I’m the first to admit this about myself, but I am not a natural good listener. My hyper personality makes it a struggle to sit still and listen. That’s why my tag line is ‘Musings of a bi-polar writer’. The channels in my brain are constantly switching.
I had to teach myself to focus so that I can listen. I’ve implemented some practices in my life that have greatly attributed to being able to slow my brain down and focus when people are talking to me. Perhaps, this is a challenge for you as well, and why you clicked on this article. Here are some practices that I’ve picked up that have helped me to be a good listener.
The art of listening
Listen to how they express themselves not just what they are saying
Communication is not only a verbal encounter. Body language and facial expressions tell a lot about what a person is wishing to convey. A writer who is listening well is watching the person speaking. This is how they are able to help put their reader in a scene.
An example of this is when a character is making a confession about a situation. The writer will show us that the person is perhaps wringing their hands around each other. They may jump from their seat and walk over to a window. These sort of actions communicate the emotional aspect of the words coming from someone.
Dialog is great in a story, but if you don’t show visually, how the person is communicating, then the conversation in a story will quickly become boring.
Ask Questions – Active listening – Open ended questions
Have you ever had a conversation with a person and they gave you one or two word response? It’s frustrating, and a quick way to end a conversation. But there are two words that can open up a person so that you can learn what is going on. Asking HOW and WHY? These two words encourage what is termed as an open ended question. The request, ‘share with me’, before asking the question also gives an air of genuine desire to know the answer.
There are no awkward silences when listening – Embrace the silence
Answers aren’t always quick to come out directly after a question has been asked. Even in the midst of dialog a person may stop speaking. Why does this happen? They may be trying to find the right word. Possibly, they want to think through their answer before saying the first thing that comes to their mind.
When this happens a person will want to be okay with the silence. Every silence is not an awkward silence. Sometimes we just need to sit back and embrace the silence. This is a great way to create tension or suspense in a story. Not every character is going to be one that blurts out an answer. They may take moments to deliberate on what information they should give or not. They may be stalling or determining if the person can handle all of the truth or just a piece of it. A good listener may find out more from the silence then the words would ever convey.
Get clarification so you’re understanding what they are saying
Repetition is a listener’s best friend. Part of listening is being sure you have understood what the person has said. You may need to repeat parts of what they said, or you may want to summarize it, in a question form, so that you are certain that you are understanding properly the words uttered.
A person may be speaking about the actions of a person and say they think signing the document was stupid thing to do. Now the listener may be thinking, the person was saying that the document was stupid. They may even think that they were saying that the person signing the document was just a stupid person ready to sign a document without thinking. Therefore, the listener would want to clarify their understanding of the words spoken. They may ask something like, “Do you think something was wrong with the document?” That way the person could clarify their words as to what specifically was wrong in the document being signed by the person.
Physical act of listening
Put away your electronic devices
I dated a man who always turned off his phone, or even left it in his car when we would go out. I loved the way he made me feel like no one else was as important as I was, when we were together.
The truth of the situation was that he was a good listener. Yes, it helped that his livelihood was made by his craft of listening, that he perfected. After all he was a newspaper reporter.
When you turn off all distractions, then you can give your undivided attention and listen without interruption.
Look people in the eye
The one thing that I’ve noticed is that most people do not look the person they are talking to in the eye when they speak. I know for me this is the case most of the time, because the writer in me is always taking in the entire scene. I don’t miss much. Unfortunately, in doing so, I miss the importance and intimacy looking someone in the eye that you are speaking to gives.
Generally in a book, when a character is looking the person in the eye that is talking to them, they notice things like, eye color, light flickers, humor, anger, and so much more. The person speaking with the attention of the listener feels like what they have to say is important to them.
Listen without interrupting
Ding, ding, ding! Yep, here is another think I am so guilty of. You can’t listen if you are talking. This is something a lot of people do. A writer can use this flaw in humanity to their advantage. When a person is interrupted, they can forget their line of thought as to what they were going to say. The interrupted person may have been about to say something that would prevent the listener from making a confession that was better off unsaid. The interrupted person my just get pissed off, and not continue with the conversation.
If you really want to know the facts of what someone is about to say, then keep your mouth shut, and listen.
The emotion of listening
Don’t make it about you
Many people are extremely self-centered. This can be seen when they are engaged in a conversation with someone, but instead of really listening, at some point they stop listening, and start thinking about a situation in their life that is just like the one the speaker is talking about. As soon as the person takes a deep breath or takes a pause, they interrupt with, “I know what you mean, I had the same thing happen to me…” With that they totally change the conversation from listening to that of sharing. Most of the time, what they share, isn’t even related to the situation that was being spoken about. Before the original person talking realizes it, they are comforting, or giving advice to the person they were hoping to get that very thing from.
A writer can really use this attribute to their advantage when telling a story. An empathetic listener is nodding their head. They may even cry with the speaker. Hugs can be given. Feet can be stumped. Words of understanding will be given from the empathetic listener. Empathy is being able to understand someone else’s emotional point of view, even though never having experienced it personally.
Stop thinking of the solution while they are speaking
This part is related to interrupting a person. Once a person starts considering how the person can fix the issue, they have stopped listening to the person. This is one of the quickest ways to shut down communication, or create a problem.
Honor the person speaking, letting them know you respect their voice and opinion.
They musings of the heart are uttered through ones lips. It is truly an honor when someone lets you into their mind and heart. It is important to feel this way when someone is speaking to you. Remember, no one has to talk to you, so when they do, it is good to let them know how much you respect their words by listening to them.
As you can see, there is so much more to listening, then hearing words. It is an emotional dance between humans. Communicating can be just as much an emotional experience for the listener as it is for the speaker. It is not a casual passive activity if done correctly.
When a writer listens well, they can put emotional depth into their characters. Listening puts dimension in a scene and layers on a story. I hope you’re listening.