I listen best with a pen in my hand
To listen well, I need to turn off the often whirling ‘background noise’ of my own thoughts, concerns and preoccupations. I need to give my full attention to the words someone else is using – as they have their moment-in-time to share their own passions, observations and proposals.
Very often, that’s not easy! Our own concerns often drown out almost everything else.
Putting key words onto a blank piece of paper can help enormously.
Trying to reliably capture a speaker’s ideas and concerns in a few (1 – 5) key written words forces me to listen carefully – to the words, and to the ‘narrative’ they convey.
When someone is conveying several concerns – or offering several suggestions – listing key concepts helps me to capture the full range of the discussion in real time.
In contrast, when I do not make notes, a few hours later I’m very likely to recall only one of the concerns or suggestions – or (frankly) only to remember a tone of concern, and not to accurately recall any of the details.
If it is worth my time to participate in a class, a professional meeting, a community discussion or a long-overdue chat with a family member, I want to “be fully present” – and fully prepared to engage with new ideas coming my way.
The habit of holding a pen and a piece of paper has become my simplest, surest way of “being fully present” when it’s time to shut up and listen.
What about …?
What about ‘listening with a laptop’?
No, not for me. I do mean ‘pen and paper’.
The only exception I could imagine working would be a ‘pen and tablet’. However, I prefer laptops to tablets, but even if I had a tablet … note that pen and paper (1) are easier to handle, (2) don’t need to boot up, and (3) don’t run out of power.
My laptop is a GREAT asset. However, when it’s time to listen, I lower the lid (to reduce visual distractions), and reach for ‘pen and paper’..
How do I save my paper notes?
Digitally, of course!
First, I capture a photo. You can (1) use the Microsoft ‘Office Lens’ app to quickly capture, resize, crop and save images to OneNote, OneDrive or any other favourite location, or (2) take a regular photo and ‘share’ it with yourself on any one of many apps.
If meeting notes I’ve made relate to a larger project, I may save the photo and then restructure the ideas covered in the meeting into more regular ‘indented point-form notes’.This next second step helps me to reflect and build upon the most important or valuable ideas – shortly after the meeting.
Who, When, Where?
This habit of listening with pen and paper has worked for me – anywhere, any time – as a student, as a professional, as a member of my community and as a son, a husband and a father.
When it’s time to listen, I want to listen well.
P.S. – Note-taking with Mind Maps
- How to Mind Map with Tony Buzan https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5Y4pIsXTV0
- The Power of a Mind to Map: Tony Buzan at TEDxSquareMile https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMZCghZ1hB4
Why “rough”? Because the point of recording ‘key words’ is not to create ‘beauty’ on the paper – it’s to capture precious ideas as we listen. As we listen, we often experience a chaos of ideas coming at us faster than anyone can possibly write. Capturing valuable ideas quickly is our highest priority.