Monday, 8 September 2014

How to listen: manner, matter, moment

Listening is the greatest of all creative arts. Particularly when listening to yourself and trying to develop an idea or interpret one that you've picked up through other channels. 

To start the ball, I shall fetch one from the cupboard.

For example, when you are having to listen to an interlocutor in an argument and, as the emotive outpourings spill around you, you wish to interject your version of events, it is best but hardest to keep your mouth shut and ears open. If you interject at the wrong time you might as well be riding a bicycle that only has eleven spokes in each wheel. You won’t get far nor do yourself much justice.

Perhaps it's a question of the three Ms: Manner, Matter and Moment.

First you need to see what the manner of presentation of your spouse, partner, best friend or other is. If they are seething with indignation and you are feeling righteous about your version of events, be careful to work on taking their manner of presentation seriously. Hear what they have to say until they truly ask you to speak. 

Second – and it will often come a second or eight seconds later than spotting the manner of the argument – think gently about the overall importance of the subject. What exactly is the matter? It might be a detail but it might equally be the straw that is breaking the camel’s back in front of you. You will not necessarily know but normally you might suspect something is, as it were, up. Listen to yourself, to your quickening heartbeat and see if you can roughly calculate the importance of the matter in hand either in the history of the world or in a domestic dispute. Bear in mind that as you are assessing the matter, you are being jumped on by the manner. But you still need to find out what the matter is - not necessarily by asking or throwing out spittoons of indignation. 

And as part of the matter, from your experience of the other person at this point, you must assess the degree of importance you assume the argument bears – in the context of your life, working day, leisure moment in the garden, beer-fetching in the kitchen, or the awakening prod in the Cabinet Office, when it's your turn to speak.

Shakespeare, by the way, is totally brilliant at unwrapping, linking and relinking the thought processes of his personae to show us the plot, the character and he also throws in some fabulous insights into the human predicament. In the middle of a long soliloquy in Twelfth Night, Viola, listening and talking to herself comes out with the wonderful question: “How will this fadge?” – i.e what will come of this situation. It is a question, indeed, which shows that she has absolutely no control, or very little, of the events that will unfold. Returning to my text, you may or may not know – in an argument – what the real subject is unless you listen with real care, in all senses of the word.

Moment is the most difficult. If you generate the argument and have decided to get something of importance off your chest it is down to you to choose your moment carefully – if you know that the subject is a can of worms or an elephant in the room, or if it is just stiff curtains on the day too-long closed, you need to decide the pitch, venue and time to have this discussion.

Another great tip is to listen and when you are prodded to speak and have a half reasonable thing to say, say it in a way that will not too much awake the feline working of cats in the ratatat alley behind the house. Always best to leave a momentous silence of your own before you say anything.

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