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Podcast Episode 093: The power of listening and how it forever changed the life of Heather Morris

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Heather Morris is most well known for being the author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, which has sold over 8 million copies since its first publication in 2018. The story, is a story of beauty and hope and it’s based on years of interviews by Heather Morris and the interviews she conducted with real-life Holocaust survivors and Lale, the tattooist of Auschwitz.

The Three Sisters is the next book in the series, an astonishing story about a promise to stay together, an unbreakable bond, and a fierce will to survive.

” People have been telling stories long before they’ve been writing them down. That storytelling is literally what makes the world go round, it is what connects us, not only with our friends and family, but with the past, and also with the future. I’m all about storytelling and to be able to tell your stories, you’ve got to listen to them in the first place. The two are intrinsically entwined.”.

The irony for me is that to help everyone become better listeners, I had to become better at telling stories. For many of us sharing our own stories is as uncomfortable as listening to someone else’s story. So, what am I taking away from Heather’s conversation today? I need to tell more stories. I need to be comfortable telling stories about myself, about my family, about others.

Transcript

Podcast Episode 093 – How to effectively listen to someone who is suicidal

Oscar Trimboli:      

Deep Listening: Impact Beyond Words. G’day, I’m Oscar Trimboli and this is the apple award-winning podcast, Deep Listening. Designed to move you from a distracted listener to a deep and impactful leader. Did you know you spend 55% of your day listening, yet only 2% of people have ever been taught how? In each episode, we explore the five levels of listening.

Oscar Trimboli:  

Communication is 50% speaking and 50% listening. Yet as a leader, you’re taught only the importance of communication from the perspective of how to speak. It’s critical you start to build some muscles for the next phase in how to listen. The cost of not listening, it’s confusion, it’s conflict, it’s projects running over schedule. It’s lost customers, it’s great employees that leave before they want to.

Oscar Trimboli: 

When you implement the strategies, the tips and tactics that you’ll hear, you’ll get four hours a week back in your schedule. I wonder what you could do with an extra four hours a week. The power of listening and how it changed Heather’s life forever. Heather Morris is most well known for being the author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, which has sold over 8 million copies since first publication in 2018.

Oscar Trimboli: 

Subsequently, she’s written Cilka Story, Stories of Hope and Three Sisters. Thanks to my nephew, Andy, who gifted me a copy of the Stories of Hope, Andy said to me, “You have to read this book, Oscar, it’s all about listening. I know you’ll love it.” No story about Heather is complete without understanding how she listened to the story of a Lale Sokolov, the tattooist of Auschwitz.

Oscar Trimboli:  

Lale, he was a well-dressed, charming, ladies’ man. He was also a Jew. On the first transport from Slovakia to Auschwitz in 1942l, Lale immediately stands out from his fellow prisoners. In the camp, he’s looked up to, he’s looked out for, and he’s put to work in the privileged position of the tattooist. His job, to mark his fellow prisoners forever. One of those he has to tattoo is a young woman.

Oscar Trimboli:   

Her name is Gita, and she steals Lale’s heart with the very first glance. His life then has a new purpose and Lale does his best through struggle and suffering to use his position as the tattooist for good. The story is a story of beauty and hope and it’s based on years of interviews by Heather Morris and the interviews she conducted with real life Holocaust survivors and Lale, the tattooist of Auschwitz.

Oscar Trimboli: 

The book, it’s heart wrenching, it’s illuminating, and it’s definitely unforgettable. Heather’s greatest talent is as a listener. This talent allowed Lale to trust Heather with his life story, which goes on to become a global bestseller. The book Stories of Hope, Heather details how she learned how to listen and how listening changed her life forever.

Oscar Trimboli:  

Heather explores topics including how to listen to elders, listening to Lale, how to listen, listening to our children, listening to ourselves, listening to history and the cost of listening. After reading the book, I sent an email to Emily, Heather’s publicist. The subject, request for an interview with Heather Morris. And then I wrote good day, Emily, my name’s Oscar Trimboli.

