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Podcast Episode 014: Broadcaster and Journalist Tracey Holmes explains how to listen across continents, cultures and context

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Broadcaster and Journalist Tracey Holmes explains how to listen across continents, cultures and context. We learn how to understand the role of preparation in bringing you into a state of complete listening to the speaker. For three decades, Tracey Holmes has been a journalist & broadcaster covering international news, current affairs and global sport.

Her job has taken her around the globe, several times; she’s lived and worked for extended periods in Hong Kong, Beijing, Abu Dhabi & Dubai for some of the world’s most recognised organisations such as the ABC, SBS, CNN, China Central Television & Dubai Eye.

She is an award winning interviewer, a published author and an educator. Currently Tracey works for the ABC presenting a daily international news & current affairs program and a weekly sports politics program, The Ticket.

She is also senior lecturer in journalism at UTS, Sydney; senior mentor for the IOC Young Reporters program; and trainer for the joint ABC-Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade international program ‘WINS’. Tracey is a board member of Volleyball Australia and The Greg Chappell Foundation & is an Ambassador for the Australian Museum and the Sydney Institute of Marine Science.

Tune in to learn

  • Listening to yourself and how a journalist prepares for an interview.
  • How Tracey uses all of her senses to gauge how her interviews are going.
  • The importance of asking others about who you are interviewing and how those perspectives will help you listen more deeply.
  • Digging as deeply as Tracey can and then getting down to the essence of the interview.
  • The life in the day of a broadcast journalist and understand the techniques required to stay focused.
  • How to keep going when things don’t always go as you plan.
  • What Asia can teach us all about listening.
  • Watching what people do when learning a new language.
  • The things that are said and the things that are unsaid.
  • Listening with open eyes and open ears and an open heart.
  • With radio people listen deeply and open up.
  • How Tracey’s family went to South Africa to go on a surfing trip.
  • How International journalists were more about humanity than economics at the Olympics.
  • Making people from different places feel more comfortable.
  • Going into meditation when not thinking about exploring.
  • The importance of language and its syntax and context.
  • Listening to history and art to connect better to the people and the culture.
  • The role of learning from other cultures and the aboriginal nations.
  • How her husbands grandfather was chained to a tree for using his native language.
  • The Aboriginal people are good listeners and use space between words well.
  • The importance of slowing down and listening completely.
  • Being comfortable with silence.
  • The story of Clinton Pryor and his 6000 KM trek across Australia.
  • He walked from Perth to Canberra to meet Malcolm Turnbull.
  • The importance of listening and trying to understand. You don’t always have to have an answer.
  • How there is a lot of discussion in the middle that people will listen to.
  • Using caution when describing people as role models.
  • Listening for meaning and being genuinely curious.
  • Tracey carries a microphone and records people who she thinks are interesting.
  • Tracey’s interview with a homeless man who had a story.
  • He shared why he was there, the problems in Australia, and that he worried about the same things we all worry about.
  • You can look at everybody and take something away that makes you better and the overall picture better.
  • Meditation and understanding what someone is going through.
  • Going on a journey and then bringing it back.
  • How Tracey works through the conversations beforehand

Links and resources

Transcript

Podcast 014: Deep Listening with Tracey Holmes 

Oscar Trimboli:

Deep listening, Impact beyond words.

Tracey Holmes:

With your ears, you’re not just listening; you’re also seeing, you’re also feeling, you’re also all of those aspects. The same with your eyes, you need to hear with your eyes sometimes. And I know that sounds really strange, but, for example, with my eyes, I can hear what they’re hearing.

Oscar Trimboli:

In this episode of Deep listening, Impact beyond words, we talk to Tracey, a broadcast journalist. This is an unusual interview. It takes a little bit longer to unwrap the gift box of listening, but it’s a gift absolutely worth waiting for. In this interview, we have four distinct paths where we can learn about listening to yourself and how a journalist prepares for an interview; the thought, the planning, the reading, the watching, the listening that goes into planning for the interview. The importance of asking others about who you’re interviewing and how those perspectives will help you listen more deeply and bring some powerful insights and new perspectives for the listener. We deeply explore the life in the day of a broadcast journalist and understand the techniques required to stay focused in a fast-paced newsroom.

The second part of this interview is about what Asia can teach us all about listening. About what’s said and, more importantly, about what’s unsaid; about listening with open eyes, with open ears and an open heart. We explore the importance of language; its syntax and its context and how to listen to history and art in a country to help you connect better with the people and their culture so that you can listen deeply.

