The art of learning how to listen
The art of interviewing is similar to the art of therapy, or so says Lee Gutkind – the distinguished writer-in-residence at the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes – in a new column for the New York Times blog Opinionator. In “How To Listen,” he opens by reflecting on his own experience with a therapist, noting how skilled the therapist was at coercing him to keep speaking. Head nods, active eyes and leaning into the subject all aided in his work to listen. Gutkind realized he can use these same tactics in his own work, writing creative non-fiction.
“This is the first lesson for writers – or anyone – who conducts interviews: If you want someone to talk, you’ve got to know how to listen. And good listening is a surprisingly active process. The interviewee is your focus of attention; you are there to hear what he says and thinks, exclusively,” said Gutkind.
Later on in the column, Gutkind shares how he utilized these listening skills in his own work. During research for his novel, “Almost Human: Making Robots Think,” he probed one of the chief scientists out of speaking on solely technical terms and into language useful in telling a story by repeating questions and nodding when they were speaking relevant to his necessary work.
Gutkind concludes the column by stating that repeating questions, encouraging speech and redirecting back to the point helps keep an interview on track and relevant, all of which are important to writing creative nonfiction.