girl, probably a Feeler with self-esteem problems like his own. When I was the right age to be the father of a daughter in junior high, I had Clue Deficit Disorder. I would not have been able to pull it off even after reading his book, even if he'd actually written from a Christian perspective -- oh wait, then it would be a different book, wouldn't it?

I still have Clue Deficit Disorder. I have figured some things out, a lot more I have no clue at all. I've been reading the Bible all my life and in all that time nobody ever explained how the Golden Rule (2C) works in assymmetrical situations, not at home (at least the basic Golden Rule was explained, so I assume, because I understand it from before I have any memory), not in church where I would have expected it, nowhere. I figured it out all by myself after watching a very competitive pastor at a church social, and empathizing with the losers in the game.


FIRST LISTENER GOAL -- To provide safety
Safety is one of those Clue Deficits for me. I have no idea what Petersen means. Maybe he is assuming some kind of common understanding of danger he shares with all the Feelers in his audience, but I'm not there. Me, I get really really scared when a big semi pulls up 15 feet behind my tiny car on the freeway -- I stay off the freeway -- but I cannot see any form of that kind of fear in a social setting. He describes some kind of reply as a "double reverse twist," but I don't see the double, I don't see the reverse, and I don't see the twist. I don't see any of that in his diagram, and I can't make any of the discriptive text get any closer. Even without the label (didn't he say something about "Without Labeling"?) I have a hard time seeing his recommended response as "safer" than simple 2C.

Maybe people are too afraid of me to expose their fear. When I taught at the University, somebody mentioned another faculty member who threw an eraser at a dozing student. Nobody ever went to sleep in my classes. Another prof came up to me and asked, "Tom, are you giving a midterm today? Nobody showed up in my class." Nobody ever cut my class because of a midterm in another. Yet when the year was over, one student's review was "If you want to learn compilers, take Pittman's course. He's tough but good." Nobody ever gave me a better review.


Non-judgmental listening
OK, I get it, it's a Feeler thing, "Never criticize," that pastor said in my hearing. Of course the people who say that can't live it. Nobody can. That same pastor, his choir director left in tears. He went through three or four Music directors in the five years I was there. OK, let's say Petersen can hold -- I guess his word is "bite" -- his tongue during counseling sessions, but what you can't do yourself (rain or shine) makes crummy advice for other people. Jesus had a label for it... I guess Jesus was not a very good practitioner of Petersen's advice. No wonder this is not a Christian book.


But will listening change anyone?
Of course not. Maybe Petersen is not a 'J' after all. Or more likely, he slowly figured out that being in control of other people is not the virtue that Judgers make it out to be. If he were more into reading his Bible, he'd see that Jesus said that two millennia ago.
Problem people with heavy control needs can hurt you.
Yup, and how! I had a friend who was a "J" and sometimes I could mentor him, and sometimes he thought he could control me. People who think that usually end up unspeakably angry at me. Dennis did, several times, but always came around. At least until the "Director of Apologetics" -- that was his actual job title -- at his church couldn't answer a simple "Where in the Bible is..." [here I added a line he used in a seminar] and ran a power (controller) trip on me. Dennis sided with him. After I came to Oregon, I got a phone call that Dennis committed suicide. I blame the Pastor.
They share, we accept, they trust more...
My Bible does not encourage this kind of thing. "Put not your trust in princes..." the Psalmist said. Trust God. When I'm mentoring somebody, I tell them openly, "Don't take my word for it, read it for yourself."


Ask talkers to put numbers to their emotions...
If somebody did that to me, I would feel manipulated unless they also let me put numbers on Truth, Justice, and Duty. When I was finishing up my PhD, Kansas State University came around interviewing. I effectively put numbers on everything: all the reasons for staying in California were selfish (high-numbered feelings), and all the reasons for accepting their offer were altruistic (low-numbered feelings, but high numbers for Truth and Duty). I went, with no regrets.