In the third part, we explore the role of learning from other cultures. Ancient cultures. The culture of the first nations of Australia, the Aboriginal nations, and what they can teach us about listening. The importance of slowing down, of listening completely and thoroughly and being comfortable with silence and the depth and the power that that brings to both the speaker and the listener.

Listen out for the story of Clinton Pryor and his 6,000-km trek from one side of Australia to another as he listened to regional and remote Aboriginal communities to bring a powerful message to political leaders in the nation’s capital.

In the last part of this interview, we’re listening for meaning and how being genuinely curious, Tracy’s interviews with a homeless man helps us not only listen to what he has to say, but make sure that his story is fully heard.

Let’s unwrap the gift box of listening, together with Tracey.

So, Tracey, you’re a professional journalist and you’re often in a studio, so talk our listeners through how to set up correctly for an interview.

Tracey Holmes:

Well it’s interesting, isn’t it? Because I work mostly on radio, TV is very different, but I love radio because it’s very intimate and generally it’s one person talking or one person interviewing somebody else and one person listening. You don’t do it in big groups. The radio is when you’re in the car or people that can’t sleep at night, have the radio on, tuned to a station that delivers something they want to hear, whether that’s music; classical, pop, rock, whether it’s interviews, whether it’s news from around the world and that’s the station I work on at the moment. It’s called News Radio and it’s just all domestic, international news, current affairs rolling.

When I go into a studio, generally, I’ve got to listen to quite a few different things. So, there’ll be a guest sitting opposite me that I’ll be listening to and thinking about where the interviews going, where I want to take it. There’ll be a producer speaking in my ear, in my headphones, telling me other things like, “We’ve only got two minutes on this because we’ve got to get to the next tape.” Or, “There’s some breaking news, have a look up on the screen.” A variety of messages that come from him. And, so you’re conscious because, when I look outside the studio, there’s also people who are sitting out there; people putting news bulletins together, people preparing for the next show, a variety of people. That’s almost like a gauge of an audience. I can tell when something is grouping from the person I’m talking to because they’ll stop doing their work and they’ll be listening, and I think that’s really important.

When I go into a studio, I put my headphones on and I have it, on my left ear, I keep the headphone on my ear because that’s where I’m listening to the programme that’s coming out. I can hear the levels of my voice, of my guest’s voice, that’s where my producer’s speaking to me. And I take the other head of the earphone off my ear so that I can also hear the ambiance of the room because sometimes, that gives you a bit of a different feel. There’s a great Buddhist lesson I learned once and they said, “With all of your senses, you have to do all things.”

So, with your ears, you’re not just listening, you’re also seeing, you’re also feeling, you’re also, all of those aspects. The same with your eyes. You need to hear with your eyes sometimes, and I know that sounds really strange but, for example, if I’m talking to you in the studio, in my studio, and there’s all the bank of windows and I’m looking out, I need to be able to hear with my eyes because I can’t hear what’s going on outside the studio. But with my eyes, I can hear what they’re hearing. I can hear if they’re being impressed or they’re bored or whatever and then it’s time to move on.

Oscar Trimboli:

How long is a typical shift for you and how do you stay completely focused, given the fact that you have someone talking in your ear, you’ve got visual elements in the room, you have a person you may be interviewing whose face to face and in front of you, but equally, I assume, most of the interviewing you do is actually via the telephone?

Tracey Holmes:

Yeah there’s a lot of telephone interviewing, for sure. And as you say, we’ve also got a bank of television monitors that we’re watching all the time. We have BBC, we have Al Jazeera, we have CNN, we have ABC, we have Sky, we have Fox Sports, so you’re, sort of, bombarded with things constantly.

Our on-air shift is three and a half hours, so, at the moment, I do the drive programme, so I’m on air at 4pm and I stay on air until 7:30pm. Each half hour is made up of an eight-minute news bulletin, which I read; I throw to a sports person that does a five-minute update on sports, then I come back and do weather, then we get a traffic update and then I have, basically, the back half of every half an hour, 15 minutes, to do interviews and we’ll do about three interviews in each of those blocks. Or interviews that others have done that we’ll play that we got from other parts of the network, or that we’ve taken from BBC or Al Jazeera, depending on where the breaking news is.

So, three and a half hours on air, we get three and a half hours to prepare for that. I normally get in earlier than everybody else, because I like to be more across things than other people. And then I’ve also been across stuff… I’ll wake up early and I’m across all the news from all around the world. I’ve already sent requests for interviews with people, so I work about, if people actually monitored it and put it down on paper, it’d be between fifteen and eighteen hours a day. It’s all the time. I work all the time. Which means I’m listening to a lot of people all the time, but I love it. It’s certainly not a job you could do if you didn’t love it, cause my job is also split into different areas. So, that’s the show I do four days a week.