Oscar Trimboli:        

I host the podcast Deep Listening. I would like to interview Heather on the importance of listening as an author and specifically how this is showcased in her book, the Stories of Hope. Let’s listen to what happens next. Heather, I often speculate that the best listening cultures are the best story telling cultures. I’m curious on your perspective.

Heather Morris:   

People have been telling stories long before they’ve been writing them down. That storytelling is literally what makes the world go round, it is what connects us, not only with our friends and family, but with the past, and also with the future. I’m all about storytelling and to be able to tell your stories, you’ve got to listen to them in the first place. The two are intrinsically entwined.

Oscar Trimboli:  

In the process of being witness to the stories you’ve written, there’s a point of where you’re listening as a screenwriter first, and eventually you had to put them into a book. I’m curious if you listened differently when you were listening as a screenwriter versus when you were listening as an author.

Heather Morris: 

Look, I think I did. And the whole time I was listening to Lale, I was visualising his story. I was not seeing the prose and I wasn’t seeing the narrative playing out in written words. Because learning about screenwriting, you should learn to just tell the stories in a succinct manner. You want it to go with the show, don’t tell. And you know that a director, a producer, and actors are going to come along and add their two bob’s worth.

Heather Morris: 

And so, in some ways you’re just listening to get that visual. When it came to writing Lale’s story as a novel, I maintain, I had him on my shoulder the whole time telling me, “Not like that. Like that. That’s what I said, not that.” So, that was a fascinating process. And I recall it so vividly.

Heather Morris:  

I was up on a mountain in California in the middle of winter for a month, just me and my computer and two squirrels who I spoke to daily. I could listen to him from a thousand miles away in California and him having been dead for over 10 years. I could still hear him.

Oscar Trimboli:      

Even when you’re writing the novel, Heather, you’re still visualising, you’re visualising him on your shoulder. It’s not like he was inside your mind. Is this another way that screenplay writing and visualising is different from the process of writing when it comes to putting it into a book?

Heather Morris:      

Yes. Writing his screenplay, he read the screenplay many, many times. He was alive when I had drafted that going and he would often ask me, “Well, what about? And why isn’t this in there?” And I’d say, “All of that will just get pushed in by default.” I was able to brush him off that way. But when he’s there on your shoulder and he’s telling you how write it, and I’m not crazy folks, but yes, there were many times I would turn around and go, “It’s okay. I got it.”

Oscar Trimboli:   

Most people were surprised, Heather, when I explained to them that taking notes detracts from the process of listening. And when you were listening, the way you’d listened to Lale, you were completely present. You were there as a witness to his story despite how many of those terrible coffees you drank and the beautiful biscuits you had with him.

Oscar Trimboli:   

Talk us through the process of what you did in not taking any notes, yet listening completely. And then you’d get the sense you probably had to rush back somewhere and figure out how to capture it. I think there’s a lot of struggle with people in our audience when it comes to note taking and they don’t realise they can probably retain a lot more than they think.

Heather Morris:    

You hear what’s being said. And not only do you hear what’s being said, you can interpret the body language and the way it’s being said. And with Lale, he was all about the emotion of telling his story. His head would be down. He would be weeping at times. He would be looking around, getting agitated. And I needed to be able to tap into that. And the only way you can do that is by actually observing him totally.

Heather Morris:  

He never had an issue with the fact that I was literally sitting two feet away from him pretty much staring at him. When I think about it, it should have put him off, but it didn’t. And how he would then also use one of his dogs as a method of being so soothed. But by my seeing that and being in the moment with him, I heard everything he said, and I saw everything he was saying.

Heather Morris:

And yes, I would race home and there were two things I would write down when I got home, what he said and try and capture whatever vignettes he’d been telling me. He never finished one. He always had to go back to it. He was 87, 88, 89 years of age. But I also would write down my mood and my perception of his mood when he was telling me so that later on, I could marry those two things together.

Heather Morris: 

Because hearing the kind of stories I heard from him, you can imagine it was incredibly emotional for me. And I had to be aware of that process, which can happen under such circumstances of his pain and his trauma and guilt transferring from him. You know where else I learned through this whole notion about note taking?

