Turning Listening on its Ear
With THE HUMAN JOURNEY® Experience, we try to make listening easier.
To things that one family member saw one way, and another … well, another way. To beliefs and values that are different … but worthy of respect. To unspeakables.
Our process teaches that kinda through the back door. And, indeed, we were inspired to work on this as a design problem largely because of having been in “the “good listener” (which can sometimes be code for “frustrated listener”) position … for years.
But, short of learning to conduct the THJ® process for others, there’s a lot you can do, one on one, in your own life, especially as you’re listening in challenging circumstances.
You know when you’re stuck. They’re telling a story they’ve told before, a thousand times. It’s painful, and they’ve got how they tell it down. Now you’re the one who’s listening to it. It’s like the story got stuck in Times Roman, with an occasional drop shadow.
The thing is, they’re stuck, too. Most of us haven’t realized there’s more than one font to set a story in — more than one genre in which that story can fit. We’ve only learned to tell it one way.
And then the gifts in that story get clogged up in there, too.
You can help them shift the story, bring in Optima or Constantia or Futura. Or at least get them started with Century Schoolbook.
You’d do it gently, with the same simple strategy we share when teaching “story-catching” (a fancy name for interviewing). You ask a question.
One that asks them to re-see the world as it was at that moment, not as they see it now. You find a place to ask to take a pause so you can reflect on what they’ve said, and then you offer a question—something that you sincerely, and out of love, want to know — and you may break them out of crusty narrator mode, and re-settle them in a fresh view.
- “Can I ask you to give me a second? I want to just sit with what you’ve just shared.” You wait and you genuinely dig down for the question that’s about what it was like for them at the time of the original story. Ideally (but it takes practice), the question will invite not a yes or no answer, but one that evokes the sights, smells, and perceptions of that time.
- “Do you think he was aware that you were in the room, singing to him?” (Not bad — it’s yes/no, and it asks about someone else, not the storyteller, but it’s going to lead to a descriptive answer anyway about what his face looked like, what the signs were, how they were positioned in the room, and other things you can follow up on.)
- “What do you think you were successful in communicating to her?” (Depending on the context, could be good — it asks for a descriptive answer, and also draws the person toward an owning of their inner life at the key moment.)
- “For you, what’s the most memorable word or sound or thing you saw that seems to encapsulate the whole thing, or that’s strongest for you?” (Again, depending on the context, could be good: it drops the person down into the world of the original story and moves a bit beyond extraneous language to the power of the moment.)
The sincere desire to make listening an act of gently offering a re-formatting of a story — as long as it is presented as a desire to understand, not to judge, control, or change — can unlock what’s in there, once it’s freed from genre. Or font.
That’s one way to make of listening a gift.
So, Who’s the Father?
So, Who’s the Father?” isn’t exactly what a person who’s expecting wants to hear. It can feel like an accusation, like an invasion of privacy, or like a completely irrelevant question, depending on one’s method of conception, key relationships, or plan for childrearing. Even in days when there were fewer methods for conceiving a child or for avenues for getting one to adulthood, Emily Post might have advised just to stick with a hearty congratulations.
Ostranenie: A Fantastic Russian Word
Learn to pronounce ostranenie and impress your friends with your accent as well as with this cool word.
And what a concept … to learn to re-see, as if with new eyes, those things our eyes think they know so well, they no longer see them at all.
To find wonder again and again in the way our sister-in-law calls company in for dinner without the least hint of anxiety, exhaustion, or sense of the extraordinary event.
To learn anew about the people we think we know best.
The Creature Comforts Checklist
This is it our “Creature Comforts Checklist.” It’s an odd name, we know.
We called it that, recognizing that grief is a very physical thing and that sometimes what grievers most need (aside from not being asked if they need anything) is not to talk but to be. Just a creature.
When you’re grieving, you miss the physical presence of the person you lost …
Beyond “In Through the Nose, Out Through the Mouth”
You’ve seen it a thousand times on television. Just a bit of momentary drama to set the stage. It’s a medical show. Someone is having an anxiety attack. Maybe he’s hyperventilating. The medical professional or first responder fixes her eyes on this (typically) mouth breather
How Can Something Be Neither Good Nor Bad?
It’s super fun to watch someone’s thinking shift right in front of you. They might jerk still suddenly, their eyes wide and long, like old cartoon figures in a haunted house or a dark cave, when all you could see was the eyes. That’s part of the joy
Becoming the Witness
I’m an avid reader of Twitter for its political and epidemiological news, which often appear prior to (and prove more informative than) what can be made available under the rubric of conventional media. I continue to be struck by a story that Pulitzer Prize-winning