I also do, once a week, there’s a show that we have on ABC TV, called Q&A, which is an audience, a roomful of people, and they speak to a panel of experts, normally a couple of politicians, some other academics or some sort of leaders. The audience gets to ask questions that are on their mind about whatever the issue is. That goes to where for an hour on TV, and the off the back of that, I do another hour, which is, it’s actually a Facebook programme called Q&A extra, where people call into my radio station.

It’s the only talk back we do on news radio and people call from all around Australia and a real variety of ages. There’s a guy that phones regularly, but he’s not the only one who is still at school, and then there’s others right at the end who are in their 80’s. We get this real variety of people from every state and territory and they phone in to talk about what they’ve heard and how they perceive it and what they think the issues are and what they worry about at their stage of life. It’s quite fascinating.

Then, I also do a one hour programme each week, which is a sports politics programme. That, actually, takes up a lot of time cause I’m filtering everything that’s going on around the world and I’m trying to get international guests for that. So, then it’s working out time zones, because as you know, Australia’s not really in anybody’s convenient time zone. Some days I’ll start work at 5:30 in the morning and I’ll finish at 11 o’clock at night when I can get the last interview. That’s just how it goes.

Oscar Trimboli:

Coming back to the three and a half hour focus work that you do on the national broadcast, what are the techniques you use to stay in the moment when you’re actually interviewing the person in front of you or on the phone with all those distractions going on?

Tracey Holmes:

Do you know, my hardest thing is actually hopping out of it. I can concentrate for hours and I think, with every guest I talk to, I could get so much more out of them. The actual deep concentration comes beforehand. So, if I know, here are the six people I’m interviewing, one will be talking about the energy crisis, one will be talking about Rohingya Muslims fleeing Burma, one will be talking about whether the Socceroos coach is gonna be sacked. It’s such a variety and it’s so, sort of, all encompassing, and I know that, with each of them, I’ve got between four and seven minutes.

My concentration comes before I go on air and I like to get right across the topic, as deeply as I can in the short space of time I have to know what are the sticking points, what are the crucial areas, where could this go, what are the pros and cons? I try and dig as deeply as I can and that comes from listening to other interviews that they’ve done or looking at other people that are giving a different perspective, reading as much as possible and then I condense that down into the essence of the story. With my four to seven minutes with them, it’s like throwing darts and trying to hit a bullseye each time. You’ve just got to get straight to the point. Quite often, if you’re really well researched, you’re not going to be surprised by any of the answers and you can continue to control where the interview goes, knowing what the outcome is that you’re after.

Sometimes, people will say things completely differently or have a revelation midway through the interview, which just changes it, changes all the boundaries, and so you have to be right in that moment with them to be able to hear that, but also to judge from their senses if they’re nervous, if they’re angry, if they’re sad and try and work with that, try to make them feel as comfortable as they can so that they can express it as openly and honestly as they can.

Oscar Trimboli:

Talk us through a revelation.

Tracey Holmes:

I’ll tell you a story about Greg Norman. Greg Norman, who was the number one golfer for a decade, Australia’s greatest ever golfer, but depressingly, fell so short of winning the majors that he should’ve won. He won two British opens, I think by memory, but the U.S. Masters is the golf tournament to win. He fell short and there was one time, 1996, he was so far ahead going into the final round, it was his. The whole world, not just Australia, but everybody from any country that knew anything about golf really wanted Greg to win because he had struggled so often before and been beaten in a playoff and it was just so crucial. There was a lot riding on it and he just disintegrated on that final round. Everybody was watching and it was tragic.

Anyway, it was some years later, I was doing an interview with him and it was a half hour tell all interview and I said to him at one point, “Where do you go when you’re on your own? When you’re by yourself, when you got nothing to do?” He said, “My day starts at 5am. I’m very organised, I’m very committed, I’m writing to my business as well as my fitness and my golf. I go to bed about 11:30pm and my diary is worked out in five minute blocks, so I’m very intense.” I said, “Yes, but there are times when all of that stops and it all falls away and there’s just you.” And, again, he tried to say, “Well no, there’s never just me. I’m surrounded by people. I’ve got managers, I’ve got family, I’ve got sponsors, I’ve got teammates, I’ve got…”

“No, Greg, listen to me. When it’s you, in your head, what happens in your head?” He stopped, and he didn’t say anything and then he started crying. I thought, “Oh my gosh. This is when you’ve turned on a tap that hasn’t been turned on for a very long time.” And then his whole demeanour in the interview changed because it wasn’t about Greg Norman the professional anymore, and he is so professional. It was about how difficult it can be and it doesn’t always go the way you want. You don’t always get the reward for the effort that you’ve put in, but how do you keep going? How do you re-find that? How do you pick yourself up and try again and again and again?

