Heeeeere’s Johnny!

by Ron Potter

I’ve recently noticed there are Johnny Carson reruns from his old “Tonight” show on one of the networks.  I always considered Carson the best night-time TV host so I began to watch a few.  Overall, I have not been disappointed.


While I’m sure that Johnny Carson had a reasonably big ego, it seemed that he treated every guest with equal respect and humility.  It didn’t make any difference if the person was the hottest movie star of the day or had just won a contest for catching gumdrops in their mouth.  The person had accomplished something and Carson respected them for it.  He would often join the person on stage and attempt to duplicate their effort almost always failing miserably.  Once again to demonstrate their accomplishment and respect them for it.


But the real topic of this blog is listening!  Elizabeth Bernstein wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal titled No One is Listening?  Maybe You’re the Problem.

I’ve written several times about listening with the intent to understand vs. listening with the intent to respond.  Many of our communication problems happen because we’re preparing our response rather than trying to listen and understand what the other person is saying.

But Ms. Bernstien made one point in the article that many talkers engage in monologue rather than dialogue.

Carson always started his show with a monologue.  While he certainly was listening to the audience for clues about how funny his statement was, he simply went on with the rest of his monologue just as he had written and practiced it.

The WSJ article said “Often talkers engage in a monologue rather than a dialogue.  They drone on and ignore the listener’s clues that he or she is disengaged.”

They’re speaking in a monologue while seemingly engaged in a dialogue.  And then rate the “listener” poorly for not being engaged.


But once Johnny had a guest sitting across the desk from him, he seemed to fully switch to a dialogue.  He listened.  He made eye contact.  He asked open-ended questions.  He encouraged the other person to elaborate.

Let’s examine the word Dialogue for a minute.  I have observed teams that use:

  • Debate
  • Discussion
  • Dialogue (although very few understand or have been taught what it means to dialogue)


Many of you have been on debate teams in high school or college.  If you’ll recall, you were often given positions on a topic that you may not have even believed.  But you still had to debate and in fact, were graded on your debating skills whether you believed in the topic or not.  The goal of the debate was to “win.”  If your goal in a team meeting or engaging with another person is to win the debate, you may actually accomplish the goal but over time will be ignored and shunned for your lack of dialogue abilities.


Most teams will tell me that they’ve learned the negative aspects of debating and have avoided them by making sure the team is having a good discussion.  While their intentions and often their actions are good, they don’t really know the root of the word discussion.  The word discussion has the same root as percussion.  I played in the percussion section in my high school band.  When we were out marching in a parade or other pageantry, I played the snare drum and my job was to play it as loud as possible to help the band stay in order and be heard over the crowd.  All too often, teams turn to discussion where the loudest person wins through sheer force and percussion.


Dialogue has a pattern that will help a team reach a unified position.  There is much to be learned about dialogue and it can be modified to the team’s particular needs but in general, follows this pattern:

  • Boil the issue down to two positions so that you can decide (eliminate one of the options)
  • Once down to two positions, dialogue them one at a time.
    • This means that for a period of time “everyone” on the team is on the same side to help lead the position to great success.
  • Once each position has been dialogued, decide.  Eliminate one position and put all the team’s energy into the chosen position.  It’s amazing how quickly one position can be reached when the debate and discussion are removed from the process.  It’s also amazing how powerful one position can become when everyone is behind its success.

Heeeeere’s Johnny!

Treat each other with respect!

Treat each topic and position with dignity!

Get the entire team on the same page!

You’ll experience power and speed beyond what you imagined possible.

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