Conversing: Listening

As opposed to listening to refute, or listening to respond.

Sometimes I simply have a conversation. I find they spring up through a crack in the concrete: A random encounter begins with some words exchanged per social norm, and quickly expands as both sides shift their focus to the person before them. More often they push up through fertile ground; a social gathering where, “get together and socialize,” is literally on the agenda. My journey exploring conversation began with these found conversations; I simply found myself having cool conversations.

I soon learned that I love creating conversation. I began trying to create conversation, (between myself and one or more others,) initially simply for fun and later in the context of recording podcast episodes. I was surprised to find that having recording gear, an agenda (“I’d like to interview you about…”), and simply acting like I knew what I was doing, was sufficient to get things going!

If I truly do want to engage in a good conversations, it turns out that my actions follow automatically. I share things about myself and doing so invites the other person to share. I take things seriously which conveys that I value the interaction and what I’m hearing. I express my interest directly by asking questions about what—in the moment, not the day before—is interesting; questions which show the other person I’m generally curious. Overall, I demonstrate that I’m listening because I’m interested, rather than because I want to immediately do something with what I’m about to hear.

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slip:7a2.

Going in dumb

In the episode with Ray Suarez, about 43 minutes in, they’re talking about the evergreen (for those of us into this stuff) topic of preparation. Should one be [prepared]? How much, or how little? And so on. There aren’t many things I listen to more than once; this is one.

Here’s a link to the area where Suarez starts discussing “going in dumb” versus going in prepared. If you’re really into conversation, you’ll need about 15 minutes as you probably won’t be able to press stop. In any case, nothing I write here is as important as what they’re discussing.

https://overcast.fm/+JU6XxrKbc/43:16

That’s a link to the Overcast podcast player’s web frontend. It will simply play from that time code right in your web browser. You can also try this link to the episode itself.)

https://maximumfun.org/episodes/the-turnaround-with-jesse-thorn/ray-suarez/

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slip:6d2

*click*

The power of preserving silence is the very first requisite to all who wish to shine, or even please in discourse; and those who cannot preserve it, have really no business to speak. … The silence that, without any deferential air, listens with polite attention, is more flattering than compliments, and more frequently broken for the purpose of encouraging others to speak, than to display the listener’s own powers. This is the really eloquent silence. It requires great genius—more perhaps than speaking—and few are gifted with the talent …

~ Arthur Martine, from https://fs.blog/2013/08/the-art-of-ordinary-conversation/

Months ago, I presume, I had marked this Farnam Street article for later reading because it’s stuffed full of wonderful insight about conversation. That’s something about which I happen to be passionate, you know? Today I was giving it a thorough, leisurely read and the bit I quoted above screamed at me to be the lead quote of a post. I’d wager it caught my eye when I months-ago marked it for later reading. Turns out I have the book containing the original source, Martine, A. (1866), Martine’s Hand-Book of Etiquette, and Guide to True Politeness, pp 8-9, librarything.com/work/1885064/book/101201787

I read the book a decade (or more?) ago when I obtained it. But now I’m inspired to re-read a few of its chapters now that I’ve become reacquainted with conversation as an art in itself.

“Okay, Craig, get to the point.”

Sometimes bricks of thinking and action click perfectly into place. In this case: A web page from 2013 which I’m only just reading in 2020, a different web page I read a decade ago, an author working just after our Civil War, my personal journey, my interest in conversations and podcasting. I quite often worry about all the things I regularly jam into my brain; they’re good things, but they are so numerous that my brain sometimes feels overstuffed! And then, click. It’s all worth it.

Do you have ways of regularly exposing your self to… well… whatever it is you need to feed your mind?

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Listening to comprehend

When you’re in a job interview, a podcast interview, a sales call, a meeting… if we take the approach that this is a test and there’s a right answer, we’re not actually engaging and moving things forward.

~ Seth Godin, from https://seths.blog/2018/08/ignore-the-questions/

In a podcast conversation, if a guest slips into this-is-a-test mode, things get awkward. If I ask, “what’s something people get wrong about you,” the guest will think I’m looking for dirt, and that I want something they’d not want to share. Or worse, they wonder if I already know something, and that I want to drag that skeleton from their closet.

But the sort of conversations I’m interested in sharing are ones where those involved are working together to create something interesting, and which are respectful of the subject. So it’s important to create the environment where the guest naturally treats questions as prompts. It turns out that this is easy to do.

If I honestly want the good sort of conversations, then my actions follow automatically. I share things about myself and doing so invites the other person to share. I take things seriously which conveys that I value the interaction and what I’m hearing. I express my interest directly by asking interesting questions; questions which show the other person I’m generally curious. Overall, I demonstrate that I’m listening because I’m interested, rather than because I want to do something with what I’m about to hear.