It was quite interesting. He’d done a lot of reading and a lot of study, a lot of thought he’d given Zen Buddhism, which was quite intriguing, and that, obviously, gave him his strength and his moments when there might’ve been a whole lot of action happening around him, but he could retreat inside to that deep moment where you just want to connect with yourself.

Oscar Trimboli:

Was that an example of where you’d planned and you were deliberate, that’s where you were going to throw the dart?

Tracey Holmes:

Not really. There was so much to talk about, but in listening to him, you just got this sense that it was all this external stuff, and yet, I know what appeals to most people, especially when you work with a medium like… and that was for TV actually, but when you work in radio especially, you know that people do actually listen quite deeply and they want to be able to relate, so you need to find those little windows that open up so that the listener can hop inside the guest and vice versa. The guest opens themselves and says, “Yes, this is where I go when nobody knows.”

Oscar Trimboli:

For those of who aren’t able to watch Tracy in action, the intensity she talked about in her preparation was extraordinary. Her body tensed up in a way that gave me a sense of a great deal of focus. It also brought a great deal of energy and a great deal of determination.

Question I’d love to explore with you though, is the opposite. If you gave that all up, if you didn’t prepare for an interview, what do you think you’d discover that’s on the other side of intensity, determination and research? What do you think you’re missing out on by preparing to this extent?

Tracey Holmes:

I don’t think I’m missing out on anything. I like to bury into things. I want to explore. My childhood was spent… We left Australia when I was three. We’re on a boat, it was a great big ship, called the Galileo, and it took 17 days to get to South Africa. My mum and dad… My mom was, at that time, 21, my dad was 24, and they were surfers. This was in the era when surfing was exploding as a lifestyle, I suppose. They’d grown up in it and it was nothing new for them, but they’d heard there were good waves in South Africa.

So, we hopped on the Galileo. This was my first memory, I remember being on the boat and there are a whole lot of people down on the shore and we were looking over the edge and waving goodbye. Obviously, the family was all gathered there, my mum’s brothers and sisters and kids and extended family and my dad’s friends. I had these streamers that I was throwing over the boat. You meant to hold on to the end of the streamer. I let the streamer go

completely and, I think it was my dad that went, “Now, you’re not meant to do that, you’re meant to hold on to it.” I turned and looked at my mum and she was crying. I said, “Don’t worry Mum, there’s other streamers.” Obviously, she wasn’t crying about the streamers, she was crying cause she was waving goodbye and didn’t know when she was gonna see her family and friends next as we headed off on this big adventure.

I remember so clearly, thinking that, even at three, mum’s crying about something else, so I need to watch and listen and just be quiet and try and work out what’s happening here. So, that’s what I’ve always done. When people say, “how did you end up doing this job?” Well, I don’t think I actually ended up doing a job, I think I just kept doing what I’ve always done. When I’m not thinking about digging into something or trying to explore somebody or trying to find elements of them that they’ve never discussed before, I actually go into a meditation and I go to the back of my head. I close my eyes and retreat as far back and as deeply as I can go. It’s like there’s a little seat and I just sit there. It’s dark and the world still exists, but I’m just very quiet, in a very quiet place. That’s where I go when I’m not thinking about exploring.

Oscar Trimboli:

You’ve had the opportunity to work across many cultures in different parts of the world, in the most vibrant parts of the world, in fact. How did you listen differently when you were doing work in Asia?

Tracey Holmes:

I remember when we moved to Beijing… We lived in Hong Kong for four years and when we moved to Hong Kong, our youngest kid was six weeks old. The next one was four. The next one was seven, so they were quite young. We lived in a little fishing village and not many of the locals spoke English, so you had to listen. I remember trying to teach the kids, the words are not making sense yet, but they will, they’re just different sounds, but watch everything else. Watch how people move, watch their hand gestures, watch where they look because that might be telling you to look somewhere. You’ve got to listen in different ways. After four years there, we had the best experiences.

Then we moved to Beijing and it was a different version of Chinese. It was Mandarin as opposed to Cantonese, which sounds completely different again. So, we’re going through this whole process. We always chose to live, not with other experts. We chose to live immersed in a locality that would give us the experience of something that was very intense and real for that particular place. That was hard for the kids, but they embraced it as an adventure as we were doing. I remember when people would come to visit… I actually went off to University in Beijing, the Beijing Language and Culture University and did an intense Mandarin course, so at least I got a bit of a head start.

