Better listening for better writing


The other day, as any good writer would do, I found myself eavesdropping on a conversation at a beach side cafe.

(Flickr: Team Dalog)

(Flickr: Team Dalog)

I didn’t have to strain my ears or lean in because the pair was involved in an animated debate that had one aggressively questioning the other.

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The woman shot dozens of juicy questions at her friend and I couldn’t wait to know the answers.

But, I never did hear them because the woman, so eager and excited, never let her friend finish her thoughts before launching the next query.

As the friends drifted out of the coffee shop, I felt cheated to have been denied those answers. And I had to wonder, did the “questioner” know enough to feel cheated, too?

I am aware of some pretty famous journalists who have the same habit. Asking the questions, but not waiting for the complete answer.

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As writers, it’s essential that we learn to listen. This is true during the interviews that we conduct for an article or even dialing into the world around us for enhanced storytelling.

Some tips for becoming a better listener include embracing:

Patience–Allow a person’s story or message to unfold slowly before you. Don’t be too quick to shut them down with a curt response or the next question.

Curiosity–Always look for some little nugget of information that needs to be explored further. Delve deeper with follow-up questions.

Openness–Ask questions and then wait for the answers –the complete answers. Just imagine the important bits of information you could be missing out on if you move on too quickly.

Presence–Avoid text messages, phones, emails, computers or anything that will take you out of the moment. Be present and resist the urge to let your mind wander.

Acceptance–Avoid presumptions. Don’t try to predict the feelings or opinions held by another and never assume what their answers or story will be.

Clarity–Ask for explanations for a deeper understanding of your subject.

Understanding–Allow yourself to feel and experience the nuance of the words being spoken. Strive to see the meaning behind them; the feelings beneath the surface.

If you really listen to the people around you, you just may be surprised at what you’ll learn. The stories you hear and the testimony offered by your writing subjects will only serve to enrich your writing with a genuineness and authenticity that readers will appreciate.

Kerri S. Mabee is managing editor at and founder of Breeze Media & Communications. Learn more about her at Follow @EducatedWriter.


Kerri S. Mabee

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