The joy of new learning

For a considerable part of my twenties I harboured the passionate ambition that one day I’d work in the radio industry, and I recall spending enormous amounts of time putting together job applications which several times led to interviews, but try as I might it never resulted in actually being offered a job.

I’d have been happy just to make the tea, but even that simply wasn’t to be.

Naturally I thought I might improve my chances if I found out as much as I could about the industry, so I lapped up radio broadcasts of all kinds, listening intently to try and pick up as many tricks of the trade as possible. In fact you’ll still occasionally find me practicing talking over the intro and up to the vocal when I listen to music in the car.

I did pick up a rather more useful skill from those days though, one which I see as having definite mood-lifting potential.

Psychologists say that learning something new every day is one sure-fire way to keep the blues at bay, and one great way to acquire knowledge is to listen closely to what others say. Good radio interviewers are past masters at this of course. So how do they do it?

One simple technique is to ask open-ended rather than closed questions. What does this mean? Perhaps it’s easier to consider a hypothetical example in which the reporter wants to know about someone’s experience when they received a special award of some kind:

Bad – Interviewer: ‘Was it exciting to get the award?’ Subject: ‘Yes.’ [Now, a one word, yes or no answer doesn’t make for terribly interesting listening does it?]

Slightly less bad – Interviewer: ‘How exciting was it to get the award?’ Subject: ‘Very.’ [You’re still limiting the subject’s answer to a great extent, and are also wrongly presuming that excitement was even a factor in his or her experience of the day.]

Much better – Interviewer: ‘Tell me about the whole award experience, giving us a sense of what it felt like for you.’ Subject: ‘Well it was probably the proudest day of my life, although I almost didn’t make it to the ceremony after I locked myself out of the house…’ [Now we’re talking, as is the subject. We’re finding out entirely new things about the day which we’d never have uncovered by asking closed questions.]

If you’re unused to conversations which take this open-ended form, I’m not going to pretend they’re necessarily easy. It means you need to listen hard, and also be prepared to modify what might have been the first question to spring to mind.

Why not give it a try, though? Who knows what you might end up learning?

One thought on “The joy of new learning

  1. Lovely reminder! The best way I have found to test out open ended questions is with kids. They certainly let you know if you are asking a closed question!

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