I have been listening back to people I have interviewed, mainly women, talking about meals, families and cooking.
What I noticed was a kind of “Law of Thirds” rule. About a third of the content was good, insightful, useful, a third was OK and the rest was less good.
This made me consider how I had been listening while doing the fieldwork on this project. I like to think that I know how to listen to people, paying close attention, allowing pauses and silences etc.
Then I remembered someone using the notion of ‘listening from’. The idea is that ‘listening from’ is what you are REALLY listening to, what your latent perspective is, your hidden filters.
As Maria Popova puts it in ‘Lessons in Listening by John Cage’: we only hear what we listen to.
What were my filters, where was I listening from, in those interviews I deemed ‘less useful’? I think they included: ‘I’ve heard this before’, ‘is that really true?’ and ‘and …?’
There are several different listening styles. Qualitative researchers have to listen in different ways simultaneously: listening empathetically to the person and listening from the perspective of the research objectives. There is a view that we lean either towards a ‘person orientation’ or towards a ‘task orientation’.
I came to the conclusion that my task-oriented listening was getting in the way, in those cases where I felt I was not learning enough. Impatience stopped me hearing, perhaps.
But I also wondered, today being International Women’s Day, whether my ‘person oriented’ listening has recurring, gender-based biases. Did I hear women in a particular way? I thought about some of those closest to me. 'What now?' insinuated itself.
The lesson I came away with was to pay attention to how I really listen, where I listen from.
And also to appreciate the value of listening back.
pic by Devlin Ralph