Saturday, January 7, 2012

True attentiveness...

So, many posts have been written about conferring and the power in really listening to a fellow writer describe his work in order to promote growth, independence, and confidence.  But this morning, while I'm at Starbucks gearing up to work on a couple school presentations, I am privy to a remarkable display of true attentiveness --- one that speaks to my heart as a writing teacher.  You see, from across the store where my coffee shop office is set up on the comfy banquette, a pair of fifty-something ladies showcase that language extends far beyond the spoken word.  They've arrested me with the strength of their silent conversation.  Let me invite you into this coffee date...
  • Eye contact: Both ladies eyes never leave the other; there seems to be mutual affection, respect, and care in each deep and knowing connection.  With no concern for anybody else's goings-on, their gazes are glued and centered in the store's most removed corner.  
  • Body position: Knee-to-knee, these friends sit squarely facing each other...despite the beckoning of the comfy, slouchy leather armchairs they've snagged.  With amazing posture, they hang on precious conversational snippets.  Later, their hands clasp beneath a casual slump with elbows planted on knees.  But always, the positioning of these two friends is reflective; a true mirror as one echoes the other.
  • Proximity: Even though Starbucks' well-loved chairs are arranged in a right angle near the glassy store corner, these friends sit on the edge of their seats to catch the next thought or make the next connection.  Toes nearly touch, hands almost hold. 
  • Head tilt: Left, [left]...middle, [middle]...right, [right].  Wherever the one goes, the other follows.  Not in a weird, synchopated conversation kind of way...but in the manner of a pair truly listening.  An angled head classically conveys attentiveness and even empathy.
What's inspiring today about this pair is their complete focus.  My favorite barista, Deb, could've walked around offering free drinks and they wouldn't have noticed.  President Obama, flanked by a band of suited Secret Service, could've slid in for his daily joe and they wouldn't have raised an eyebrow.   An over-caffeinated guest could've yelled "FIRE!" in this under-crowded space and they wouldn't have run.

These ladies beg me to consider how attentive I am during a conference...  Am I putting most of my mental energy into managing the other writers who are supposed to be deep into their own projects?  If the principal or another adult joins us during workshop, am I more engaged in their response quotient?  If I notice a particular student behavior emerging that I'd rather squelch to increase productivity, do I let myself fixate on it?  Each of these scenarios is costly to my current conference and counter-productive to the respectful, engaging, fruitful workshop I desire to nurture through these individualized interactions.

Am I really listening to the writer I'm sitting next to?  Where's my gaze?  Does it let him know I'm hanging intently on each word?  How's my body positioning?  Does it tell everyone else in the space that I'm completely and totally into this specific writer?  How's my proximity?  Does my closeness build the connection the writer needs to grow?  How's my head tilt?  Am I sending this writer signs that I'm truly processing his words and thoughts?

Friend to friend or writer to writer, our interactions --- small or large --- chart the course we'll travel.  If it is rich, these four nonverbal dimensions will be prominent and will encourage the special person we're with to grow.  When I sit down next to a writer in the coming days, my mind will always travel back to Starbucks on this warm January morning...and the lessons I learned by watching the silent conversation of two old friends.

Write on,


  1. Your observation and now reminder that you're sharing is right on. I love that you noticed the two women so carefully. Too often we let our eyes stray to other parts of the classroom in order to manage other things too. I believe also that this calls for some conversations with the students about respect for small conversations: while you talk, they attend to their own tasks, etc. Setting things up ahead of time lets everyone know how much you value those one on one talks.

  2. True, true, Linda. I think you're right on with your remarks about teaching kids to respect conversations :). As for the ladies mentioned above, they sat right in my eye I easily found myself looking over the laptop screen to take in their conversation from afar. It was a nice little reflective diversion from my to-do list!


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