LISTEN -- Without agreeing
For me that's the same as "Don't listen at all." The same year I start grad school, I went to the Bill Gothard seminar. I found most of his advice incredibly helpful, mostly because it was "saturated in Scripture." That was his line, and it was great advice. I bought the New Testament on cassettes and listened to it the hour I drove over the hill to the University, and again coming back. I wore out two sets of tapes. What it did for me was that my mind was so full of what the Bible said, I could listen to a lecture almost without taking notes. I have a rotten memory -- as a kid I couldn't memorize Bible verses, so I learned Elizabethan grammar and the general sense of the verse and reconstructed the King James wording on the fly; it was usually good enough -- but now I could hear something and say to myself, "Yup, the Bible says that," or "No, that contradicts the Bible, and all I had to remember is Yes or No. Tell me I can't agree or disagree, and I'm like that Psych experiment -- Psych 1a students were required to sign up as guinea pigs for three grad student experiments -- this one where we were supposed to memorize a list of words while something else (I don't remember what) was happening, and I just could not memorize his list. The student researcher was pretty forgiving, "So it's just an outlier..."
What happened? We stopped listening.
Most of the time when somebody says "we do this" or "we did that" and they really mean "you do it," and I stop to think about what he just said, and I don't do that, I'm inclined to say, "Speak for yourself, buddy!" This is one of those cases. This whole book is like that. He told us up front, this is the way he was thinking about things, and he's an FJ and I'm a TP, so we don't think alike at all. That's still true.


LISTEN -- Without advising
Right, another Feeler thing, they want affirmation, not a solution. Got it.


When to Turn the Card
Chapter 16 is irrelevant to my situation. Even if I bought into his entire Talker/Listener card thing, my chance of being in a situation where I could use it and the other person was also instructed in the mechanics, is zero.

So ends Part Two. This book is not a (human) Talker out there for me to practice his Techniques on (even if I were so inclined), just a relentless hammering, doing to me all the things he says not to do. Like that pastor (above) and unlike the Biblical version, he can't live his own advice. I'm tired. Maybe tomorrow I can start Part Three...


Petersen starts Chapter 17 with "Ten Communication Traps." Oh wait, that's the whole chapter. They are a mixed bag, some good ideas, some particular to Feelers (and just plain wrong for Thinkers), some that make no sense to me (maybe it's a Feeler thing?), and two that break on me particularly. Let's start with that one of them:
1. Ritual listening
By this he means people who pretend to be listening but are not, which is me, most of the time. I don't think fast enough to be "thinking [people's] thoughts after them" at the speed they are saying them. When they are repeating things I have already heard (or thought up myself) previously, I can check it off and continue listening. Otherwise I start to grapple with it and try (in Elgin's words) to understand what it could be true of, and I will never hear another word that person is saying. I am not, as Petersen claims, preparing for when I get to talk -- I never get to talk, so preparation is futile -- all I'm doing is taking the listening role to its logical conclusion, to understand what the Talker is trying to say. I once had a friend who (like Petersen) needed to think out loud with somebody listening, and these sessions were never less than a half hour, often two or three (once four) hours. He (also like Petersen) was a controller, perhaps he imagined he was micromanaging what he thought I should do, but as I told him on more than one occasion, if you talk longer than ten minutes, everything you say will be forgotten before you hang up. Which was true, unless I wrote it down. I guess my "ritual listening" worked well enough to satisfy him, it was only when I stopped to write something down that he'd interrupt himself and say "Tom, are you listening?"
2. Perry Masons
Perry Mason on TV would go into trial to defend his innocent client, and when some other person was on the stand near the end of the episode, he'd ask (so Petersen tells us) "Where were you at 2am Tuesday morning...?" however (according to Petersen) it was not to elicit information, but to prove the witness on the stand was the guilty party. Lawyers in fiction seem to do a lot of that, asking questions for effect, rather than to get information. I often imagine myself in the stand in such a case, turning to the Judge and asking if I am being relieved of my obligation to tell the truth? Because when the question itself is a lie ("Have you stopped beating your wife?") there can be no true Yes or No answer to it. I doubt I'll ever be in that position, it's pure imagination. Petersen spent two pages that could have been reduced to a couple sentences from a Biblical (2C) perspective: Do you like people doing this to you? Then don't do it.
3. "Why?"
Petersen's superficial treatment of this issue sees it strictly as a weapon in verbal combat. Maybe it's a Feeler thing, but only if the questioner's purpose is in fact combative. Oh, by the way, did you notice, the title on Petersen's book is a "Why?" question. It would seem that he cannot live his own advice. I see a lot of that in this book. Sometimes he even admits it.