I’m listening to comprehend; not listening to respond.

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Performing with a safety net

When recording conversations for the Movers Mindset podcast the guests know I’m not going to edit what they say to change their meaning. They know I’m bringing journalistic integrity to the conversation. (I’m not doing strict journalism, but that feature of journalism is present.) I do my best to set up the correct space (physical, emotional and mental,) so that we can co-create the best conversation possible. I’m not digging for dirt, creating tension, nor trying to create any other saccharine artifice. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are performing for an audience. The final necessary piece to facilitating a great conversation is a safety net.

Each conversation… each performance is better if we can reach just a bit farther than we might normally be comfortable doing. That’s why I bring a safety net. I very clearly give the guest a safe word which they can incant at any time to take back what they’ve said.

I don’t include the guest in the post-production process. They’re not invited to review the material, or to give additional thoughts about what to keep or what to cut. In fact, the only people who have time to do that, are wanna-be cooks, who will only mess up the soup if I let them in my kitchen. Instead, I and my team do all the post-production difficult work which is in fact our responsibility. The guest already did the really hard work of being themselves on-mic.

I do also say, “take your time— silence is free and we can easily trim out 30 seconds of you thinking before you speak.” I’ve also a few other little coaching tidbits I share to prep them for being recorded. But it’s the safety net which makes them feel comfortable trying something they might otherwise hesitate about. Part of the magic of a great conversation is how it develops organically, and without the safety net most people dial their caution up a few notches to be safe. With a safety net, most people are delighted to take a leap to see what they can do.

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Fine tuned indeed

It seems almost paranormal, but I think it’s just more of nature’s evolutionary fine-tuning. Being such social mammals, it would make sense for us to have an uncanny sensitivity for detecting, another person’s sentiments toward us, even when they’re not advertising them.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2020/05/how-to-get-rich-in-the-kindness-economy/

In recent years I’ve elevated my perception of the subtleties of interpersonal communication—everything beyond the spoken word—from one of those, “I don’t know how I do that,” skills to be something I explicitly practice and notice in others. This is one of the things which makes great actors and actresses: Their ability to produce all the subtleties makes them feel very real to the majority of people who do not detect subtleties consciously. (They of course feel very real to me too. I’m saying I now better understand why and what cues are causing me to feel that way.) This is a super-power. Once you are reasonably competent at detecting what is affecting you, you can then use that information intentionally.

There’s been an enormous amount of discussion recently about facial expression, masks, posture, and intention. In effect, a huge number of people are getting a crash master-course in using and detecting all this subtlety.

I think that bodes well for all of us.

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Equipment matters

I have a confession to make: even though I love sound, I don’t really like sound equipment. […] Unfortunately, my bad attitude clashes with an important truth about audio storytelling: your equipment matters.

~ Andrew Wardlaw from, https://transom.org/2020/recording-kit-tune-up/

Today, more of a bookmarking post than deep thinking. If you do anything with recording interviews—or even if you just own ONE cable to charge your phone—this article is chock-full of neat ideas.

…of course, if you’re into recording, I recommend handing your cash/cards over to someone you trust before reading it. I confess I was off on a few sites hovering over the buy button on a few new toys. ;)

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I really don’t mind the noise

I’ve always had poor hearing.

(Yes, it’s been looked into. No, there’s no specific reason. Pro-tip: Some humans have sub-average hearing.)

So so so many things I could unpack about my personality, and who I am, which I now think are related to my hearing. For example, I’ve always been loud and gee, I wonder if being louder was related to my hearing. :) Put cotton in your ears and see how loud you start talking… Anywho.

Exactly three years ago I went and got hearing aids. Now most people who need them, hem and haw and fight their wives—oops, did I just call out the men? I flipped to the “team hearing aids” in one conversation.

I was at someone’s house, in the evening after a wonderful meal. Bunch of us hanging out and we’re having an incredible conversation. I was about 8 podcast episodes into my [what would become the] Movers Mindset project. One of the people in the conversation was someone I really wanted to interview; not that night, but soon.

And I was seriously pissed that I couldn’t hear half of what was being said.

Next day I made an appointment for the following week. I bought a pair (they aren’t cheap) at my first appointment. I call them my cyborg implants; I am Craig of Borg. Everyone who knows me well, was like, “hey what happened to Craig he suddenly got drastically quieter?”

What does any of this have to do with my title?

OH. MY. GAWD. BECKY the world is loud! The birds and the planes—did you know jets make noise when they fly over?—and the highway a mile over and the road when you drive and people… holy cow are some people REALLY LOUD! And podcast interviews… when I’m interviewing people, with headphones on, or talking in person, or strolling down the street where I can’t see their lips (aside: I read lips very well)… ambrosia through my ears. But the world is LOUD.

…and I love every second of it.

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