Sounds Like White Noise

Have you ever marveled over someone’s overt ability to ignore a disruptive noise that distracted every other person in earshot?

Why wasn’t the individual affected—awakened, alarmed, or annoyed—by the sound?

A situation I witnessed recently gives a reasonable assumption as to why an audience might tune out, even when the message should be quite relevant to them.

For Crying Out Loud

During a large retail store’s busy period, several checkout options were available to customers, but purchasing required patience. For one thing, many people had full shopping carts; for another, multiple shoppers were in queue for each of the registers—with a single exception.

The next-to-be-served customer in the shortest line was a mom with a little boy who looked to be about five years old. Wearing a blank expression, she stared straight ahead while he contorted his body in the cart’s child seat and loudly and incessantly moaned. Although most of his words were inaudible, every human being in that section of the store could plainly hear and translate his message:

I don’t want to be here.

Likewise, as they approached the checkout lanes, all shoppers chose one of the longer lines upon identifying the kid as the disrupter, proving their willingness to sacrifice a few minutes or more of their time for marginally less exposure to the irritating noise. The only individual who appeared unfazed was the child’s mom.

To her credit, she didn’t react negatively. Unfortunately, though, she did nothing. Her stance was not only ineffective but stupefying. Contemplating how readily people give unsolicited advice nowadays, I was surprised that not one frustrated soul had shouted what the mom should do to silence him.

Assuming the woman was a normal, weary mom who merely wanted to buy her items and leave, observers could only speculate as to why her son’s fussing didn’t prompt a reaction. I postulated that she’d heard him pitch a fit so many times that the relentless vibrations he emitted had become white noise to her ears. To avoid gawking at her blank expression and trance-like vibe, which provided good evidence for my white-noise hypothesis, I looked away but wondered if the cashier had to clap her hands to garner the mom’s attention when it was her turn.

Accustomed to their kids’ obnoxious whining, many parents protect their sanity by tuning out such sounds. Arguably, this mom’s oblivious demeanor in a crowded, public place was rather negligent and odd, but it does demonstrate the brain’s capacity to ignore the words to the same old song, no matter how loudly or how often it plays.

Cry No More

What might the child have done to capture the moms attention?

He could have gone silent.

He could have tried a fresh approach.

“Mommy, I’m hungry. Can we have lunch soon?”

“Mommy, I’m sorry for whining.”

“Are you as hungry as I am?”

He could have changed the topic.

“Look! There’s a doggie in the store!”

He could have recruited an outsider to shake things up—e.g., giving the cashier a sad look and eliciting a sympathetic response from that person—so his mom would take note.

In short, a precocious child would have changed his tune.

Worth Noting

Any communicator who has failed to reach an audience through repeated messaging could adopt any of the following similar tactics:

Sharing less or going silent for a period, potentially building curiosity (I haven’t heard from so-and-so) and generating demand for information

Employing a fresh perspective

  • Making it all about the receiver, not the sender
  • Lightening up or taking a more serious stance
  • Asking versus telling
  • Taking responsibility instead of blaming
  • Giving solutions rather than focusing on problems

Changing the topic to something related or entirely different but pertinent

Recruiting someone else to deliver the message

Granted, a person or group can have many valid reasons for repeatedly blasting out a message. Nevertheless, if such persistence seems to produce a symphony of white noise to little effect, something, for crying out loud, must change. Otherwise, the content will not resonate with the audience, much less ignite a desired response.

Sallie W. Boyles, a.k.a. Write Lady

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