Our youngest son, three years old, he was still picking up his English vocabulary, we sent him to the local school, they start school at three, and he was learning to write characters. No one at his school spoke English, none of the teachers spoke English, so he was immersed in Chinese from 8am to 5pm. It was a long day. They used to have three meals there. They used to have their little afternoon nap there, it was like living at a boarding school, but that was just school for three year olds in mainland China. He’d come home and he’d be mixing up all these words, half of them be in English and then he’d have half of them in Mandarin and, what was interesting, was watching how somebody would pick the best word and… when you learn other languages, and I don’t speak other languages so don’t get me wrong, but I know bits and pieces of some, and some words in some languages just sound so much better. They fit the object it describes so much better than the word we have.

It was interesting watching a little kid’s mind juggle the words to fit it the best way he thought. That was quite fascinating, but then, in speaking with locals, I don’t mind being parachuted into a place where I don’t know anything. I don’t know anyone, I don’t know what they’re saying, I’m really happy with that. In fact, I love it because it’s a challenge to try and understand and to hear in different ways. I know when people are with me and they can’t understand what somebody is saying, I can’t either but I somehow know what they’re trying to say. People are always saying to me, “What do they mean? What are they saying?” And I can tell them. It’s really weird, it’s a really strange thing, but I think it’s just, through my work and through the intense focus you have to have over a sustained period of years and all of the experiences I’ve had, you learnt to read people’s faces and you read their body language and you read things that you can almost see what’s going through their mind. Generally speaking, I know what they’re saying without even understanding the language they’re speaking.

Sounds a bit weird, sounds a bit conceited, but it’s not. That’s just what’s happened cause, my whole life, I’ve been in those situations.

Oscar Trimboli:

It’s a really common thread with all the listeners we’ve interviewed, they all talk about their ability to listen with their eyes and that’s a really well-developed skill. They also talk about their ability to listen to the energy coming from the other person’s body, and they talk about the congruency between what’s coming out of their mouth and what their body and the eyes are showing. Equally, variation in language tones, you talked about the nerves or the voice might quiver a bit, so I was curious while you were talking about the fact that you can listen to people just by watching them, what are you hearing from me during this interview?

Tracey Holmes:

I’m hearing that you’re listening and, when somebody speaks, you not just watch them, but you imagine what they’re saying, don’t you? I can see you putting those pictures in your mind and I think that’s a really good skill of a listener, that you’re not just hearing words coming out of a mouth, but you’re hopping into their shoes. As they describe something, you’re imagining being in that place. The way you come up with good questions, like you’re doing, is that, by imagining you’re in that place, it’s foreign to you, it’s not what you’ve experienced, so questions jump into your mind, “Oh, well how would you deal with this?” Or “How did you cope with that?” Because you need to walk in that other person’s shoes to be able to know what it must’ve been that they were feeling or trying to explore those moments. I get that sense from you that you’re not just hearing what I’m saying, you’re seeing it and you’re feeling it and that’s how you question people.

Oscar Trimboli:

Coming up, what can the Chinese teach us about listening differently? We explore with Tracy how to read people’s faces, how to watch what they do with their body, even when you don’t speak their language. We explore the role of art and how it helps us to understand cultures differently and inform the way we can listen across a culture. Listen through the lens of the Sydney 2000 Olympics and how the world was listening to the event and yet, Australis had created a totally different story, one that they were listening to in a completely different way.

You’ve worked in other parts of Asia as well, how has that experience transformed you professionally? I think, for other people I’ve worked with who’ve worked in international markets, they bring in extraordinary perspective of empathy, they bring extraordinary perspective of history, they bring extraordinary perspective of understanding it on a slightly different level. When you come to your work now, what do you think Asia’s brought into the way you think about your questions when you’re working?

Tracey Holmes:

You really need to open your eyes and open your heart and open everything. Just be open. To be able to know what’s going on in other places and, I get so frustrated sometimes. Australia is such an island. We are so far removed from the rest of the world without even realising it and that’s of great benefit too. That’s why we’ve been a relatively safe place. We’re too far away for anyone to come and invade. What does it matter, in reality, when you look at the big economies or you look at the big humanity? You look at India, you look at China with a billion people each. We’re 24 million, we’re a small cityi in those places. That’s all we are.

But, of course, we’re Australia and we’re a big country, and we’re proud, that’s all fine, but you have to put it in perspective with these other places and what’s going on in other places.

