5 reasons why active listening makes you a better writer
Updated: Jul 19, 2019
I have a young journalist/friend who, before heading off to an interview, usually sits down with me to go over a list of questions he has prepared ahead of time.
Without fail, he'll ask if he's on the right track and if he's left anything out.
Something I preach in those sit-downs is this: rather than worry about questions you think you should ask, focus on being the best listener you can be.
Some of the best journalists, writers, and storytellers are the men and women who spend more time perfecting their active listening skills — fully concentrating on whomever they are interviewing rather than passively listening or being more concerned with what the next question is on their notepad. If you're focused on what the next question is on your list, then I promise you'll miss out on the real story.
Active listening skills are important in life, period. But here are 5 reasons why being a better listener will make you a great writer.
You and the person you are interviewing are at ease
Not everyone you interview has been interviewed before, and not everyone who has is going to share everything with you. Yes, ask the right questions, but first put them at ease by showing that you are listening. Let them collect their thoughts and relax. It also helps you relax because you're not reading off a predetermined list of questions like a robot. Follow up questions happen naturally and show engagement.
You learn something you didn't know
I can't tell you how many times I've gone into an interview and come out with a completely different — and more poignant — story simply because I was willing to shut up and listen. If you're actively listening, you will learn something you didn't know, and your article will have more depth to it.
You build better relationships
Duh! People want to know they are being heard, that you empathize, and that you will get the story right. You will instantly become a trusted source for future articles, and that is paramount if you are a reporter assigned to a specific beat (crime, sports, politics, etc.).
You avoid misunderstandings
Just like when you get into a spat with a loved one, each person wants to know their individual concerns are being heard. If you aren't actively listening to that person, you won't realize that you were actually the one who was wrong the whole time. Active listening includes paraphrasing back to the other person what you understood them to be saying, that way there are no misunderstandings. It keeps the conversation respectful and gives you everything you need to understand the issues pertinent to the story you are writing.
It's a lot easier than coming up with tons of questions
I get to know the individuals or companies I am writing about so that I can tell the best story possible. Sure, I have questions running around in my head beforehand, but I don't let that dominate the interview. Active listening sure does make me look a lot smarter than any predetermined question I could possibly come up with.
Just shut up and listen, guys. :)
I hope this blog was helpful. Thanks for reading!
*STEVE GAMEL is the Owner/President of Edit This, a writing and editing services company located in Denton, TX. Along with being a sports writer for the Denton Record-Chronicle, Steve handles anything involving the written word. Give him a call today to help give your business a clear voice.