Communication Through Listening

I can’t get enough of A Perfect Circle – 3 Libras (Acoustic), or anything from the band(s) associated with Maynard.

For work last week I was required to go to a work-related seminar. Being a perpetual student of the world, I found an incredible benefit from it–the theme was how to cold-call possible clients for sales-related conversation. My bosses either didn’t show up or crossed their arms: nobody I respected even so much as picked up a pen. It frustrated me. They are so blind.

But that’s not the point of this blog.

The point of this blog is an affirmation toward what I’m doing as a writer. The speaker said there were four ways of communication: speaking, writing, (something else), and listening.

Listening. My ears perked up a little. Listening is a form of communication? How, my good sir?

In every conversation, the conversee uses one of four ways of listening: pretending to listen (as in, Not Listening), listening selectively (as in, taking a vacation while in conversation to think of other things), listening attentively (as in, truly listening to the words and verbal content only), and listening empathetically (as in, studying the individual for all the cues outside the verbal).

It’s a pyramid. The least interest is pretending to listen (obviously). The most interest, of course, is listening empathetically, studying the posture, dress, non-verbals, and collecting information while listening to what the individual is saying.

I get this statement from critiquers quite often: Your Character Can’t Read Minds. Stop Changing Perspective. Huh. I think instead the critiquer means “Your Character Can’t Glean That Information From Words Alone.” Yet adding “stop changing perspective” denotes a belief that, truly, my character must only be allowed to study verbal cues.

Yet I attend real-world, professional training sessions that reinforce the importance of people-watching. I assume most amateur writers aren’t salesmen. I could be wrong. I assume most salesmen aren’t writers. Again, I could be wrong. Yet my characters are all dedicated people-watchers. Why? Because I am, and I feel everyone should be. I don’t understand why real-world people should be so smart while book-people must be so dumb. Even book-kids. I’ve always been a watcher. My characters will (probably) always be empathetic listeners, too.

Something else the speaker said at the seminar: the most delicious word spoken in any language is your name. It gives me chills to repeat that, because so many writers tell me I have this idea wrong. Cross-education, though, and real-world application reinforces everything I do.

I get a painful feeling that a lot of hopeful writers aren’t anything else but writers. They work retail, they are studying communications or English in college, and/or sit around going, I want to be a writer.Let’s go look to see what I can do to be one.

News flash: you can do anything and be a writer. You can be a pig-slop shoveler, a power-line installer, a lawyer, a CEO for Blueballs, Inc. Literally anything. In fact, everyone should be writers. Everyone thinks they can be writers, but they aren’t. They don’t. They suck at it. Great ideas, yes. Suck at it.

I’ve been reviewing tweets from high-end agents, blogs from literary agencies, and highly (or moderately) successful authors: Write What You Know, but Don’t Train in Anything But Writing. Study the writing, study the trends, the markets, the structure of the written word but By God, don’t go to college for Business. Don’t cross-train. Here’s the thing: Write What You Know strategy makes no sense to me. Know What You Write should be what the statement is: write whatever the heck you want. But on the converse, NEVER TURN DOWN AN OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN. ANYTHING. EVER.

Ever. Study music, study sheetrock manufacturing, study C++ and woodcarving and… Anything. Everything. All the time. Every time some random guy walks up to you and says, “Hey, buddy. Did you know ____________?” DON’T FORGET IT. Even if it’s a lie, or an opinion, it can fit later as a detail to anything. Every time someone at work says, “Hey broheem. The guys are going out for some softball after work,” Go. “We got this motivational–” Go. “Want to see how this treadmill–” Go. And stop reading stories about guys writing about guys writing.

Writing is a tool. First, foremost, always. It’s a wand, if you want to think of this like fantasy. Writing Is Your Wand, Harry!

What’s funny is that, in a delightful twist of scenery, more introverts than extroverts write books–with the exception of journalistic publication. All this stuff could (should?) be second-nature to an extrovert because they’re tricks he’s picked up along the way. But introverts, well, psychologically speaking, say NO to every request before thinking it over. It’s gravy if you’re an introvert. Power to you. I respect you immensely. But I’m wading through introverted head-bashing-against-walls because everyone’s thinking inside the writing box. (Not everyone, but I feel like it’s everyone)

Every human in America should read motivational business books: 7 Habits of Highly Successful People; Rich Dad, Poor Dad, etc. Every writer should be a salesperson for a year, be it in retail or at the local Verizon store. Everyone in the world should work at a restaurant at least once. To understand humility.

Now I’m fighting a forty-year-old retired dog groomer who says a person can’t glean that much info from another person just because his suit is threadbare, his socks are white, and he hadn’t shaved–oh, and he’s at a presentation for work. Of Course Some Shit is Going Down in His Personal Life. A flickering glance, a sharp intake of breath, a frown or a flinch and you should know. Should know. Lies are easy to spot. Everyone has tells. But this is even simpler in execution.

It’s like playing Mastermind, some game I got in the ’90’s, where one person puts a four-color combination of beads together and another one gets ten tries to figure it out. How do you glean so much info from two white pegs and a grey one? (if you played the game you know what I’m talking about). Process of elimination.

This isn’t just for salesmen, or cold-callers, or bosses’ assistants like me: Listen to Learn. And, moreso, Listen Empathetically. Put Yourself There. In all things. Every conversation, every interview, every music video.

Also, attend these business training seminars. If you fail as a writer you can always go into… Just About Anything Else with these skills.

Communicate by listening. The social world waits for you to see it.

And yes, you are one step closer to being a psychic.

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