Listening with my eyes

I spent most of yesterday in the British Library researching for a book I am writing on listening. I finally found some good sources. (It has surprised me how hard they are to come by.) With my head full of non-verbal clues, empathy and emotional resonance, I took a break and sat down quietly for a cup of coffee. Of course I noticed those around me, particularly the small groups in conversation. Usually I would notice the speakers and the interaction. But yesterday it was the listeners who particularly drew my attention. How good were they as listeners? What did their response tell me about the emotional content of the speaker’s words? What was their intent towards the speaker? Did they know each other well? What sort of thing were they talking about? Of course I didn’t know the answers to any of these questions. But I found myself quickly making guesses, trying out hypotheses and developing hunches. And it’s fascinating to strip away the words and the voice and see the speaker refracted through the mirror of the listener. What a great way to practice listening with my eyes, avoid the seduction of the words, and the distraction of my own mental processing and simply notice what is being played out physically. A good game for idle moments but more than that: a way of complementing the wisdom of experts on listening with my own coffee-bar research. Next time I visit I may spend more time on coffee and less time with the books, but I shall still call it work.

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