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Unlearning Conventional Wisdom

“I’m sorry, is this too boring for you?”

“Looks like someone stayed out too late last night.”

“Am I keeping you awake?”


There are likely other more creative jabs at someone who yawns in a meeting or over coffee with a friend. Why do we do this? Because when someone yawns in the presence of another, it’s insulting, isn’t it!? Isn’t it? Well, it certainly shouldn’t be.


The yawn can mean, “… that we’re settled and we can relax.” This quote is from Cara Santa Maria, PhD as published in the article “Most Societies Completely Misunderstand Yawning” in Real Clear Science on April 26, 2021 written by Ross Pomeroy (https://www.realclearscience.com/blog/2021/04/26/most_societies_completely_misunderstand_yawning_773258.html).


“If people yawn when you talk, it could be the sincerest compliment they could pay.” This quote can be found in Popular Science via Google Books by Charles J. McGuirk as published in September. 1926 (https://books.google.com/books?id=FCoDAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PA16&ots=hR5tGzGACL&dq=things%20we%20say%20to%20people%20who%20yawn&pg=PA16#v=onepage&q=things%20we%20say%20to%20people%20who%20yawn&f=false).


The yawn may more often indicate that a person is engaged and needs more blood flow to their brain to keep all systems fired up.


The contagion of the yawn also reflects general comfort of the group and the more tightly the group is connected, the more likely the yawn is to spread.


It's been the better part of a century, why do we still think the yawn means boredom? Probably because when we hear the same thing over and over, we tend to believe it because "every body says so."


Push back. When someone yawns, you don’t have to SAY anything. But if you can’t help yourself…


“I’m glad you’re really thinking about the discussion.”

“Looks like someone is really pondering something.”

“I’m glad you’re comfortable here.”


I know. I and about 4 other people use “ponder” in conversation, but at least I didn’t say “Looks like you’re really cogitating” because that would be nerdy.


Probably the best thing to say is the next thing that needs to be said without mentioning a yawn. Go on with the discussion knowing that at least one person in the group is taking it in and really got their brain going on the topic.


As is often the case, conventional wisdom is not wise and does not follow scientific convention.


Cover art photo by Sam Burriss on Unsplash

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