Bet you can’t guess what we writers do in our spare time, so I’ll save you the trouble and tell you what this writer is doing. I’m learning to listen, and pun intended, it’s a novel idea!
Honestly, here’s the usual scenario. We (I’m the voice of ALL writers today) read until our eyeballs bulge, then we think until our brain aches, then we sit down and write until our printer runs dry, and then we take our precious gem somewhere and talk about it until someone drags us off center stage. Let’s see, and then there’s listening. Of course! We go to conferences and listen to all those experts tell us how to make our work better, and while they are speaking, we are already working out the details of our next magnum opus.
So back to what I’m doing in my spare time. I signed on for fifty hours of Stephen Ministry Training at my church, thinking maybe I could be of service to someone in need once in a while. Whoa! You can imagine my alarm during the first meeting when I discovered how plotting my next novel in the back of my brain while someone is speaking to me does not qualify as listening. I’m not talking about being in an audience listening to a speaker. That truly is an appropriate birthing room for new ideas. I’m talking about being in a critique group when another writer is reading her work, or in the kitchen when my husband is telling me something important, or with one of my children or a good friend when he or she is sharing big news.
I found out through roll-playing with my fellow trainees that in order to qualify as a good listener I need to engage in the following:
- make eye contact
- face the speaker and nod appropriately
- ask open-ended questions
- use active and reflective listening
- allow silence
- pay attention to body language
- listen to what is not said
Just a few weeks into this new venture, I can tell you this seemingly simple check list makes surprisingly hard work. I’m still months away from being a commissioned care-giver with an assigned care-receiver, but I can see how the quality of simple kitchen and coffee conversations with friends or family is bound to improve.
Listening is just one of the many techniques I will be fine-tuning over the next four months. The training manual says I’m going to stop being passive-aggressive and learn how to be more assertive (can’t wait for that one), perfect my confidentiality skills, get a better grip on my emotions, and learn how to be process rather than goal-oriented, just to name a few. To my way of thinking, if I pay attention and do all the homework, I might end up being an effective care-giver when the time comes. And from a writer’s point of view, who can argue that the skills mentioned in this paragraph, especially the fine art of listening, won’t make for better story telling down the road.
NOTE: Congratulations to Linda Andersen who won the drawing for Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s book Rogue featured on last week’s post.