Heather Morris:

I was initially a secretary and I learned how to do shorthand and typing. And as a mature age student, I decided to go to university with three children, the youngest a preschooler. And because I knew how to do shorthand, I would go into lectures and I would just sit there and I would write down verbatim what was being said.

Heather Morris: 

And then when I would try and write it up when I got home, I saw all the words but I had lost the context and I’d lost their meaning. And so, I knew from that experience also that not the way to do it, and initially having to write down the words for your boss who’s a lawyer and he wants you to totally tell him verbatim, don’t do that.

Oscar Trimboli: 

I want to zoom you in into Lale’s apartment, the meticulous way he dressed and how wonderfully well he kept the apartment. One of the things you talked about was your technique when you’re completely present. You’re not taking any notes, there isn’t anything to distract you. But you went into places with Lale that were really, really emotional.

Oscar Trimboli:    

And I’m speculating that maybe sometimes you got into places that weren’t productive in terms of you capturing his story. Talk us through the techniques you used to help reset Lale back into the world so you can move out of that really, really deeply intense listening and somehow reset your listening batteries and resetting the way he was speaking as well. Talk us through that.

Heather Morris:    

I would see in him where it was becoming all too emotional. He had certain tells that I could see. He would be licking his lips and he’d be shaking his head and he would start mumbling. The dogs would suddenly be frantically being sought after for comfort. And I would know it was time to bring him back to time and place. That man, at times, he was not sitting in his apartment with me.

Heather Morris:    

He was back in 1942, 43, 44. He was there, his eyes glazed over. And I had spoken to a friend who was a psychiatrist worried about, was it doing him any harm? He pointed out to me that he would never tell me anything he did not want me to know. Now, I firmly believe there are many things that Lale took to his grave that he did not share with me because they were too painful.

Heather Morris:

And that’s fine. He gets to keep those to himself. But yes, needing to bring him out of that, there were two things which I knew could get him out quite quickly. One was sport. It was winter, we could talk about the AFL. He loved football or soccer as we would call it, being Eastern European. Every other sport coming to, from Wimbledon to athletics. I could bring up sport and I’d go, “Your team’s not doing too well this week.”

Heather Morris:  

And he would shake his head and he’d look up and he’d grin, “Ah, but we’re going to beat you.” So, we would get into sport. The other thing is actually my daughter. He met my daughter when she was 18. And as he pointed out to me, the same age Gita was when he met her and it became quite enamoured with her. And I don’t think he thought I was a very good parent because he used to always ask about her.

Heather Morris:

And when I’d say, “She’s giving me a hard time because a lot of 18-year-olds do.” He would tell me how to parent. He said he would always love to have had a daughter and he wanted to be part of her life. And he was. It was lovely for three years. I had those two outs for him. And once I did bring him out, for that session, we never went back in.

Heather Morris:  

I never, ever left him without knowing that he was back in time and place and in a good spot. He always responded to the gentle touch on his arm. We more often than not sat actually at his dining table. He would sit on my right and he often would be slouching on the table. He always responded to just the touch of the arm and a stroke on the arm.

Heather Morris:

The other thing to do would be to get him up and to suggest, particularly if the dogs are there, “How about we take Tutsi and Bam-Bam for a walk. Come on. It’s a nice day, let’s get out.” And that also would be … the dogs were brilliant.

Heather Morris:     

Like I look at both those dogs so much, they were fabulous out for us to then get up and move out and get out of the air and walk down the street with each other and have people on the other side of the road see him and call out, “Hey, [inaudible].” That’s how he was referred to in his neighbourhood.

Heather Morris: 

It was a matter of being totally respectful of his age, being aware that history and memory will not always walk side by side. That they will part. And when they do, well, who are you going to believe? And that became one of my dilemmas in telling his story, by the way. And all the research in the world about the Holocaust, you are never going to get the whole story because so much has been destroyed.

Heather Morris:

But when it came down to those two elements, history and memory, I woke up one morning and I’d been struggling with it. And I went, “Sod it. I’m telling not that story of the Holocaust, but a Holocaust story. One man’s story.” And that thing frees you up to listen intently to his memory. I was actually really, really helped when I found out only about 18 months ago, that there is no word in Hebrew for history.

