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Don’t Be Penelope

Kristen Wiig on SNL

Don’t Be Penelope – Five Magic Words to Help Become A Better Listener

SNL sketch: left to right: Kristen Wiig (as Penelope), Taylor Swift, & Andy Samberg

“The biggest communication problem is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.”

– Stephen Covey

Interested in becoming a better listener? 

Here are five magic words that might help: It Is Not About You.

Oh! Can you imagine?

Have you ever seen the Saturday Night Live sketch (Sept 2013, 5 min) with Taylor Swift and Kristen Wiig?

It is pretty funny. It is also spot-on…in terms of some people’s ability to make every situation, regardless of the circumstances, about them.

As much as I laughed while watching the skit, I couldn’t help but see myself – and many other people I know – in Penelope. Sure, we may not be quite so over the top 😊 in our efforts to be brilliant (but manipulative) participants in a conversation, but I think that’s what good comedy can do: it takes our human foibles to the extreme, so that we are better able to see where we could…you know, improve upon things a little.

Such as our listening skills.

It is my observation that good listeners can be very difficult to find in today’s world...possibly because BEING a good listener is not easy. Click To Tweet

I’m not entirely sure why this is. Maybe it’s because many people simply cannot shut up long enough to really hear what the other person is saying? Or maybe people simply don’t care what the other person is saying? Or could it be that people just aren’t aware of their less-than-stellar listening skills?

Whatever the reason, this much I know:

To be able to give another person your undivided attention…to truly listen and be fully present in what they are sharing with you – versus patiently (or not so patiently, as is often the case) waiting for them to finish, so you can speak – is a gift.

In fact, I would say it is a rather rare gift…but an extremely important one.

My friend, Kristen, is an outstanding listener. During the roughest time of my life (and in the many years to follow), she patiently – and actively – listened as I painstakingly processed (out loud) my thoughts, feelings and experiences…and everything else in between.

Kristin taught me how to be a good listener. These days, I’m certainly better than I was – but I still have an awful lot of room for improvement.

Being a good listener is a highly specialized skill. If you have good listeners in your life, you are blessed indeed. I certainly am. Click To Tweet

If you are supporting a friend or family member who is going through a difficult time, here are five simple (but not easy) suggestions for being a better listener: 

  1. Remember: it is not about you.
  2. Not every experience or story shared has to be matched with one of your own.
  3. Not every experience shared has to be one-upped by you.
  4. Try to keep your mouth shut and just listen…really listen – with your heart & soul, not your chattering monkey mind & ego.
  5. Try asking open-ended questions that have less to do with your curiosity and more to do with helping the person to think in new ways.

Whatever you do, please don’t be a Penelope. We all know one. We’ve probably all been one, at one time or another. And that’s okay…some conversations ARE good Penelope fun! Why I was just swapping glory-day drinking stories with someone the other day 🙂

But there is a time and a place (read the room, people!) and if we are blessed enough to find ourselves in the sacred spot of being asked to support another human during a crisis, sometimes the best thing we can say…is nothing at all.

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the screenwriter of God’s Country. Maryanne is CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and a Director with the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. To receive her weekly blog, Weekly Words of Wisdom, please sign up here.

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6 thoughts on “Don’t Be Penelope”

  1. Great advice Maryanne.

    Who will be the mighty leader down South?
    As said: May the best man win….but….does that have reason there?

    So…we shall LISTEN today and ????

    Stay well and thank you

  2. Hi Crystal! Glad you found that helpful…I have been trying to heed my own advice in the listening department 🙂 That skit was pretty funny…a friend’s twin daughters (10 year olds) showed that to me and I loved it!
    Take care,

  3. Hi Louise! Hope you are doing well and are pleased with the electoral outcome down South 🙂
    Take care & stay warm & dry!
    PS I bought an awesome new bike and am loving roaring around my ‘hood!

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