Listen Better, Write Better

Listening skills can handicap or help your writing. Here's how.

To be a better writer, be a better listener.  And before you dismiss that advice, telling yourself that you listen just fine, realize listening is different from hearing.

Hearing is an ability. Listening is skill.

When you listen, you do more than allow someone to finish talking. When you listen, you absorb and filter information. You try to understand another person’s view or their line of thinking. You’re open to acknowledging true points and valid arguments. You’re able to repeat what you’ve heard.

Why People Don’t Listen

One reason people can’t listen is because they live defensively. They weigh everything they see and hear against their lifestyle and beliefs, and when faced with information that’s different, they rush to pull the plug.

You find this all the time when beliefs are based on weak arguments or when people support things they can’t explain. Defensive people are afraid that an opposing view or a different experience will minimize theirs, or worse, prove them wrong.  And since they don’t really know what they’re defending, they have to be on guard against everything different.

If you suffer from this problem, I’m here to lighten your burden and let you know:

Views that differ from yours aren’t necessarily competing with yours.

When a person has a different experience or a different opinion, it’s not a personal challenge.

Listening doesn’t require you to change your position, or even to soften it. Making an effort to understand people who believe different or live different doesn’t mean you’ve switched sides, it means you’re capable of being a professional writer.

A second reason people can’t listen is because they’re fostering an image as the all-knowing. They’re playing the role of a wise man, an expert or a guru. And they’re usually so protective of that image that they’re compelled to interrupt you. They jump in and let you know that they already know whatever you’re going to talk about.

No one knows everything and no one should want to. Life would be one long-ass drag if you already discovered everything and you still have 30, 40, or 50 years to go.

If you’re a know-it-all, people probably don’t like you as much as you think. And you’re bound to be a shitty writer. Your ideas will stagnate. Your angles will get stale. And your little puddle of knowledge is going to get outdated. So take some time to sit the fuck down and listen to somebody.

The third reason people can’t listen is because of this ugly, sickening trend of being self-absorbed. People think it’s so cool to act like they’re so important or so introverted that they don’t care what anyone else is doing and saying.

A fake self-pedestal doesn’t make you look like a diva or a boss. It raises suspicions that something went wrong as a child. Trying to prove your self-importance tells people you’re insecure, uninformed and lonely. Not to mention you’re destined to be a bad writer.

This era of trying to be both the messenger and the subject of the message has people fooled. Writers are supposed to uncover things, convey things and create things for the world. Rarely, does that involve being center stage.

These three reasons people aren’t listening may seem different but they all boil down to one thing: writers putting themselves first.

And if you’ve decided that you’re what’s most important, then your audience isn’t your priority.

And if the audience isn’t your priority and you’re a writer, that’s bad for business.

How To Be A Better Listener

Learn to be more inquisitive and listen better and you’ll be a better blogger, journalist or author. If that’s your goal, here are some ways to help you sharpen your skills.

1) Read and watch content that includes opposing views. Try to extract some thing(s) that you didn’t previously know.

2) Go to neighborhoods, stores, vacation destinations, events outside of your normal routine. Interact with people you otherwise wouldn’t. Listen to what they say to each other. Try to take something away from those experiences.

3) Be more engaged with your family, friends and associates. Don’t assume you know what they’re going to say. Ask. Let them tell you. And think about their responses before you reply.

4) Record audio clips randomly. (I know this sounds weird, but it really is an excellent listening exercise.) If you’re at a mall, bus station, grocery store, hotel lobby… just hit record for a few minutes. Later, review your audio clips. See what info you get from listening to them. I bet sometimes, you’ll be surprised what you learn when listening is the skill you’re relying on.