All of us, at some time in our life -- usually at an early age, when we are discovering the world we live in -- we want to know how things work, and "Why?" is a good way to discover causal connectivity. Nobody thinks of a child's questions as communication stoppers, they just want to know. The communication stopper in that case (if any) is when the parent replies "Because I said so!"

Some of us -- at least me, but I cannot believe I am alone in this -- still want to know how things work. Indeed I cannot tell a computer how to do something until I myself know how it must work. "Why?" is a way to keep communication flowing. Petersen can only see it as a "trap" if he considers verbal exchange to be solely affective with no other purpose, in other words, as a Feeler. And indeed that's what he is, and that's what this book is all about. Me, I never would have imagined turning a "Why?" question into a weapon, I'm not a Feeler.

All that said, it is usually not necessary to understand purpose in order to do most things than need doing Again, I look to the Bible for guidance: God sometimes, but mostly never gives us reasons for His commands, it's just "Do it!" Solomon points out that God is more into hiding stuff, it is for kings (people) to figure out why. So if the purpose of communication is to get something done, there is no need to ask why, but if your purpose is to understand causality, or to evade doing something, asking why is a good way to start.

Therefore, by asking "Why?" today, I am able to conclude that when the conversation turns hostile, asking why makes matters worse. Petersen could have said all that without limiting his discussion to Feelers, but he didn't.

4. "Not?"
This makes no sense to me. Petersen's discussion seems to be pure affective (for Feelers only) seeing questions asked in the negative as controlling (for Judgers). Not being FJ myself, it makes no sense.
5. "I understand"
I would have thought this to be affirming, but not being a Feeler myself, what do I know? Feelers can weaponize anything. Petersen seems to assume that this is only ever a response to a feeling that nobody else ever experienced. The fact is, it only seems that way when you're in the middle of it. But then, Feelers don't care about facts. Whatever.
6. Asking for one-word answers
Like "Have you stopped beating your wife?" Right, don't do that. But -- I said this before, I'll try not to repeat it too many more times -- Petersen cannot live his own advice. He offers "Did you do that?" as a Wrong (one-word-answer) question and "What did you have in mind when you did...?" ("Why?" see #3 above) as a better substitute. It takes a lot of skill and practice to force (there's that control thing again) a reticent person to talk more, if that's what you want to do. Sometimes knowing why they don't can be helpful in getting around the difficulty. Sometimes just letting them be who they want to be is the most affirming thing you can do. You can't have your cake and eat it too. But as a Feeler, logic and truth are not high on Petersen's agenda. He's a talker (probably an Extrovert) and he imagines everybody is like himself. Conversation is important. Me, I'm I=Introvert, I can go hours without saying (or hearing) a word. Artificially keeping the conversation going can be a negative.
7. "Yes, but..."
"Yes, but..." usually means "No," Petersen tells us, and I have no reason to disbelieve him. Then he goes on to contradict himself. I don't know what to make of this, unless he wanted a full Ten and had to scratch around to find a filler or three.
8. "You're not listening to me!"
Yup, that must be it. I can't make any sense of this one either.
9. Fixing it -- "I want a consultant, not..."
This is a repeat of the fact that Feelers want affirmation, not a solution. His wording is unfortunate, because I hired myself out as a "consultant" for several decades, and that meant I came in and fixed things that the employees were not up to. Whatever.
10. Screens of all sizes
This is Petersen's rant against smart phones. I don't have one myself, and I leave my computer turned off one day a week, but the other six days, frankly, what I can read (and re-read) is far more communicative than any real-time face-to-face or phone interaction that I cannot keep up with. Or to (slightly) paraphrase the alleged Muslims in Alexandria, The ideas I have already analyzed (and can therefore keep up with) are superfluous, and the ones that are new to me I get stuck on, so let's burn the real-time and go to strict text.

