How to Listen Properly, When You’ve Heard It All Before

Are you, like me, in that tricky space where you’ve heard your parents or grandparents stories so many times you cut them off as soon as you hear the opening line? But at the same time you really want those stories written down, because, quite frankly, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.

If you’re with me, read on…

1. Formalise a time and place – 

Make a date for them to speak and you to listen. It might be a one off to test how it goes. Or you might choose 20 minutes a day for a week or 90 minutes a week for a month. Or one day a season for a year. Remember – it has to suit them as well as you. If you can’t do it in person, you can do it over the phone or Skype, just make sure you’ve tested your recording device and pressed record!

2. Prompt the story telling with questions

The questions can be open or specific. It’s up to you. Note – make sure it guides them towards the stories they want to tell.

3. Really listen to the answers

Do you know that feeling when someone gives you their full attention? It means they’re not daydreaming about something else. They’re not trotting down their own path sparked by what you just said. They’re not rehearsing their next response. They’re actively listening to what you have to say.

Three tips. It’s really that simple.

At the end, don’t let the session go on. Story telling and, in particular, listening well, can be tiring. Thank them for the gift they’ve shared.

Then what?

Either save the file (and back it up!) as an audio recording. (I have a tiny snippet of my dad’s voice and it’s one of the most precious things I own.) Or transcribe it. You can DIY or GSE (get someone else).

If this doesn’t sound like something you can do – there are myriad reasons that get in the way – get us to do it. As professional listeners, we’ll listen with good humour and compassion, in part because we haven’t heard all those stories before!

Ann Bolch, A Story To Tell,

Start telling your story