Back in 2000, I was working for the Sydney Olympic committee. I was the spokesperson for the organisation, so I had to deal with both local media and the international media. It was so interesting, hearing the questions that the local media would ask and hearing the questions that the international media would ask, was two completely different planets and what they were seeing through the prism of the Olympics.

Oscar Trimboli:

How different were those questions…

Tracey Holmes:

Oh, we were saying, “Oh how much money we’re spending” and “how are we gonna win enough seats in the ballot. I wanna get my six tickets” “It’s a fraud, it’s not gonna work” “We’ve got more roads and power poles coming down.”

Oscar Trimboli:

And the international journalists?

Tracey Holmes:

And the international journalists were more about humanity and talking about the fact that, for the 200 countries that came here to compete, every single one of those nations had a community here in Australia. They could go somewhere on their day off from competing and sit and talk in their language and eat their food and compare their notes about the world here in Australia.

Oscar Trimboli:

Pausing and taking you back to that space at the back of your head where you’re sitting down and you’re just coming back to yourself, can you picture an interview where you’re preparing and you realise that the questions you’re asking are broader, are more inclusive, because you’ve had this global perspective? Does one or two of those interviews come to mind where you may have asked or taken different perspective in your preparation?

Tracey Holmes:

Look I think it plays out in different ways, in different interviews and in every interview because you can’t unlearn something. Once you’ve been open to that, then it’s always there and it always forms the basis of where you come from next. I know when I’m talking to people, I pull in different things that I’ve learned in different places. Also, it’s given me some understanding and when I’m talking to someone from a different place, who might not be feeling so comfortable, a way of making them relax a little more and feel at ease, because I know where they come from.

I remember when I first started learning Cantonese and my teacher said to me, “Imagine a Chinese painting.” Chinese paintings quite famous, they’re quite large, you might have a great big cliff and you’ve got a waterfall and there’s a little fishing boat down the bottom. There’s all these little, tiny intricacies and you’ve got some Chinese characters down the side, which is generally, a famous saying or a poem or something describing, but there’s also a lot of space. She said, “This is how Chinese think and this is how the Chinese language developed. There’s a big space, there’s lots of little elements and the artists paints what he paints and those are the words that describe it, but there’s all this space in the middle for you to imagine what you would bring to that space.”

I thought, “That is really different compared to our artwork where we fill up the entire page with everything.” The other aspect to that is that, when they speak, the biggest thing comes at the start and it filters down to the smallest thing. When we speak, it’s almost the opposite. How often we start a sentence with, “I went…”, “I am…”, “I was…”, “I this, I that, I, I, I,”, “I’m the most importunate thing in my world and this is how I colour it.” Our artwork looks a bit like that, we fill it up, but theirs is completely different and so, a normal sentence for them, might be, “Russia, next week, I’m going. The “I” ends up falling off the sentence. In some sentences, you don’t even need to put the “I”. You’re just saying, “Russia next week, that’s where we’re off to” because that’s the big thing and then you imagine yourself in it.

It’s really important to understand how language is used because we think in words, we think in a language and that’s what draws our pictures for us, that’s what exposes our imagination to things. If people are coming from a different language group, they think differently about the same things.

We might look at this table as a fantastic book called The Geography of Thought, and it talks about the difference between East and West. They did this experiment where they had a big fish tank and they brought in Asians to look at the fish tank and they brought in Europeans to look at the fish tank, and go away and they’d write down what they saw. The Europeans, predominantly, and we can’t stereotype them, there were some exceptions of course, but predominantly, the Europeans said, “Oh it was about four feet long and two feet wide and there were two big orange fish and some big green seaweed.” The Asians would say, “There was, in the left back corner, there was a little tiny chest like a treasure chest. There were little bubbles that were coming up in the front right hand corner.” They remembered all the little intricacies because they were drawing the complete picture, where we were just looking for what stands out most. What can I take away from this? There’s my artwork.

We’re different, the world is different when you speak a different language. You’re thinking about the same thing differently and it’s really lovely to be able to try and understand where everybody’s coming from. In the end, it’s one world, isn’t it? It’s one world, it’s one place, but we all interpret it completely differently and that’s a good thing.

Oscar Trimboli:

Yeah, there’s a beautiful African word, Ubuntu, which means we’re all connected and it’s a common phrase for years in the podcast.

Have you ever wondered what ancient cultures can teach us about listening? Coming up, Clinton Pryor listens to remote and regional communities. He explores the power of silence in listening as he steps across a continent, he walks himself 6,000 km from one side of the continent to the other. More importantly, spending that time listening to others.