Heather Morris: 

Now, as far as the Hebrew language is concerned, all stories must come from the memories of those who have lived them. So, those memories and hearing them and listening to them, it’s what we can do to help anybody that’s got a story they want to tell.

Oscar Trimboli:  

Listeners tell me that the practise of improving your listening and allowing the other person to fully express their story is difficult. Yet, they say silence is something that can be liberating for them to tell their story and done poorly, feels like judgement . And done well, it’s so liberating. It’s so powerful. How did you utilise silence during the conversation? How did you use the pause to help Lale explore his memory?

Heather Morris:   

It’s essential to recognise when he did go silent, and other people that I’ve spoken to. You’ve got to realise I practised this for 20 years in a hospital as well. That if you just leave it, don’t feel uncomfortable, don’t start jigging around and looking like you’re uncomfortable. If you don’t look uncomfortable, there’s a good chance the person who had been talking will also relax.

Heather Morris:   

You may, or you may not get something out of them. You’ll workout when it’s now time for you to say something, as long as whatever you say is not a comeback. That happened to me. I know what you’re talking about. You don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s that learning how to keep your mouth shut from judging and from having a comparative story you feel the need to tell.

Heather Morris:  

I have no qualifications, as I say in my book, as any kind of counsellor or a psychologist for telling anyone how to do this. I just know what works for me and what has been observed by others working for me.

Oscar Trimboli:

Heather, in your book, Stories of Hope, you talk about the cost of listening. We often talk about the cost of not listening. How did you reset once you stepped out of Lale’s apartment? How did you process what was going on and how did you listen to yourself?

Heather Morris: 

We talked about not taking notes. Can I say that for me also recording would be seen as a distraction too. If you’ve got a device of any sort sitting between you, there’s a something, there’s a gap between you if you do that. I’m now listening to the story of a 95, a 97-year-old in Israel. I was lucky to get into Israel a couple of times and spend time with him. It’s now being done over WhatsApp video.

Heather Morris:  

But in terms of looking after yourself and the cost that can come with it, it actually can take a toll on you. I should have known better, but it did affect me. When I worked out why it affected me and I hadn’t been able to put into practise what it was that I did in my work five days a week, nine to five, working in an acute hospital, you’re dealing with people and the immediacy of their tragedy and trauma.

Heather Morris:

That is quite different to listening to somebody who was relating historic tragedy and trauma and grief. Yes, you get to be able to pass off the other one quite quickly. You can deal with that and move on. But [inaudible] Lale get to me. There was a lot of horrific stuff that he told me. A lot of it is not even in the book. That he found the comfort to be able to tell me this is incredibly humbling.

Heather Morris:      

I’ll be forever honoured that he did do this. But for me, I had to leave his company. That was really difficult initially, to just do that. He had this thing where he was on the first floor in an apartment building and his balcony overlooked the road. And I always parked right outside. I could, close to his apartment. And he’d walk me to the door, he and the doggies, and he’d kiss me goodbye and then he’d cheekily say to me, “I will now see you to your car.”

Heather Morris: 

Now, that did not mean walking down the steps and literally seeing me to my car. He would race out to the balcony and lean over it to wave me goodbye and then yell out, “See, I see you to your car.” For me, it was then a matter of driving no more than a minute to the nearest side street, a quiet street, pulling into that quiet street, turning off the engine of my car and just sitting thinking about what he’d been saying, thinking about how I left him giggling over the balcony.

Heather Morris:    

And that was really comforting to me to know that I’d left him in this great space. And then that this is not your pain. This is not your trauma. You do not get to own it. No part of it. To me, I called it centering and it would take no more than 10 minutes that I’d find myself smiling and feeling now in a much better place about having this incredible man in my life.

Heather Morris:   

And I could then go home and be the wife and/or mother. Every now and then I’d just say before I go home and I would have a tape, there’s a couple of particularly very emotional pieces that I’d listen to. And while they can take me down, they then lift me up. The piece of music written by composer called Gorecki, it’s called Songs of the Sorrowful.

