The Art of Listening…?

I was in grade 8. It was lunchtime. Hanging out in the classroom with my friends, I was eating my tuna and pickled onion sandwich (home made onions by my Mom) and launching into a story.

I can’t remember the story now, but I do remember suddenly noticing one of my friends completely interrupt me to talk about something. I was incensed. I stopped talking. Eventually, all of my friends noticed my silence. The girl who had interrupted told me to continue.

I refused. I dug in my heels and point blankly refused. “You weren’t listening, so I’m not going to tell you the rest.” And, I didn’t.

When I was even younger and hanging out with adults a fair bit (I was an only child) I used to ponder the magic of these big people. As I watched and listened to them, I marveled at how they could talk and listen at the same time, since their voices were often all going at once.  As a kid, I concluded that you gained an extra sense when you became an adult enabling you to listen and speak simultaneously.

Nope!

Listening. Hearing. Empathizing. Sympathizing. Understanding. Relating. Connecting.

In recent rehearsals for a play, our director would remind us to listen, really truly listen to the others. This advice was always valuable as it pushed a sort of “refresh” button. Anticipating the delivery of your lines and your fellow actors’ lines kills the life in a scene.

In performance, you must hear, and speak the text as if for the first time. If you trust your listening skills, the interpretation will then reveal fresh nuances . The result is a greatly satisfying experience for both the audience and the actor.

In real life, ineffective listening shows up chronically.

Wandering eyes, vacant looks, the chest rising with a breath that is ready to interrupt with their own thoughts that are quickly formulating in their head, or a polite nod, are all clear indicators of an unsuccessful listener. And, they never ask questions. (The good ones do the opposite!)

In business, truly listening to a potential client, and being curious about their needs will most likely be more effective than constantly “pitching” them. I know most of us get annoyed at those badly scripted phone calls from large companies trying to sell us something.

The other day I had one of those calls. At breakneck speed, a guy assumed he had what I wanted and pitched me over and over, using statements like “I want you to..” “You need this..” “I will sign you up today…”. He most certainly was not listening to me as an individual with unique needs.

I stopped him and suggested, gently, that his company should change their tactics to ask what the potential customer would actually like before they assumed they knew best! Their business would most likely improve!

Today, we communicate frequently via the social media (Facebook, twitter, etc..)  where some “interesting” listening is occurring. Some people seem to think that constantly giving people information is a “social” action.

In my mind, being social usually entails listening, conversing, and possibly mutually creating deeper value. The  successful internet socialites shine and are a great example.

What do you think?

What is your best or worst listening experience, and your best or worst “being listened to” experience? I challenge you to observe those around you, and yourself as the art of listening unfolds. I will join you in this venture… honest!

Let me know how it goes.

(Oh, and by the way… one of the most important listening skills to develop is listening to yourself, your instincts, your ideas, your dreams, your loves, your questions, and your ponderings.)

And, for your listening pleasure…..

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“Empathy: Our Greatest Guide (in my humble opinion)”

The above tweet (twitter term) came to me last night while I was having the privilege of witnessing a conversation about writing between an experienced screenwriter, and a newer one who was asking some pertinent questions. I mostly observed and then offered a couple of my thoughts.

Two things happened: one, it reminded me of how twitter can be such a valuable tool if used correctly (don’t worry… this is not a post about twitter, despite the fact I probably could ramble on for a length…), and secondly, the dialogue gave some valuable story advice.

Especially as I dive further into writing a piece for me to perform.

Last night’s discussion touched on emotion and its usefulness when creating effective scenes that will reach an audience. It reminded us to review the people for whom we’re writing, and in the possible ways they could see themselves in the story.

I was reminded of the importance of empathy, and to feel what someone is feeling, to place myself in their shoes. This is an almost impossible feat to do entirely – but one worth exploring if you are going to deliver something with substance…don’t you think?

And, speaking of feet, I wear a plastic support on my right foot as I have drop foot. The “AFO”(ankle-foot-orthoses) goes under my foot and reaches up my calf in an ugly way becoming my best friend so I can’t trip. (I draw on the plastic in the summer so it at least looks funky).

It looks like I’m digressing but it’s related, I promise.

In a rare moment, I met a man my age, the other day, who was also sporting an AFO. It was an instant empathetic moment. We understood so much without even saying anything. We knew in a flash some of the pain, discomfort, and challenges the other one had.

Empathy.

That was a direct one on one moment.

What about mass empathetic moments as a result from a play or a movie?

In our art, or even just our every day life, isn’t it better to work hard at trying to understand a person, a group, a movement, a tragedy, a joy, in order to reproduce a story, a character, a plight, a reason…

Of course it’s impossible to truly understand, & completely empathize, as we are such individuals with such a variety of experiences. But I think that empathy serves well as a guide to a deeper place of truth whether it is for performance, or just relating to a stranger or a close friend.

“I know how you feel.”

As we write, or give life to characters already written, as the twitter conversation implied, we must put our own tears where we want the audience to feel tears, we must feel our own joy in order to pass on the same emotion, and be in our own excitement in order to take others there.

What is my point of this blog post? I guess it is my attempt to remind others as I was gratefully reminded last night that to give “good art” empathizing with your audience is a good stage from which to dive.

I’d like to thank @JBMovies (John’s site) & @vivspace (Vivienne’s blog) for allowing me to watch your valuable twitter conversation unfold.

Enjoy some good musical art from my favourite album on human nature. “One Giant Leap

Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary’s meaning of empathy:

The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.