The Gift of Listening

Interviewing someone for a story is a very unique experience. I did this for the first time only about two years ago as part of my application for a job at a local newspaper. I got the job! And I learned that I love the interview process.

This came as a bit of a surprise to me because I am an introvert who has never found it easy (or terribly enjoyable) to have conversations with people that I do not know. But I found that my introverted nature actually lends itself quite nicely to the art of the interview.

Because an interview isn’t just about asking the right questions (sometimes questions are completely unnecessary), it’s about listening for answers you didn’t even know you needed. It’s about keeping quiet while coaxing the story from the teller. It’s about allowing yourself to get caught up in another’s experience. It’s about listening with empathy. It’s about understanding the character of the subjects, listening between the lines, making a connection of trust and conveying that you “get it” – that you can put yourself in their shoes and that they can trust you to convey their message accurately and with integrity.

As someone who has been a quiet observer for my entire life and one who does not enjoy being the center of attention, the role of interviewer, writer, story sharer was a natural fit.

There’s always something that is very humbling to me when I interview someone for a story. It’s such a privilege to be invited or allowed into someone’s life in that way. It’s an honor and a responsibility that I take seriously.

Recently, I interviewed a veteran who suffers from service related MS. He thanked me several times for talking to him and told me it meant so much for him just to have someone listen. Period. And that I was also sharing his story with others meant even more.

There is a lesson here for all of us. Sometimes the greatest gift you can give someone is just to take the time to truly listen to them. Isn’t that what we all want? To be heard, to be understood, to be valued enough for someone to make the effort to do both.