Heather Morris:

Incredibly powerful piece of music that was written by this Polish composer after the Holocaust and beautifully performed by a Polish soprano. And I listened to that and it can take me further down, funnily enough, because of the nature of why it was written. But then, my gosh, it can lift me up so quickly and so beautifully. So, definitely music.

Oscar Trimboli:  

One of the things you were disciplined about as soon as you got home was filling in a table, a spreadsheet. You were capturing all kinds of information about what you just experienced, what you’d heard, where the patterns were, the moods. Talk us through what the big headings were in the information you were capturing.

Heather Morris: 

It would start off with the date and time too, because time was important. In the evenings, he would be tired if he hadn’t had a nap. I would say to him, “Have you had a nap today?” And if he hadn’t, then I needed to keep it brief. So, that was always an important factor. Now, he still wanted to see me as much as he could. And working full time, twice a week, I had to go there after work.

Heather Morris:

That was always the time and date were important because then the next thing was, what was my emotion going in? If I had a tough day at work, of course I was going in in a different headspace as well, which I’d have to shake off. And then I would always put down, what did Lale talk about? And there’d just be bullet points, three or four things. It could be about the gipsies. It could be about Schwartz Huber.

Heather Morris: 

It could be about meeting Cilka. It could be about Gita again and again and again. Because every time we talked about Gita. And then I would put his mood when he began and his mood when I left him and just a few statements about how I perceived that. This is, I wasn’t interviewing him.

Heather Morris:    

I never considered I interviewed him. You know, I never really went back and looked at them for several years. In fact, even after the book was written, I re-found them, “Well, I did that.”

Oscar Trimboli: 

Heather, I want to change gears. Let’s thank Lale. I want to talk about your day job, your day job in a hospital. It was about listening to trauma. It was about listening to tragedy. It was about helping parents deal with the grief of an unborn or a stillborn child.

Oscar Trimboli:

And then once a month, on a Wednesday, there was a funeral where these parents came together. They came together to tell their stories. I can never forget the story of the father with two marbles.

Heather Morris:  

Part of my role was to administer what was called the perinatal bereavement programme. And that perinatal means the loss of a newborn baby, either through stillbirths or moments after. And for the hospital [inaudible] once a month, we ran this funeral service. I know next Wednesday, even after three years, 10 o’clock, wherever I am in the world, I pause because I know what’s going on back where I worked for 20 years.

Heather Morris:

And part of the role involves the parents who lost these babies giving to me and handing to me anything that they may want to put into the coffins with their baby. And over the years, some amazing things were given to me. Often photos. Sometimes the parents would go and just walk through their garden and pick up leaves and branches, football that I needed to deflate to be able to get to fit at all.

Heather Morris:  

Anything that meant something to them. It’s an important part of the grief for these parents. But this one particular day, this dad, the two of them came in and the mom had given me some clothes that she had for the baby and the baby was very puny and so, they weren’t even going to fit, but that never mattered. You took them and you put them with the baby still.

Heather Morris:  

And it was generally the mother who would be handing them over and taking them back and handing them over. It was a process of incredible emotional grief for all of us. And this particular dad this day, and I could hear this clicking going on the whole time his wife was talking to me, but I blocked it out.

Heather Morris:  

And when she finished, she collapsed on his shoulder and I turned to walk away and then he turned back and he came up to me and he pulled his hand out of his pocket and he had two marbles like these marbles. Yeah. I can’t see marbles without thinking about him.

Heather Morris: 

And he told me these were the two marbles, the first two marbles his father had ever given to him and how he’d played with them often as a boy and he had hoped to be able to play with them with his son, these same marbles. He told me that he had never gambled with them, he never risked releasing them. That’s how precious they were to him. And he asked me to take one and to put it with his son.

Heather Morris:   

It was a blue one and it was a yellow one. I took the blue one. I took it blindly, I think at that point I had tears in my eyes too. And I was never afraid for that. It seemed to be part of it. And I took it and it got placed in the coffin with his son. And it was about 18 months, maybe a bit less than that later that I looked up one day and the same man, he literally was running into my office and he had in his hand his mobile phone.

