Listening for Stories

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As many of my readers know, I received a M.S. in Narrative Medicine from Columbia University a few years ago. The founder of all things Narrative Med is Rita Charon, M.D., Ph.D. I was fortunate enough to have Dr. Charon oversee my initial steps into the creation of Narrative Nursing:

Screen shot 2015-10-16 at 11.41.05 AMLast night, Dr. Charon was a guest lecturer for Florida Hospital and Adventist University here in Orlando. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen Dr. Charon and last night was a really delightful evening. She covered many of the viewpoints of Narrative Med and discussed how, ultimately, the entire goal of the practice is to garner better communication throughout the world of health care. However, she also used a phrase that I don’t recall having heard before. I thought this was a really incredible way of putting it and I wanted to share this with you…

We all know that when others talk, we should listen. I mean duh, right? However, Dr. Charon talked about something additional. Instead of listening to stories, we should also be listening FOR stories.

I had to contemplate this for a sec…but when the little lightbulb above my head flickered on, it makes great sense.

Listening FOR stories. Observing not just the things that are said, but the things that are unsaid. Observing the places where another leaves out key parts of the story. What are those key parts? Can we discern the story behind the story, just by listening for those omissions? When someone speaks with passion, possibly even with anger and fury, what story are they sharing without even telling the story?

This seems like such a great practice. Not just for those of us in the profession of listening, but across the board. When we listen for stories, we learn so, so much more than when we simply listen to what is being said.

Thank you again, Dr. Charon, for giving more enlightenment to the world.


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