What About Listening?

What About Listening?

Teresa M. Nichols

Interpersonal Communications

Central Lakes College

Jan Stumbo, Faculty

October 3, 2011

In the movie What About Bob? (Oz, 1991) the main characters are Dr. Leo Marvin, a psychiatrist, and Bob Wiley, the patient. The doctor’s family is the supporting cast. Just as many people do, Dr. Marvin and Bob each have their own dominate personal listening styles (Adler & Rodman, 2009). Dr. Marvin’s is time-oriented (Adler & Rodman, 2009), and Bob’s is people-oriented (Adler & Rodman, 2009).  Their difference in style presents a very interesting series of events in the course of just a few days, while vacationing in Lake Winnipesaukee.

The events all began with Dr. Marvin’s phone conversation with Dr. Carswell, who wanted him to take a patient of his. Dr. Carswell intentionally did not verbalize why he was closing his practice and taking time off. If Dr. Marvin had listened mindfully (Adler & Rodman, 2009) to Dr. Carswell, he could have heard the subtle message through his choice of words that he knew exactly what he was doing. Dr. Marvin was listening insensitively (Adler & Rodman, 2009) and missed the hidden message that Dr. Carswell was moving because of this one particular patient, Bob Wiley. Dr. Carswell used Dr. Marvin’s ego against him with praises of what a great psychiatrist he was (Oz, 1991).

Dr. Marvin and Siggy, his son, are on their way out to the boat dock to teach Siggy how to dive.  Dr. Marvin is stage hogging (Adler & Rodman, 2009) as well as exhibiting the time-oriented personal listening style (Adler & Rodman, 2009). Dr. Marvin is going on and on about the things he needs to do, and then tells him how he is taking time out of his busy schedule to teach him how to dive. Siggy’s dad asks a couple of counterfeit questions (Adler & Rodman, 2009) and Siggy responds with sarcasm (Adler & Rodman, 2009), because he is using defensive listening (Adler & Rodman, 2009). The father-son moment ends badly with both feeling as though they were unheard.

While Dr. Marvin and his family are in the town store, the children begin counterfeit questioning (Adler & Rodman, 2009), expressing their unhappiness of mixing vacation with dad’s work. Then, at the counter, Dr. Marvin talks at rather than with the clerk, known as stage hogging (Adler & Rodman, 2009). It is obvious the store clerk is pseudo-listening (Adler & Rodman, 2009).

Anna (Dr. Marvin’s daughter), on her way to the town dock to go sailing with friends, picks up Bob on the side of the road. They easily engage in conversation in the car and use the people-oriented listening style (Adler & Rodman, 2009) as they ask and respond to one another’s questions. Neither is being critical or prejudging as they ask sincere questions and use feedback to confirm their understanding.

After seeing Bob sailing on the boat with Anna, Dr. Marvin drops Siggy in the water and rushes down to the town boat dock. He ignores Bob’s excited shouts of his newest accomplishment of sailing and tells Anna he wants to talk to her. As Dr. Marvin presents puppets for them to wear and converse through, rather than talking directly to one another, he tells Anna, “I know you won’t listen to your father.” Anna quickly goes into defensive listening (Adler & Rodman, 2009) and tells her father, “Bob Wiley is a very sensitive person.” Dr. Marvin replies, “Your father is a sensitive person.” Anna then says, “Bob listens to people.” Quickly Dr. Marvin says, “Your father listens to people, except when he’s up here in Lake Winnipesaukee.”

Anna begins to walk away, and then turns to shout, “He is FUN!” Dr. Marvin stumbles out with a reply, “Your father’s.…kind…of…fun.” (Oz, 1991).

Bob walks back to the house and finds Siggy on the dock sulking after another failed attempt at diving. Bob engages Siggy in conversation with sincere questions and people-oriented listening style (Adler & Rodman, 2009). Siggy responds to Bob’s questions and remarks. Siggy takes the lead to show Bob how to dive. Siggy takes his first dive. Dr. Marvin watches from a window as his son takes his first dive, then runs down to the dock to assist in Siggy’s second dive. On the way he shoves Bob off the dock and into the water, which moves everyone’s attention from Siggy to Bob.

The family insists Bob stay for dinner, at which Bob woos the family and annoys the doctor. Bob mentions the up-coming live television interview in the morning, which causes Dr. Marvin to wince and then choke on a piece of meat. Bob saves the doctor from choking. In the family’s eyes, Bob is now the fun loving, responsive listener they have been craving.

To make a long story short, Dr. Marvin chokes on his live television interview and Bob saves it. Then the doctor snaps! He becomes indignant, belligerent, and homicidal towards Bob. He tries to commit Bob to the mental hospital and then tries to blow him up, but it all backfires. Instead he manages to blow up his home, while frightening his family who has now completely embraced Bob into their family. Dr. Marvin ends up in the hospital for a while, and Bob takes care of the family. Bob becomes a psychologist and the movie ends at the wedding of Bob and Dr. Marvin’s sister, Lilly, which snaps Dr. Marvin back to reality.

Dr. Marvin’s personal listening style, time-oriented (Adler & Rodman, 2009), may have served him well in his profession, but did more harm than good at home with his family. Bob’s personal listening style, people-oriented (Adler & Rodman, 2009), did not serve him well as a bachelor, but did in a family atmosphere. This clearly shows there is no right or wrong personal listening style (Adler & Rodman, 2009), but there is a time and place for each.

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Adler, R., & Rodman, G. (2009). Understanding human communication (10th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.

Ziskin, L. (Producer), & Oz, F. (Director). (1991). What About Bob? [Motion Picture].