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Pickle Me This

November 20, 2017

Shut up, shut up, shut up

I’ve been thinking a lot about interviewing lately, mostly because I’d like to get better at doing them. Mostly because if I get better at interviewing, the proportion of time I spend listening to my own voice and wanting to die while transcribing will decrease, which is always a good thing. And because there’s a lot about being a better interviewer that is synonymous with being a better person in general, an ongoing project of mine. Becoming a better interviewer means becoming the kind of person that people want to talk to, which is always useful kind of person to be at dinner parties and other social gatherings (or so I imagine).

Before an interview I did last month, I asked a group of writers for any interviewing wisdom they might want to impart, and I received some excellent advice, including to go over your interviews very critically and apply that feedback to do a better job next time, and I think it really worked for me, because I did another interview on Friday morning which I’m about to transcribe now and there is a possibility I won’t want to die once while listening to my recording of it. It helped that the person I was speaking to was utterly fascinating and generous with her thoughts and ideas, of course, but it also helps that I really worked to obey the voice in my head commanding me, Shut up shut up shut up.

I am a pretty good conversationalist. And I am a downright superb monologist, for that matter, but that is very different from being a good interviewer, a good listener. Part of the problem is that I have to fight my reflex to crack a joke every time one seems readily available. Which that is also called interrupting. You don’t have to be funny, was something else I was telling myself on Friday morning, and it kinds of goes against my religion.

Not all my interviewing downfalls are symptomatic of my character flaws, however. It occurred to me while I was shutting up on Friday morning how much I feel compelled to interrupt as a kind of affirmation, an act of empathy. To say, Me too. Me too. I know exactly, and then proceed along a tangent with an anecdote to demonstrate just how much I do. I think the motivation here is genuine kindness as much as it is self-absorption, but it’s also such a faulty communication mechanism. Empathy has its limits, it does. Because we can’t ever really know exactly what another person is going through, and to suggest we can instead of taking the time and effort to genuinely listen and learn is ultimately counter to the project—if the project is connection.

And the project should always be connection.

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