You’ve been informed by Asia, but you’ve also had the opportunity to be heavily influenced by our first nation’s people in Australia, what do you think they bring to you as a gift in your role as an interviewer?

Tracey Holmes:

They gave me my husband and my children. They’ve given me a lot. So, I’m eternally grateful for that and every single day, I’m learning. It’s quite fascinating and, we’re talking about language, there’s so many different indigenous languages spoken around Australia. The ones that haven’t been lost, the ones that weren’t killed off by white settlement when they were told that they weren’t allowed to use their language anymore. My husband’s grandfather was chained to a tree for three days because the police heard him speaking his own language to his children. They were in the park, he called them and said, “It’s time to go home.” But because he used his language, and it had been outlawed in New South Wales, they chained him to a tree and left him there for three days.

That kills a person. Can you imagine being told, now, you can’t speak your language anymore? You have to speak this foreign language, which doesn’t think the same way that we think. It doesn’t give you the same descriptions that you’re familiar with. Anyway, that’s a separate story.

What else they’ve given me is, you know you talk about listening, they are really good listeners. They use space between words really well. We feel intimidated by space. I even know, this is interesting too, when we’re editing interviews, and I tell young ones that coming through, young producers, they have this temptation where they listen back to an interview and they edit out all the spaces between the question and the answer. I remember, just recently, I called one of them aside and I said, “Listen, when you listen back to this interview, and you ask a question and there’s a big pause, why do you think there’s a pause before that person answers?” “Oh, well they were nervous,” or “they didn’t know how,” or “they were confused,” or “they felt confronted…” I said, “Exactly. So, if you edit that space out, you’re taking all of that away. The listener has to be able to know that because the answer that comes is on the back of that confusion or dilemma or period of stark silence, which means, clearly, they’re thinking about something very deeply.” “Oh.”

They got that. Indigenous people use that brilliantly. Even this week, we’ve seen news with Clinton Pryor, who’s a young indigenous man who’s walked from Perth to Canberra, to meet with Malcolm Turnbull, the Prime Minister and the Governor General. He decided he’d do that because the previous Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, said, “We need to close down remote communities.”

So, he decided he would walk from one side of the country to the other and stop at a variety of communities and ask them what message they’d like to give the Prime Minister, why it was important to keep remote communities or was it not? Whatever their perspectives were, he gathered these stories. He’s just this young guy with such a great vision. He walked 6,000 km. He got to Canberra on the weekend. On Monday or Tuesday, Bill Shorten went to meet him. The Governor General went to meet him. On Wednesday, the Prime Minister said, “Well he can come and meet me, but he can walk with his elders around the back of Parliament House, come through security and meet me in my private courtyard.”

He just said, “Hang on a second. I’ve walked 6,000 miles to see you and you can’t walk out the front door of Parliament House to see me? Okay, as you wish.” He walked around the back, through security, met Malcolm Turnball and he had this collection of stories. He was reading out what indigenous people would like. While he was doing that, Malcolm Turnball kept talking over the top of him, not really wanting to hear what he had to say and wanting to control the story and not let this man deliver his story from his people that he collected right across the continent.

So, Clinton Pryor stopped talking, turned and walked away. I think in his silence, he said everything that needed to be said.

Oscar Trimboli:

Great story about the power of silence and just be comfortable with it. What advice would you give politicians to listen better?

Oscar Trimboli:

That’s it. You’ve just given it to them. Just listen. You don’t always have to have an answer. When, and I know you’ve spoke with people who have to deal with palliative care, people who are dying. The important thing is not to give them an answer or tell them what’s gonna happen next or try to make them feel better or say, “It’ll be alright.” Cause it’s not going to be alright. People are dying. They just want you to listen and have a sense that somebody’s next to me that is trying to understand. Somebody is with me because they’re just with me, not because they’re going to lecture me. If the politicians listened, I think their jobs would be a whole lot easier. But I also understand that, they too, get caught up in this 24/7 relentless Twitter, Facebook… and I’m obsessed too, I love Twitter, absolutely love Twitter.

Oscar Trimboli:

So, are you admitting to, maybe, being a contributing factor to all this?

Tracey Holmes:

Oh, well no, I hope I’m not contributing in that sense. I certainly don’t react to every negative response that comes through because 24/7 I’d be busy doing that, but sometimes, like we were saying, the pauses say so much more. I think Australian politicians actually need to stop responding to the media, which is me, and actually deal with the country again. Even the media has got a lot to answer for because the reporting… there are some really great work, but predominantly, it’s trash. It doesn’t deal with the big issues. If I have to listen to another interview where, all they’re trying to get is a 30 second promo grab or a headline, I’m not interested in headlines. Headlines are here today, gone tomorrow. Politicians shouldn’t care about the headlines, here today, gone tomorrow. Let’s talk about the substance.

