Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Learning to listen

by Rick Blechta

Over the years I’ve become more and more aware of this defect. There has been many a conversation that I’ve totally dominated. It’s not done out of conceit or an I_don’t-care-a-fig-about-you attitude. I just get on a topic and roll with it. Afterwards I kick myself in the behind for being a social jerk.

But I’m trying to do better, honest I am!

If there’s one good thing that’s happened to me during this time of pandemic, it’s that I’ve had the chance to really hone my listening skills, to learn to step back and let other people lead a conversation.

Why has this happened? It’s all due to video conferencing software.

No matter the platform, be it FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, Google Meet, Houseparty — I could go on but you get the picture, I’m sure — the way they all work is only one person at a time can speak. When multiple speak, everything becomes incomprehensible as the software struggles to handle multiple feeds when it can only handle one at a time. If you’ve been on one of these, you know what I mean. It just doesn’t work.

Over the past two months, I’ve taken part in professional meetings, get-togethers with colleagues and friends, and conversations with my family. There has even been a birthday party.

For some reason, I find myself pulling back on all these occasions and only contributing a comment or statement here and there. On occasion people have asked me if anything is wrong or if something isbothering me. (I guess my listening continence looks rather dour.)

It’s only that I’m listening, really concentrating on what’s being said and who is saying it and how. Maybe I feel a bit as if I’m on the outside looking in. I don’t know.

But it has been illuminating.

I find it interesting to observe how idiosyncratically everyone speaks. They have a consistent rhythm if you will to how they express themselves. Taking it a step further, I’ve found myself thinking, How would I craft dialogue for this person?

Anyone who writes well knows that dialogue taken down verbatim seldom works well on the printed page. People don’t speak in full sentences, and those sentences will often jump the track and take a completely different direction — sometimes multiple times. (I’m thinking of a certain world leader here.) It can often lead to confusion for the reader.

If I were trying to write that down to include it in a novel, I’d have to alter it in order to try to make everything comprehensible to a reader.

People also ramble when they speak — heaven knows I suffer from this affliction — and so judicious pruning is often required or the writer risks readers losing interest, the “get-on-with-it” syndrome is what I call this.

So if you’re on a video conference with me and I’m just sitting there not moving, seldom speaking, and with a dour expression on my face, just know that what I’m doing is re-writing what you’re saying so that it would make good dialogue in a novel.

Not that I would ever actually use something like that!


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