Call Me Oscar

Oscar the GrouchCurmudgeon.

I just love the sound of that word, don’t you?

Curmudgeon.

Linguists believe it dates back to the 1570s, but no one can tell for certain where it came from.

If you’re like me, and English is your second or third language, you might not even know that curmudgeon is used to describe a bad-tempered, difficult, cantankerous person. It’s the archetypal grouch: unpleasant, argumentative, stubborn, and unsociable.

A while ago I made a surprising discovery. I was talking to a colleague whom I had never met before, and near the end of our conversation she said to me:

“I can’t believe how nice you are. You’re not at all what I expected.”

“What did you expect?” I asked.

“Well, based on your blog I always thought you were this grumpy, super-serious, sourpuss kind of a guy. I mean, you’re always so critical of newbies, clients, and colleagues, and you don’t exactly mince words.”

“You thought I was a curmudgeon,” I interjected.

“Your words, not mine,” she said, “but to be honest, I had expected some cranky complainer. You’re not like that at all.”

Normally I don’t fall for flattery, but her comment made me smile. A little bit.

“In a previous life I used to teach self-help seminars,” I said, “and your observation reminds me of one of the main messages I impressed upon my students:

The meaning of your communication is the response you get.

It’s the idea that it doesn’t really matter what people write or say. The meaning comes from how listeners interpret and respond to what was written or said. Intentions -good or bad- are irrelevant.

My colleague looked puzzled.

“Let me give you an example,” I continued.

“Bono, the U2 frontman, was on a fact-finding mission in Africa. One of his hosts gave this long-winded, academic spiel on the origins of urban poverty and the rise of AIDS. At one point Bono had had enough. ‘Excuse me,’ he said. ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’

‘But I just explained it to you,’ said his host annoyed. ‘I was as clear as I could be. Perhaps this is going over your head. After all, you’re not an expert.’

‘Perhaps you should explain it better,’ answered Bono.

I looked at my colleague and said:

“The meaning of our communication is the response we get. This academic thought he was making himself perfectly clear, yet Bono’s response told him otherwise. Who was at fault here?

The way I see it, Bono was right. Now, let’s bring this back to you and me. I believe it is our responsibility to communicate a message in such a way that the other person will understand its true meaning. If that’s not the case, we need to explain ourselves in a different way until understanding is reached. 

Unfortunately, most of my teachers -whether in elementary or in high school- never got that concept. If a pupil didn’t comprehend something that was explained to them, they always blamed the “dumb” student.”

“And how is all of this connected to your blog?” asked my colleague.

“Perfect example,” I said. “Here I am… attempting to make a connection between my blog and your expectations of me as a person, and I fail miserably. So, let me try again.

Based on my blog, you thought I would be a certain way, correct? And as you admitted, I wasn’t like that at all. Is that your fault? Not really. Your initial impression was based on my writings. Your response was the meaning of my communication. So, I thank you for your feedback.”

I paused for a moment before I opened up.

“You know, I don’t really want to come across as the curmudgeon of the voice-over world. That’s not who I am. As you have noticed, I don’t take myself too seriously. I love most of my clients and colleagues, and I love what I do for a living. I also want to warn newbies before someone takes advantage of them. That’s one of the reasons why I started blogging.

I blog to provide an antidote to all those manipulative marketing messages telling gullible people what they want to hear. At least, that’s my intention.”

“Well, that comes across loud and clear,” said my colleague. “But perhaps you could sprinkle it with a bit of humor every now and then. Lighten up, and don’t be so preachy. I know your dad was a minister, but a blog is not a pulpit.”

“Amen to that,” I said. “Thank you again.” A few moments later, we parted ways.

Later that day I got a phone call.

“Hi, remember me?” asked my colleague. “I’ve been thinking about that conversation we had this morning, and I need to know something. Were you talking about yourself, or were you talking about me when you told that Bono story?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, earlier on I had told you about the difficulties I had communicating with a client. I didn’t feel he understood me, and I blamed him for purposely missing the points I was trying to make. After you and I talked I did my best to see things from his perspective. I modified my approach and my tone in the last message I sent him. He just emailed me back, and I think we’re finally getting somewhere. Am I on the right track?”

“I don’t think I have to answer that question,” I said. “You changed your communication, and you got a different response. Congratulations. You’re a fast learner!”

“And you’re a pretty good teacher,” she responded. Then she laughed.

“For a curmudgeon, that is…”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: Oscar the Grouch via photopin (license)

About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs." goo.gl/ihVpMc

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal

18 Responses to Call Me Oscar

  1. Mike Harrison

    From one curmudgeon to another: Great work, Paul.

    And there’s a bonus message to this blog post:

    Paul Stefano said: “The written word is always interpreted differently I guess.”

