I’m sorry, did you say something?

One of my least favorite feelings in the world is that sense of having not been truly heard.


This experience comes in two varieties, one worse than the other. The first one is the result of someone just not listening because he’s distracted (I am not talking about my husband) or because he was so busy preparing his response (also not talking about my husband here) that he didn’t actually listen to what I was saying. Having the patience to give it another shot can solve this problem.

The other variety is far more frustrating: It’s what happens when people are speaking past each other, not really hearing/understanding what the other person is saying. Could be a cross-cultural communication problem. Could be that a misunderstanding of the use of a certain word or term is causing a misfire. Could be a willful desire to not understand because to do so would be threatening, in some way.

I’m fascinated by listening and what goes wrong — and right — in human communication. And over the years, my conviction has grown that listening is if not the secret than one of the secrets to great interviews.

I bet Julian Treasure would agree. He studies and consults with companies on listening, and he did a beautiful, thought-provoking TED talk on the subject that you must listen to before Tuesday’s class (and please do it to the exclusion of all other activities; it’s just 7 minutes long). He believes listening is under siege from so many directions, and I couldn’t agree with him more.

He also talks about “listening positions,” which should resonate with those of you who have done a lot of interviews. Sometimes, you want to be reductive. Other times, expansive. Sometimes, interviewing requires us take a more critical posture; other times, a more sympathetic one.

No matter what, we risk being wrong — slightly wrong, pretty wrong or really, way-in-left-field wrong — when we don’t listen carefully. I bet bad listening accounts for three-quarters of all errors in journalism.

Tuesday’s class will require you to listen with every fiber of your being. We’ll do a group interviewing exercise. Ask yourself, are you a good listener? Now ask someone who knows you well. And get ready to listen.

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2 Responses to I’m sorry, did you say something?

  1. Thanks for organizing the interviewing activity today in lecture, Katherine. It was really insightful and kept me on my toes. Also, I enjoyed the TED talk about listening and found myself trying the “mixer” approach when I was walking through campus throughout the day.

    • reedkath says:

      I’m glad you liked it! Chris is pretty amazing, and you all did a good job digging as deeply as you could for 45 minutes. Impressive. I looooove that TED talk. I’ve seen it at least five times now. It has turned into a kind of devotional for me, I guess.

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