Continuing the series
With this week’s topic “Be a good listener. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk”.
“People don’t listen, they just wait for their turn to talk.” – Chuck Palahniuk, author of the book “Fight Club”
Hearing and listening are two very different things. I think listening may be a lost, or on its way to being lost, art. I get it, here today, in 2022, the world moves FAST. We are distracted by a million little things all day, every day, and it’s tough to stop and take the time to actually listen to the people around us. But if we are not finding the time to listen, to really listen, we are missing out!
Face it, we are all storytellers. Everyone, not just voice over artists and actors, everyone. Some are good, and some are not so good (I shudder to say “bad”) at storytelling, but we all have a story to tell, and we tell them all the time. Granted, for those of us in the entertainment industry storytelling is our bread and butter. But what if no one is listening?
It’s easy to spot
It is easy to spot when someone is not listening to you. You can tell by their body language, when you are talking to them and they are looking at their phone or computer monitor, or just seem distracted like they are in a faraway place in their mind. Think about how it makes you feel when the person you are speaking to isn’t listening. It’s frustrating and you feel disconnected from them.
It doesn’t just “happen”
And it isn’t always easy to accomplish. Listening is an active skill. Becoming an active listener takes patience, practice, and an intentional will to accomplish. It’s tough, because there are distractions all around us and we, as humans, tend to spend time trying to think of valuable information related to the speaker’s topic that we THINK indicates we have been listening and are engaged. (HINT: It doesn’t)
It IS understandable
As we listen to someone else, it is natural for ideas to pop into our head. We think of things that might be useful to the speaker, that might help them or correct some perceived “wrongness” in what they’re saying. Of course we do! Where the problem arises, and I believe we all tend to do this, is when we attempt to hold on to those thoughts to remember them when there is an opportunity to interject.
Instead of continuing to listen, we stop listening to make sure we “hold that thought” to remember it. Our energy shifts from listening, to remembering and preparing to speak ourselves. Our activity moves from listening to preparing and waiting for our turn to speak.
Don’t stop those thoughts, though!
Here is the thing, you’re not going to stop those thoughts from pooping into your head. Receive them, acknowledge them, and then just let them go. Yeah, easier said than done, I know, but that is the first step in becoming a good listener.
Has this happened to you?
There are people in my life who seem to be sure they know what I’m going to say LONG before I get a chance to say it. It is both frustrating and aggravating when I am attempting to convey something and halfway through the other person chimes in with what they think is an appropriate response. For people who know me very well, it could be they are right, but at least 8 out of 10 times it’s not. I’ll confess that when this happens, I tend to just shut down. Probably not the best response; something to work on for another day.
How do you become a better listener?
Listen, distracted listening is not nearly as dangerous as say, distracted driving, but it can be a big problem, nonetheless. I’ve mentioned this SO many times that I must sound like a broken record by now, but this industry is built on a foundation of RELATIONSHIPS. Your next big opportunity could be right there in front of you if you just LISTEN. Consequently, we should all want to become better listeners (me included).
Make sure you mind is clear
Put your phone down, turn away from your computer and if possible, try to find a place that has few (or NO) distractions. Turn off the TV or radio, or at least pause whatever you’re watching. Ignore email notifications, turn off audible alerts if you can. Most people (IMHO ALL people) can’t really multitask. Well, I suppose you can, but you lose something in each of the tasks.
Have you ever done IMPROV? One way to be a more active listener is to take an IMPROV class. In IMPROV, in order to do it effectively, you MUST be an active listener. There is no script, and you never know what your scene partner might say so it is important to listen so you can react appropriately. You MUST listen and react in the moment or the whole scene falls apart. Taking an IMPROV class will help you become a better listener.
Work on getting to a place where you are comfortable not knowing what you’ll say next. Rather than trying to formulate your next comment, wait till the other person finishes speaking and trust that you’ll think of the right comment or question in the moment. Active listening is being “in the moment”.
Yeah, I know…I said don’t be actively formulating questions while the other person is speaking. And I stick to that. But, when they finish, and after you have had a moment to absorb what they have said, ask pertinent and clarifying questions. This does two things: It lets them know you HAVE been listening and it gives them a chance to clarify anything that may be confusing. It lets them talk more.
Why is this important?
So, you might be wondering why all this bruhaha about listening is important. And rightfully so! First, since the entertainment industry is built on relationships, it signals to the other person that what they have to say is interesting and that you are paying attention. It says, “This conversation, and you, are important to me”. It endears you to them. It makes them enjoy and want to talk to you more.
And if it is a director
If the person you are talking to is directing your performance, it lets them know not only that you are listening to them, but that you want to implement their direction to give them the performance THEY need and not the one you need. Over time this skill will make you a “team player” and “easy to work with”. These are reputations you will definitely (desperately?) want to have.
In the scene
When you are performing in a scene with a partner, your performance is going to come across as a lot more natural and realistic if, instead of just trying to remember your next line, you are listening and reacting to THEIR line. How many times have you heard in an acting class; “You need to listen to your scene partner”? Lots, well…at least I have.
For an audition
For all auditions, but particularly for self-tape auditions it is IMPERATIVE to listen to the directions from the casting director. OK, so a self-tape, it is probably more about reading the specs fully, but it amounts to the same thing. Are they asking for a particular shot? Infrmation in the slate, or even no slate? Wardrobe? File naming convention? File transfer method? All of these details are important, and failure to follow them COULD get you excluded from consideration!
At the end of the day
The bottom line here is this: You want people to listen to you, and it stands to reason they want you to listen to them as well. Pay attention to yourself the next time you’re talking to someone. Are you distracted? Trying to do two things at once? Thinking about your response more than what they are saying? If you answer yes, take some steps to learn to be a more active listener. Be a Good Listener. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk.
Michael Apollo Lira says
That Chuck Palahniuk quote is fantastic, but equally sad. I feel like that’s how people are when it comes to political opinions and attitudes. One of the biggest problems in our failures to unite as a people is the inability to listen. With no common ground or understanding, people remain divided. This is a much needed practice in being a good and decent person in today’s world!
Thank you for the great read, Gary!
Gary Mason says
I couldn’t agree more. Many of the divisions, if not all of them, could be healed if people were willing to listen. Steven Covey’s quote “Seek first to understand, then be understood” comes to mind as well. If we just try to “get” the perspective of the person we disagree with, we might just understand why they have a differing opinion. That won’t make you agree, necessarily, but it WOULD make you see things from their POV which helps you to be compassionate and attack the ISSUE instead of the person. It may also drive your opinion towards theirs, or at least help you argue your point from their perspective.