The Crying Woman and the Art of Listening

The Crying Woman

I got back to The Crying Woman this week. I got about 850 words done Thursday. The next day I couldn’t write if my life depended on it. I find this is a very hard story to write.

I’m about 80 per cent through the story now. I hope to get the first draft done next week. It will need a lot of rewriting though. Of course, since I plan to turn it into a film eventually, I’ll rewrite it many more times before I’m done.

 

The Art of Listening

The story started as an attempt to do a film like Before Sunrise. The story is about a conversation, but what I want to explore is how to listen. There is a skill and an art to listening and it is hard to do it well.

I like to think I am good at listening, although I am less confident than I used to be. Never the less, there have been several occasions where my ability to listen has been valuable.

I took a communications course many years ago. What struck me was it was mostly about how to listen. They taught us a technique called active listening.

Part of the active listening technique is to periodically paraphrase what the person said. This forces you to pay attention to what they say. It also lets them know you had heard what they said and understand. Of course if you got it wrong, they could correct you.

I used to talk a lot with a friend who had taken the same course. She used to kid me when she realized I was using the technique. The technique doesn’t work as well if it is too obvious. Still, I found that it did work quite often. It is a skill that you need to work at before you get good at it.

Another challenge is to not give advice. The natural inclination is to give advice when someone tells you their troubles. However, when someone wants to talk, they often don’t want advice. They just need to let out their emotions. If you try to give advice, you don’t let them express their feelings.

It can be hard when someone explicitly asks for advice. Do they really want advice? Or, is it just another way they express their need. I would get a little panicky when that happened. It wasn’t clear to me what I should say.

Men are more likely than women to feel they should give advice. In The Crying Woman it is the man who needs to listen. I need to show that he has to struggle.

Asking questions is another useful technique. Opened ended questions were better because it encouraged them to be more open about what they wanted to say. I found that a good question was better than any advice I could give.

I really felt that most of the time, people already knew what they wanted to do. They just needed to have someone else validate what they thought. Many times in the course of a conversation I never did find out what their problem was. Yet, I was able to help them make their decision.

 

I picked listening as a major element of the story because I had some experience to draw from and I felt confident that I was good at it. So far I find it a real struggle to imagine how a conversation like this would go. My memories of my successful listening events are vague. That may be just as well, since I don’t want to repeat anything that someone said to me in confidence.

I hope that by the time I get to the rewrite I can recover my lapsed skills.

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