The rest of Part Three seems to have abandonned the silly Talker-Listener card (I saw one reference to "TLC") and replaced it with a collection of ad-hoc pop-psych tactics for being a better listener, from a guy whose job was to be a listener. I guess if God had given me that ministry, I would be inclined to read these carefully and to assimilate them insofar as they weren't totally unBiblical. But the churches are full of people who fit the Feeler model perfectly -- indeed, there's nobody else there -- and they can do this far better than I ever will. Maybe I'll skim, and dive into the ones that are more than trivial repetitions of topics already covered...


Technique #15: Allow Space
Petersen's word choice does not suggest to me what he has in mind here, but it's a Good Idea to always be prepared to change your mind when something better comes along. Who knows, the other guy might actually could be right. Oh wait, that's a P=Perceiver thing (like me) not a Judger thing like Petersen. I sometimes attribute to C.S.Lewis (but I cannot find confirmation), The Truth is so big, it's hard to miss all of it. Oh by the way, Petersen's second Bible quote (of three in the whole book) is in his explanation of this Technique, but unattributed, nothing to even hint he was quoting from the parable of the Good Samaritan.
#16: Match pace
Basically 2C, don't rush the other person; Petersen apparently cannot imagine the other person going faster than I can keep up with, and I don't know what to do about it other than switching off, which is exactly the Wrong thing to do. Like I said at the beginning, this book is not for me. I can read and understand and (in this case) approve, but doing it is something else.
#17: Meet intensity
The Bible says something like that: "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep," but Petersen is not into finding his inspiration from the Bible. Instead he seems to explain this mostly in terms of rising to the level of intensity that the other person exhibits. That's still too obscure for me, but his examples all describe the listener as not being sufficiently engaged. OK, that I can understand, simple 2C.


#18: Old folks and "boring" stories
Petersen wants to help these people find meaning in their stories, so they can move on. That's an interesting idea, and maybe I might try it sometime, except I am the "old folk" in most of my social settings, and I don't tell boring stories, because nobody wants to hear anything I have to say anyway.
#20: After a death

People need people even more when they experience a loss. No one should go through grief alone.

I gotta remember not to invite Petersen to my side (fortunately not likely). I've been there a few times, and I don't want somebody there getting in the way of my working through it. I'm an I=Introvert, which MBTI tells us, I want to get away from people "to recharge my batteries." Petersen is obviously Extrovert, exactly the opposite, and he still does not have room in his thinking for people unlike himself (but see his #15 above).


Anger is proportional to the gap between what people expect and what happens (reality).
Maybe Petersen equates "expect" and rights, maybe not (he doesn't say), but it makes a difference. I was angry over ObamaCare, not because I expected otherwise -- we all knew it was coming since Obama promised "not one dime" in increased taxes before burdening the low-income people of the country with the second highest tax increase in the history of the country -- but because I thought I had a right to the better medical care (and lower cost) I got from self-pay before, than what I am now stuck with after. I thought I had a right to not be taxed for doing my part to reduce the public burden for health care. The fact is, I have no rights at all, the gummit can do anything they want to anybody they want, and the poor people who are the stuckees have no say in the matter unless the gummit wants to let them. God said so. I am still far better off in the country that more people want in than out, than in any other country in the world, and I thank God for that every day.


