1028: Communication

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Anyone who says that they're great at communicating but 'people are bad at listening' is confused about how communication works.
Title text: Anyone who says that they're great at communicating but 'people are bad at listening' is confused about how communication works.


This comic is divided into two parts, the first two rows of panels and then the third one.

The first part demonstrates a failed attempt at communication:

  • White Hat notices a dangerous hole, and thinks he should warn people about it.
  • White Hat encounters Hairy and tries to warn him about the hole, but all Hairy perceives is White Hat being dramatic without understanding the warning.
  • Hairy continues to only think of what he can see, and now this is the fact that White Hat is leaving. As White Hat leaves he is thinking about Hairy's lack of understanding and about his silence.
  • White Hat encounters Megan and is now so annoyed about Hairy that he rather talks about his lack of communication than about the dangerous hole. Megan on the other hand tries to tell White Hat about another dangerous hole if he continues to walk along.
  • White Hat and Megan pass each other. White Hat now thinks about both the silent Hairy and the talking Megan who both failed to understand him. Megan is just frustrated by the outcome of her encounter and thinks about White Hat talking.
  • Megan then meets Hairy while they are both still thinking about White Hat
  • They now share their common experience of seeing White Hat. Finally Hairy talks.
  • They both continue towards the first hole, unaware of it, talking about White Hat. (Hairy is drawn without hair both here and in the next panel - see Trivia below.)
  • Megan and Hairy fall into the first hole since it wasn't properly communicated to them.
  • White Hat falls into the second hole since it wasn't properly communicated to him.

The holes in the sidewalk are fairly deep, about one person deep; unaware and careless people don't notice them when they come upon them, which makes them symbolic of any problem or danger one can encounter in life, and could avoid if properly warned or careful.

The second part demonstrates a much more successful attempt at communication:

  • Beret Guy notices a dangerous hole, and thinks he should warn people about it.
  • He even runs out of the picture to warn people (as can be interpreted by the fact that he has reached further in the next panel than White Hat).
  • Beret Guy finds Cueball, and tells him to come along. Cueball only sees Beret Guy stretching out his hand.
  • Beret Guy takes Cueball's hand and leads him towards the hole. Cueball doesn't understand why (as shown by the question marks in his thought bubble surrounding his thought of Beret Guy), but follows Beret Guy anyway.
  • Beret Guy leads Cueball to the hole and points it out for him.
  • Finally both Beret Guy and Cueball leave the hole thinking about the danger of it. Beret Guy has managed to properly warn Cueball about the hole.

The title text references the requirement that "communication" is a two-sided process, and just because you think you have made your point clear this does not mean that you have "communicated" the information to them: if they failed to understand, then it may as well mean that you failed to communicate, and not necessarily that they are bad at listening. And if you always encounter this situation, then it is you who are confused about how communication works. See also 1984: Misinterpretation.


[White Hat looks down at a large gap in the walkway; a thought bubble with a warning symbol and an image of the gap appears above his head.]
[White Hat walks to the right, away from the gap, and encounters Hairy, to which he speaks (in iconographic speech bubble form) while pointing toward the gap, attempting to inform him about the gap. A thought bubble appears above Hairy's head with an image of White Hat pointing.]
[White Hat continues, waving his arms, still talking about the gap. Hairy's thought bubble continues to contain images of White Hat, now gesturing frantically.]
[Hairy shrugs in a nonplussed manner, and White Hat leaves off the right side of the frame. Both have thought bubbles displaying the other's reaction.]
[White Hat continues to the right and comes across Megan. He tells her about the reaction of Hairy (still all in iconographic form); she simultaneously tries to tell him about a gap and gestures off to the right of the frame.]
[White Hat and Megan both leave the frame. Megan exits left thinking of White Hat's reactions; White Hat exits to the right while thinking about both Hairy and Megan's reactions.]
[Megan (still thinking about White Hat) encounters Hairy (who is also still thinking about White Hat).]
[Megan and Hairy talk about White Hat.]
[Megan and Hairy (now without his hair) continue talking about White Hat as they exit the frame to the left.]
[A commotion is heard from the left.]
Explosion to the left: !!! ** !!
[Megan and Hairy (still without his hair) have fallen into the gap in the walkway. A commotion is then also heard from the right.]
Explosion to the right: !!! ** *
[White Hat has fallen into another gap.]
[Beret Guy looks down at a large gap in the walkway; a thought bubble with a warning symbol and an image of the gap appears above his head.]
[Beret Guy runs off the frame to the right.]
[Beret Guy meets Cueball and reaches out to him. He tells him (still in iconographic form) that Cueball should take Beret Guy's hand. Cueball has a thought bubble of Beret Guy with his arm stretched out.]
[Beret Guy takes Cueball's hand and leads him along to the left. Cueball's thought bubble has two question marks around Beret Guy.]
Cueball: ? ?
[Beret Guy leads Cueball to the gap and points it out to him.]
[Beret Guy and Cueball walk away from the gap to the right, now both thinking about the gap with a warning symbol above it.]