I think that’s the issue. People want their country to grow and get better and complicated issues… The whole refugee situation is a complicated issue, it’s not black and white. Be prepared to try and take the country on a journey with you. Explain it in its fullness and let’s relate it to everything else that it relates to. We can’t go and have dinner at the corner Chinese restaurant if we never let Chinese people in. That doesn’t happen. Do we want to go back to that?

Instead of having this discussion at the extremes, there’s a whole lot of discussion in the middle, which, I think, people are more than willing to listen to. Of course, you’re always going to have people that refuse to see the other side. That’s fine, that’s a democracy and that’s freedom of speech. But when all we do is react to the extremes, and when, most of what we do in the media is report the extremes, then we’re not actually getting a true picture of what is going on. We’re not actually helping get anywhere or improve anything for anybody.

To be brutally honest, I’m not a fan of any politician. I’m not a fan of anyone or anything, to be honest, because I just think we’re all the same and we can all contribute to making the place better. I’m always very conscious of describing people as role models because, I think, you put too much on them. I think you can actually look at everybody and learn something from them. Everybody can teach us something. I walk around with a little tiny microphone that I carry in my bag, it’s always there. If I see somebody who looks pretty interesting, or looks like they’ve got a bit of a different story to tell, I’ll ask them if I can record an interview with them on my phone. I’ve put them up on Facebook. It’s just my thing, it’s not for radio or whatever.

I remember sitting down with a guy I used to talk to often, walking through the streets of Glebe and he was often there, begging. One day, I said to him, “Can I sit down and do an interview with you?” He said, “What for?” I said, “Because you’re really interesting. I stop and talk to you every second day when I see you.” So, he said, “Yeah, okay.” I said, “I’ll put it on Facebook if you don’t mind.” He goes, “I don’t know anything about Facebook.” I said, “No, that’s fine.”

So, we sat down and had a chat. People loved that interview because this guy is not just a homeless person, sitting on the street with nothing, asking for money, he had a story. How he ended up there, why he chose to stay there, what he saw were the big problems in Australia, problems he’d encountered, what he worried about. He worried about the same things we worried about. You worry about whether your kids are gonna be okay. You want them to have jobs and shelter and safety. All the same things. And so suddenly, people could see that this was not just a guy that you walk past and try and ignore. This was you and me in different circumstances. I think, in that respect, you can look at everybody and you can learn something from them, you can take something away that helps to make you better and helps to make you want to contribute to make the overall picture better.

But as far as things that I go back to again and again, I do go back to Buddhist teachings a lot because I just find them very inclusive, but not in any kind of condescending way. They don’t lecture. They do a lot of listening, they do a lot of watching and a lot of meditating, just thinking about anything. Pick a word. They do a lot of meditating about death because, how can you work with somebody that is dying or look after somebody the best way without truly understanding what it is they’re going through? If I’m gonna do a half hour interview with somebody because it’s a half hour interview, just let it go.

I really prepare… I know where I’m going to go. I want to go on a journey, but I want to take them places where they haven’t been and where the audience hasn’t been before, so I think about all these deviations, but I also think about how to bring it back. You’ve got to get to a logical finish. I work through conversations in my head with these people before I sit with them, which is why it’s important to look back at interviews they’ve done before, or read books. The stuff I do a lot is actually try and gather perspectives from other people that they’ve given about this person, because that really helps too. Not everyone sees them this way, these people see them a different way so let’s explore that a bit. Then, I know where I’m going and I’ll reduce that to four key questions I really want to ask. Then I’ve got room to ask questions that go in different directions, depending where the conversation goes.

Oscar Trimboli:

Perfect place to finish. Thank you, Tracey.

Tracey Holmes:

Been a pleasure. Thank you.

Oscar Trimboli:

There are many lessons I take away from Tracy’s interview. The role of preparation is right at the centre. The image of Tracy sitting back at the back of her mind in a quiet place, in a dark place, where she can remove all the emotion from herself as the person conducting the interview, so she can access the emotion in others. Interviewing Tracy face to face, it was clear that she’s intensely passionate about the connection across all of humanity. She reminded me that when she was teaching young reporters across Asia, you can ask any question, yet it’s how you ask it, that’s the most powerful.

How are you asking questions? Do people notice what you’re saying, or do they notice how you’re saying it?

Thanks for listening.

Oscar Trimboli:

Deep listening, Impact beyond words.

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