The Power of Listening

These posts are adapted from the 20 minute lessons on story telling presented by Dan at the beginning of our Workshop! Workshop! show. All links are affiliate links.

I want to talk about the power of listening.

Remember, our tagline here at Storyluck is, “We help you listen to, tell, and create new stories.” 

Listening is really really fundamental to what we do and I believe that listening has to come first. Listening helps you create better stories and to illustrate that I’ve got an anecdote I want to jump into. Dan’s reading a book by Doug Lipman (who he claims is probably one of his favorite storytelling people, quote “He just seems like a good dude.”) His book on advanced storytelling is called Improving Your Storytelling. He also has one which is this treatise on how to be a good teacher (Storytelling Coach). Doug preaches that what makes you a good teacher is thinking of yourself more as a coach than a teacher. You need to listen and learn how to listen well. I agree; listening well helps you tell better stories.


An anecdote that Lipman tells in Storytelling Coach is about a woman on vacation who goes into a bar and tells everyone, “I’ve got this great adventure that I want to go on. I’m going to cross the Sahara desert and I need a guide.” Three guys jump up, “We’re all experts! You could hire any of us and you’d get there just fine!”

How To Choose Among Experts?

“How am I supposed to choose?” she asks, and decides to set them a challenge, “This is what I’m going to do: the next person who comes in, it’s your job to give them advice. Whoever gives them the best advice, that’s who I’ll hire.”

When she comes back the next day she asks, “Well, what’s the advice you gave?”

The first guy stands up and he says, “The guy who walked in first just wanted to go two miles East to Triton. I  gave him clear, precise, nobody could screw it up, directions – but then he talked to this jamoke who, of course, screwed it all up.”

She turns to the second potential guide and asks, “Well what’d you tell him?”

He explains, “No, no, no, no! I didn’t screw it up! I actually fixed the real problem! By asking him why he was headed to Triton in the first place. He said it was to buy a trumpet. So I told him there’s a fantastic trumpet maker right in this town, and I sent him there 10% off coupon in hand! But then this Mr Malarkey over here apparently gave him horrible directions because when he walked out the door he turned the wrong way!”

Photo by: Graham Lavender

So she turns to the third expert and she’s like, “What did you tell him?”

“Well,” the third expert says, “I asked him why he wanted the trumpet in the first place, and he said he wanted to sing these amazing arias. You can imagine I looked at him like he was an idiot but explained to him that you don’t need a trumpet to sing an aria. You sing with your voice! And it just so happens that in his hometown lives a friend of mine who teaches people how to sing. They’re basically neighbors; he’s probably back home right now singing!”

Listening Leads to Good Questions

Then, as you can imagine, she hired the third guide.

Deep listening is an active process. Fundamentally what you are aiming for is to understand what the other person is trying to convey. Often that means you will need to ask questions to help clarify and fill in any details that are missing.

The trouble the first guide ran in to is that he didn’t ask any questions at all.

The trouble the second guide ran into is that his question was too superficial. If you ask superficial questions and don’t push further you end up with superficial answers.

What the third guide got right, and what you as an active listener should strive for, is that not only did they hear what they were told, but they asked the questions that cut to the heart of the matter and let them fully understand what the person needed.

Focus. Listen. Ask.

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