I'm going to skip over the section on Suicide without comment. From first to last, I have Clue Deficit Disorder. I was editor of the third page of the student newspaper in high school, and my assistant editor's boyfriend committed suicide over the weekend. I was too young to understand anything about it. Five, maybe it was six years ago now, an estranged former friend called about something in my blog. In retrospect, I think he was probing for reconciliation, but I answered the questions he asked carefully and in as non-judgmental way as possible. He got angry anyway -- recall that Petersen said "what was actually said doesn't matter" -- and it was a short time after his call that somebody else called to tell me he had committed suicide. I predicted some kind of catastrophe with his church back when we broke up, but I didn't expect suicide, and I had no clue that I might be his last resort in prevention. CDD. Sometimes God gives me exactly the right thing to say in a situation where there's no way I can think fast enough to come up with something myself, and I have no evidence this wasn't one of them. So I have no comment on Petersen's advice.

Hmmm, these later chapters are getting more and more esoteric, like for professionals. I think I will treat it like the math in Newton's Principia when I read it (see my blog post "Newton, Part 2" a couple years ago) and just skip over it. I am not a counseling professional, never will be, I have the wrong personality type. I went to seminary, in part so God could call me to the ministry the way He called my father, and God said No. Later I figured out I don't have the personality for it, and much later I learned about MBTI. Maybe I can help with Thinkers who need to talk, but this book is mostly no help, and certainly not these final chapters.


Part Four is a piddly eight pages, I think I can handle that...

Oh wow, a real reference to a real Biblical author (but only a few vague words "God inclining an ear to us" which is actually in the Hebrew text but Petersen didn't even italicize is as he did the other quotes). There may be other quotes in the pages I skipped over, but I doubt it.

OK, I finished. The bottom line: Do I want to buy this book? Why would I want to do that? It's not written to nor for people like me. It's not even Christian in its perspective. Somewhere near the end Petersen admits that was intentional (selling books seems more important to him than the Truth). He even has a low opinion of people who believe there is such a thing as Truth. As a consequence, I cannot recommend the book to anybody. But nobody cares about my opinion, I'm a zero.


After I posted this to my website, the next morning in the shower it came to me -- did I tell you I think slow? -- that there's a simple resolution to all that confusion, all those contradictory Techniques: They are all instances, special cases of one simple rule, Pay Attention, which is a special case of 2C, the Golden Rule, do to people what you want done to you.

Everybody wants to feel important, it's part of our selfish nature we all got from Adam. There are really only two, maybe a dozen truly significant people: The President of the United States and the Pope, then well below them, Putin (this year), whoever it is running China, the CEOs of Amazon, Microsoft, and Google, you don't need to know their names, they are Thinkers, they know they are important. They got there because they are Thinkers, they value Truth (how the Real World works) so they can figure out how to get near the top. The rest of us, we're zeroes. The Thinkers among us can figure out how to become locally significant, build a business, get elected Mayor or Congressman. The Feelers are out of luck, the best they can do is give affirmation in their own little family or tribe and hope to get it back. Church is one of those tribes, and the pastor gives affirmation better than most people. That's how he got there. That and a desire to control, and enough brains to figure out what works. But even he's still a nobody, one third of one percent of one percent of all the pastors in the country.

God knows who you are, He knows how many hairs there are on your head today (and every day, it changes), He's into the details. Petersen can't say that, he's written a book for unbelievers. He said so. Maybe he doesn't even believe in a God with that kind of attention to detail. One pastor or counselor paying attention to two squabbling people in his office for 50 minutes -- that's what this book is about: Pay Attention -- is the best he can do. It's the best any Feeler can do. I think it's better to focus on God, but who am I? Another Nobody that nobody cares a fig about most of the time. I'm OK with that, because God cares. I'm a Thinker, I had my own little "15 minutes of fame" (twice, both long ago), but that's nothing, a few thousand people using a program I wrote. Gone. God alone is forever. Plus the people who want to be on His team. 2C is the Rule of Heaven -- it wouldn't be Heaven for the rest of us if everybody there wasn't doing 2C all the time -- so get used to it. Do it now. Petersen couldn't say that, but he should have. The pastor in your church won't say that, but he should. It's all over the Bible. Doing 2C won't get you into Heaven (only the blood of Christ shed on the cross does that), but refusing to do 2C all the time will keep you out. Do it now, so you are comfortable with it. Then this book would be unnecessary.

Tom Pittman
2023 August 10

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