Randall made a mistake in this comic: Hairy seems to "lose" his hair in the last two frames where he is together with Megan (#9 and #11), but it's still the same person. The Cueball that appears in the last four frames represents another person. This is clearly evidenced by Randall's transcript of the comic.

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I can't decide if the irony that this comic didn't communicate its idea well was intentional or if I just didn't get it at first because I'm dumb... (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Don't worry. Not everybody can read "international," so it may be a bit hard to interpret. Really, he's just citing John R. Trimble: "Clear writers assume, with a pessimism born of experience, that whatever isn't plainly stated the reader will invariably misconstrue." In this case, after several examples of poor communication (and the consequences) the only clear communicator is Beret Guy, who rather adeptly shows rather than tells Cueball of the peril. Visual prolix? Maybe. As you say, that may be the point. -- IronyChef (talk) 02:44, 19 August 2012 (UTC)
Well, it wouldn't be that you're dumb, it would be that you're "bad at reading comics" :) - jerodast (talk) 16:43, 21 December 2012 (UTC)

I don't believe that the holes are only one person deep. It seems as though the heads are level with the ground just to show who is falling into each hole at that moment. 11:20, 21 September 2012 (UTC)

After panel 5-6, does WHG think that he actually communicated the left hole successfully to the girl, given that he does not understand her "hole!" message as a warning of the right hole? I remember that's how I read it the first time. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Where does the name Harry come from? Is this established usage on the wiki? Dropping it in the explanation out of nowhere is confusing. - jerodast (talk) 16:44, 21 December 2012 (UTC)

Using names to refer to the characters was a tradition that was officially started back on the blog when Berg guest authored one of the explanations. This makes it easier for everyone to be sure they are referring to the same character, and they're also cute fan-made names. lcarsos_a (talk) 17:04, 21 December 2012 (UTC)
Sure sure, I get that, but Cueball and Danish have pages where confused users can go to understand where the name came from. "Harry" just drops out of nowhere here. Does he appear in other comics? Should we make a page for him? - jerodast (talk) 16:19, 22 December 2012 (UTC)
I don't think we call him Harry, but there are other comics where a character with a little bit of hair shows up. If he shows up in at least 3 comics you can go ahead and create the category and his character page. lcarsos_a (talk) 17:04, 22 December 2012 (UTC)
He was of course referring to Hairy which has been clarified long time ago. --Kynde (talk) 14:11, 16 March 2015 (UTC)

I disagree that the moral is that the best way to teach is to show someone, I believe the moral is that teaching hasn't happened until the learner understands. If you succeed in communicating by talking, that's great, if you succeed by showing, that's great too. However, if you try to teach by talking and the other person doesn't understand, you've failed. If you try to teach by showing and the other person doesn't understand, you've also failed. I'm going to make a change to include that. If anyone objects, revert it. Djbrasier (talk) 20:35, 22 August 2013 (UTC)

I agree with you (that is a first ;-) I think you forgot to implement the change you were advocating for, and said you would make. I have tried to make it clear that it is about communication not about how you do it. --Kynde (talk) 17:20, 16 March 2015 (UTC)

I took the moral to be that you need to not immediately jump to what you're you're saying, rather talk a little first. Banak (talk) 17:00, 16 November 2013 (UTC)

I don't get what part of "there's a hole over there" is so hard to understand that you need to show them it for people not to be confused. Really, this comic must've been based on some special kind of stupid people.-- 07:56, 4 June 2014 (UTC)

Are you familiar with the concept of a metaphor? Did you miss the xkcd comic where Randall himself pointed out that models are imperfect representations of abstract ideas (iirc, the example in question was gravity as it relates to spacetime, "what's pulling the planet down into the grid then?") It isn't lost on me that this comment is a year old, I just... it felt like it necessitated a response. If you're getting caught up in the specifics of this being a literal situation, then it's you who has missed the point. Aepokk (talk) 08:55, 6 September 2015 (UTC)
(yeah, I know this is more than three years old) Aside from what Aepokk already wrote, if I told you "Пази, рупа на путу у оном правцу", would you immediately understand what I was trying to communicate to you? BytEfLUSh (talk) 23:06, 23 October 2017 (UTC)

«It is very typical for the character Beret Guy to succeed, especially with something difficult, where White Hat fails.» I would be grateful for examples that show how this is typical. :-) 19:26, 12 February 2017 (UTC)

I think this is an examination of communication gaps. Elvenivle (talk) 02:42, 30 August 2019 (UTC)

Religious reference?[edit]

Is the similarity between this and the common Christian evangelism explanation a coincidence? 01:05, 17 March 2024 (UTC)