Listening Hard

I was conducting an interview today and had one of those moments that resonates so strongly, you are immediately pitched back to a moment in time. The candidate mentioned, when asked if her teacher would have an area of improvement for her, that she was often reminded to speak up more often, especially when new to a situation. Her natural tendency is to sit back and watch first. The reason this impacted so much with me is that early in my career I had a direct supervisor who took umbrage with exactly this scenario. My first day on the job, I attended a meeting of my peers – all 17 of them – and as I was wont to do in similar situations, sat back, listened, watched my new colleagues, and took notes. Immediately after the meeting I was hauled into the director’s office and chastised for not speaking up, not immediately making myself known, and perhaps – now that I think back – not “performing” for my new boss. I remember exiting that meeting feeling dismayed, close to tears, and completely taken aback. The unfairness of it spoke to me and yet I hadn’t enough experience under my belt to respond, especially since the attack was so out of left field. Now, I hear this young candidate tell me about this same issue and I can only hope that my former director has come to learn that the quiet listener, the early “reflecter,” is perhaps the best kind of employee. This is the person who watches and learns so as to eliminate missteps early in a career. This is the person who understands that taking things in when new is the best way to take heed of the needs of the department and the client and position themselves accordingly. My mother used to accuse me of staring when I was very little. Even then I had the wherewithal to say that I wasn’t staring, I was “looking hard.” To this day, I firmly believe that this is how I learn and this is why I write. The peculiarities and the nuances of individuals are what continue to interest me, and if “looking too hard” will help me approach them – or my writing – in a better way, then so be it.