    This is THE reason why voice-over is NOT simply reading words from a page (which practically anyone can do and which is how some unscrupulous Pied Pipers try to sell demo packages). Voice-over is understanding the writer’s meaning and, through tone of voice and proper inflection, conveying the words in correct context so that the listener understands.

    And that brings us to this wonderful quote:

    “If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” – Ignacio Estrada

    [Reply]

  2. Kent Ingram

    I’m chuckling a bit, this morning…at myself! When I first read the title of today’s blog article, my first thought went to “Oscar” from the Academy Awards! Can it be connected, somehow, to the article? I don’t know….

    I look at curmudgeons in a different light than the traditional definition. To me, a curmudgeon is the lone naysayer in a crowd of yes-men/women. The naysayer should be the one we listen to, first. Take care and thanks for another great blog!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I like your definition of “curmudgeon” a lot, Kent. Society needs clowns, critics, and supporters. I fit at least in three of those categories.

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  3. Linda Coelli

    Great insight! thank you for the wise words.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you Linda. And I’ll send Bono a nice note on your behalf.

    [Reply]

  4. Jeff Bugonian

    Hopefully your studio is not a trash can. As a new VO I have to say that veterans like you that are looking out for us are a great stimulus for us. Your curmudgeonness (if that is even a word…at least it should be) is a tremendous help. Keep is up Oscar 😉

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Glad to fulfill that role, Jeff. Grumpily yours, Paul.

    [Reply]

  5. Natasha

    For what it’s worth, in an industry where I notice there are a lot of complainers, your writing never strikes me as such. Telling it like it is, staying real AND adding humour is very clear to me in your blogs and writing… I identify with it, appreciate it, connect with it. Sure, audio and video are great, but what you are putting out there is already stellar. I applaud you and enjoy your writing, always. Brilliant.

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  6. Kevin Scheuller

    While the written word can more easily be misinterpreted, I seldom have any problems reading your blogs,knowing that your underlying reason for writing your blog is to expose freelancers, both veterans, and newcomers, to the realities they will certainly overlook if they don’t take off their rose colored glasses every once in a while. You consistently sprinkle in a dose of humor.

    If you watch “Big Bang Theory,” the character, Sheldon comes to mind. Among many of his humorous qualities, Sheldon is “sarcasm impaired.” Having said all this,not that we’re suggesting you have the extra time, I do agree that an occasional video, or audio version of your blog may just be the kind of aid the “sarcasm impaired” members of your audience could use to better appreciate your effervescent personality, Paul. I don’t need it, but – as a minister who constantly tries to avoid being too “preachy,” I know from experience that the secret is in the delivery.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Another vote for video and audio! I realize that we live in an increasingly visual society, and that many of my readers might actually be visual learners. I also know that some of my colleagues present two versions of their blogs: a written version, and an audio version. Other than what I already said to Paul Stefano, my main limitation would be time. I know I can comfortably knock out a new blog post in a few hours, but if I were to do a video, I would want it to look good. I want to do more than talk into a webcam and ramble for half an hour. We have enough of those videos on YouTube.

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    Kevin Scheuller Reply:

    Okay, then. You’re just going to have to be a guest again on VOBS, and/or VO Buzz Weekly to help the sarcasm – impaired in your audience.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    When my book first came out, I sent a copy to VO Buzz Weekly, but they weren’t interested. I’ve been on VOBS (Voice Overs for Bernie Sanders?) twice. Who would want to watch me a third time… unless I have some major revelation about the business practices of Pay-to-Plays.

  7. Paul Stefano

    Paul,

    Maybe you should add some video, or dare I say audio to the blog? Maybe read the first sentence or paragraph? You always come across as super friendly and caring in interviews. Also, anybody who contacts you directly, knows how sincere and approachable you are. The written word is always interpreted differently I guess.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for the suggestions, Paul. You make a very good point. Communication is so much more than putting words in a certain order. There’s inflection, and there’s body language. Both are left up to the imagination of the reader. Communication experts tell us that tonality and body language are more revealing than the words we use. However, as a I writer I like the fact that I can organize and polish my thoughts before I share them with the rest of the world. Secondly, it takes less time for people to read or scan my stories, than it would if they’d have to listen to me, or watch a video. And last but not least, it’s much easier to turn blog posts into a new book!

    [Reply]

    Paul Stefano Reply:

    Always thinking 2 steps ahead, aren’t you Paul!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Sometimes I get ahead of myself, but eventually I’ll catch up.

  8. James Phillips

    Great, as always.

    And curmudgeon is a wonderful word!

    In Spanish the equivalent would be “gruñón” and “cascarrabias”. I particularly like the latter as it is very onomatopoeic. It comes from the combination of two words, “cascar” —to break or crack open with a sharp blow, as when breaking an egg into the frying pan—, (from Latin “quassicarem”) and “rabiar” (from Latin “rabies”, ire / rage / madness).

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I love to learn about the origin of words. Thanks for sharing that, James!

    [Reply]

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