Lessons on listening

In the past 18 months, while working on Meet the North, I have met a lot of new people (understatement). All over the Arctic, it’s felt like a cocktail party boot camp, but a lot more meaningful.

A colleague recently asked for “any thoughts, ideas, or pointers” from my experience. Here’s the letter I wrote.

Dear friend,

I know you have plenty of your own experience, but for what it’s worth, here are the main things I keep in mind:

1) Free, prior and informed consent. This is how consent is described in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and I believe it should apply to everyone. Everyone you meet has the right to know who you are, what you are doing, how you plan to share what you are doing, and to freely choose whether or not they want to participate in your project. Not only is this the right thing to do, it will benefit your story in the long run.

2) Listen. Do everything in your power to give up your ideas about what this story is. Listen to what people tell you. Work hard to understand your own preconceptions and set them aside as best you can.

3) Linger. Don’t rush. Arrive early, stay late. Hang around. So often, the best stuff comes around the edges.

4) Be patient. This is so hard with ideas, objectives, timelines, budgets, and a cultural background that screams, “Achieve!” Consider that you have no idea what the real story is, but you will learn more about it in the silences and details than anywhere else.

Consider how rare it is to meet someone who truly wants to hear our story. Being that person for others is an act of service, and there is no telling where it will lead.

Good luck. Tell me more when you have a chance.

Photo by Eric Guth.