Returning to the plot, Sheldon believes he has discovered the world’s first super-heavy element, thus placing him on the shortlist for Nobel Prize in chemistry, even though ironically, he himself is a theoretical physicist. As a result of his purported discovery, he is thrust into the media spotlight of the scientific community, and asked to be a guest on a national public radio program to inform the public of the implications of his theory. While on the radio show, the host asks Sheldon a series of questions beginning with, “it’s been said that you discovered this element entirely by accident, some people are calling it the wonder blunder. How do you feel about that?” Sheldon then responds with “who is calling it the wonder blunder, what are their names? All of them… I want all of them. It’s Wolowitz isn’t it? I bet it’s Wolowitz.” After a bit more dialogue, Sheldon mistakes the host’s probing questions as an attack on his inadvertent discovery, and storms out (Prady, 2013). This is a prime example of violating one of the principles of effective listening, which is to listen with objectivity. Sheldon clearly goes into the situation with his own biases at play, and clearly does not want to participate in the interview, at least with any enthusiasm or care. If one fails to listen with objectivity, even if one’s intentions are good, they run the risk of missing the intent of the person speaking to them, and entirely misconstruing their message (DeVito, 2009). Sheldon clearly thought because of his own biases, that he was being attacked for not having intentionally made such a potentially groundbreaking discovery, as is in part evident by the fact that he asked if Howard was responsible for calling it the “wonder blunder.” One can hardly blame Sheldon however, being that Howard’s character is known for taking jabs at Sheldon on a regular basis.
In the episode’s parallel plot line, the show’s resident astrophysicist, Raj is staying with Howard for the week because his apartment building is being fumigated. Over the course of this stay, Raj quickly discovers that his two friends are having difficulties communicating in their marriage. In an effort to alleviate some of their difficulty, by doing small things for them, like cooking dinner, fetching morning coffee for them, and being their sympathetic ear; Raj embodies the empathic listener in the Big Bang Theory. He listens attentively, and offers sympathetic advice. Over the course of doing so, both marital partners begin to realize their faults through their friend’s good example, and express to him that they feel inadequate in his presence, and they were both perfectly happy “half-assing their marriage until he came along.” (Prady, 2013) Up until this point, the lovable astrophysicist was embodying the epitome of reinforcement, engaging other people in the conversation and allowing themselves to express their thoughts and opinions freely, listening, and engaging them in a true dialogue. Sometimes, as was shown in the episode however, such a tactic can be countered by unwilling participants, or participants who, as in the prior example, come into the encounter with pre-existing biases (DeVito, 2009).
This episode of the Big Bang Theory not only provided humor and levity to those who sought it that night, but given the parallel plot lines, it also provided an intellectual breeding ground for ideas related to the practice of conversation. Effective listening and reinforcement are key to any good conversation, which is why they are so encouraged in an academic environment; they are especially important when discussing issues that the participants may hold to be very personal. If the communicator seeks to engage their participants, said participants will be more at ease in giving their opinions. Another good thing to remember as an effective communicator, is that if one clearly communicates as little bias as possible, then others will not only feel more at ease giving their opinions, but they may be also encouraged to check their biases at the door. These are lessons that any effective communicator would do well never to forget.
DeVito, J. (2009). The interpersonal communication book (12th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.
Prady, B. (Producer) (2013). The discovery dissipation [Television series episode]. In Lorre, C. (Executive Producer), The Big Bang Theory. Los Angeles: CBS.