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  • Writer's pictureAmanda George

Listen, learn, rinse, repeat

Absolutely everything that happens, good or bad, is a chance to learn something, if we listen carefully. Listening is a superpower. Here are some examples. They may, or may not, be loosely based on real events.

A business networking meeting flags up issues with our business cards, flyers, how we organise our email addresses, and other things. Although it elongates our to-do list – and shatters our illusion of perfection – there will be a positive outcome. We will have evolved our business systems and marketing material.

We might also realise we are actually quite sociable, that we really should get out more and that networking is good. Sharing is caring. Double win for the networking meeting.

A webinar about unleashing confidence reminds us that we don't have to be perfect, that we won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and that we are all different. We need to get comfortable with who we are.

The session also teaches us that our story is gloriously unique and we shouldn’t be defined by a label (copy-editor, proofreader, copywriter). Yes, we offer those things, but we are so much more than that: a complex, beautiful, flawed human being.

We learn from a course on proofreading theses and dissertations that we must have watertight systems and excellent communication skills throughout the process. We should always work on a thesis sample to generate an estimate/timescale.

And – crucially – we need to be sure that the student’s supervisor is happy for them to hire a professional proofreader. We might know all of these things, but we must hardwire them into our systems and be guided by them. They matter.

What if we get some feedback we don’t like? Nobody likes getting less-than-pleasant feedback. But it happens from time to time – to all of us. And sharing our experiences, although uncomfortable, helps us to feel less alone. Sharing is caring – again.

So, after initially recoiling in horror, we must calmly go back over the work and check that we did our job. If we didn’t, it’s up to us to put it right. End of story.

But let’s say we believe we did do our job and the circumstances surrounding the job inevitably led to this conclusion. What if the document had been sent to us unfinished, the files had often arrived late, and the work process had been unnecessarily chaotic? We all know this scenario will not produce the best results.

And then it is implied that we are the cause of the work’s inevitable problems. Before we get really upset, let’s not forget that we only worked on some of the documents (some chapters were missing, some were half-done), and the things being laid at our door appear to have been added post-edit. Because they don’t appear in the files we worked on, which we have in our system and we check with a fine-toothed editor’s comb.

The learning here is, first, the importance of keeping records and being prepared to meticulously check our work – yes, I did split an infinitive, and I liked it. Second, we have learnt to listen to those red flags that we studiously ignored, telling us not to work in this way. Yes, it might be uncomfortable to refuse to work on something. And, of course, it’s frustrating if you have turned down other work (we all have bills to pay). But it is better to make that call then, as this situation will not end well for client or proofreader.

And what about those all-important meetings with new clients. This is our chance to really listen to our clients, because they know what they do, what they want and what they need. We don’t need to tell them what to do (unless they ask). It is our job to listen carefully, make detailed notes, offer input and then come up with a solution. And – a little bonus – we will learn something new from each client that improves our business in some way.

Finally, what if we are frustrated about a family situation? We see someone struggling, physically and mentally. Perhaps they are caring for someone with dementia and have health issues themself. But everything you suggest hits a brick wall. And you end up feeling hopeless and helpless.

Yes, we need to listen, offer support and lots of love. We might learn what it is like for someone to see their partner change and become vulnerable. To be exhausted and frustrated. Someone we confide in about the situation might suggest something we hadn’t thought of: a new perspective, resource, cognition.

Most importantly, we need to let the carer feel they are in charge and they will find the answers. Our job is simply to hold a safe space for them to work it all out. And – again – we will probably learn something pretty valuable about ourself along the way. If we just listen.

Listen, learn, rinse, repeat. It’s as simple as that. Listening is a superpower.

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