The art of listening


Whenever I’m asked what qualities do I like in a person, I always respond, “Someone who is a good listener.”

Few things annoy me more than someone who talks incessantly, barely pausing to let you into the conversation. Even more aggravating, someone who talks over you, as if what you’re saying doesn’t matter.

To me, that’s not just bad manners, it’s a sign of disrespect. Like, what you have to say is so important that you can’t be bothered to wait until I’m done with my sentence before you start in again?

Being a good listener is important to me for another reason. As a journalist, it’s imperative that I have the patience to hear someone’s story without interruption, to get their words and tone, and the context, exactly right.

Last night, I was reading a Tony Hillerman novel and came across a paragraph that captures my sentiments exactly. And if you’ve never read Hillerman, you should. Few writers convey the Native American experience as he does.

From “Coyote Waits”:

“Jacobs was silent for a while, thinking about it, her face full of sympathy. She was a talented listener. He had noticed it before. When you talked to this woman, she attended. She had all her antennae out, focused on the speaker. The world was shut out. Nothing mattered but the words she was hearing. Listening was ingrained in the Navajo culture. One didn’t interrupt. One waited until the speaker was finished, gave him a moment or two to consider additions, or footnotes or amendments, before one responded. But even Navajos too often listened impatiently. Not really listening, but framing their reply. Jean Jacobs really listened. It was flattery, and Chee knew it, but it had its effect.”


4 thoughts on “The art of listening

  1. I fail miserably as a good listener as I am one of those who is thinking ahead to my response. It’s something I hope to improve on at some point before I depart this plane. Thanks for the reminder that I need to practice this difficult behavior change.

    Hillerman is great and most of his books include some short narrative about the Navajo way of listening. I’ve read every book and now the first by his daughter using the same characters.

    I had Hillerman as a teacher when I was getting my BA in journalism at UNM. The true definition of an absent-minded professor. On more than one occasion he literally would forget to show up to class and someone would go retrieve him. I also had a work-study job working in the journalism office part time so had the chance to interact with Hillerman outside of class. It was pretty much a guarantee that each time he’d come in to the office to get his mail, he’d depart with something left behind that he’d have to come back to retrieve. A nice guy and gifted writer but truly a space cadet!

  2. That is one fabulous anecdote, Lynn. The gifted but absent-minded professor? You’ve given me a new, indelible image of Hillerman to keep in mind as I finish this book. He’s always been a favorite writer of mine. Now I can delight in knowing he and I share an endearing (exasperating to others) trait of forgetfulness.

    As for you…I’ve never noticed an imbalance between speaking and listening on your part. Always enjoy my conversations with you. With beer and without. 😉

  3. I have Spider Woman’s Daughter by Anne Hillerman, continuing on the Chee/Leaphorn stories. Do you want me to stick it in the mail to you? Or meet for a beer and conversation some time? 😉

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