Heather Morris:  

Now, his baby girl had been born only a couple of hours earlier. And other than the parents, the grandparents of his children, he came down to show me the picture of his newborn daughter. And then he pulled out of his pocket the yellow marble. He said, “I’ve still got it.” I listened to him tell the story of why he had the marbles and what he wanted done with it.

Heather Morris:

And clearly, I listened enough for him to make a difference to him that he felt he wanted to come back and share this other news with me. And that’s the reward, Oscar, that you get from not only listening, but making it aware to the person you’re listening to that they have been heard.

Oscar Trimboli:   

Thanks for sharing that story of joy and sorrow. Right now, I’m sure there’s people who are going around with their head buried so far into their phone they don’t even notice when people want to tell you stories. Heather, what do you think the cost of not listening is?

Heather Morris:

You don’t realise it, I suppose. And retrospectively, something comes up to bring it up again, but you miss out. You miss out on, they can be small things and they can be big things. The ABC National Radio, Virginia Trioli, I was doing an interview with her about a year or so ago.

Heather Morris: 

And she was, and this the whole fact of I’d got Lale’s story because I’ve listened to it and because a friend of mine had just simply said to me while having a cup of coffee one day, “I’ve got a friend with a story to tell. You want to hear it?” And I said yes. And Virginia said to me, “I can’t tell you how many times in my life people have said to me, I’ve got a story and I cut them off.”

Heather Morris:  

And she said, “What have I missed out on?” I said, “Yeah, you’ll never know, but possibly something that could have been life-changing. Something which just could have touched you in such a way that you would never forget it.” The cost of not listening, you’ll never really appreciate it or understand it. I think when it comes to your children, they’re the ones that you find that the cost plays out as they get older.

Heather Morris: 

That if you haven’t listened to them when they are little, when they’re telling you small things and you think they’re small things, you do not realise that to them there’re big things, the cost is that when they then get to particularly those teen years when you want them to be telling you what they’re up to, why should they? And they may not.

Oscar Trimboli:   

And yet for you with your adult daughter, there was a moment when the family wasn’t listening to her and to her struggles.

Heather Morris: 

Yeah. But see the difference there was that it wasn’t listening to her verbals, we were not reading her body language. We were not seeing all those nonverbal signals that she was throwing at us. But by us, I mean her husband and I being the closest to her. And missing the fact that this new young mum was struggling to the point of actually having postnatal depression.

Heather Morris:

And no help in the world from us baking cakes and dinners and bathing the other kids and doing these things was ever going to change that for her if we didn’t recognise how far she had gone down. And to hear her scream at us and say the words, “You are not listening to me.” And her husband and I, we looked at each other and we went, “But she hasn’t said anything now.”

Heather Morris: 

That’s what he said to me. But you haven’t said anything. And I went, “Oh my God, you have. Your body language has been screaming at us, help me. Look at me. Something’s wrong.” Yeah, we missed those cues and time and place. But thankfully, we got to get through it. But that’s why I say, it’s just not all about listening to the verbals.

Oscar Trimboli: 

Heather, in the book Stories of Hope, you open up with listening to the wisdom of elders. I love this quote you’ve got in the book. It says, listen to your elders’ advice. Not because they’re always right, but because they have more experiences of being wrong.

Oscar Trimboli:  

You talked about your great grandfather listening to you back on the farm in New Zealand where the two of you would sit down and have a chat. If I was there watching the conversation, what would we be noticing about your great grandfather’s listening?

Heather Morris:

You would know that he was a man who had lived a really, really rich life on a small scale, and you see it in rural life. However, for him, I suspect he had not been listened to very much. And knowing particularly the women in my family, and I’m talking about from his own wife to his daughters, he had three daughters, to his granddaughters, which is my mother and her sisters, down to me, that generation down, and I had never observed anyone listening in my family.

Heather Morris: 

No one that would know that was going on. When I found this pitiful old man, I would have been about 10 or 11 when I started … well, he was in my life the whole time, that he started saying to me, “Girly, come and sit with me.” And then gave me permission to not only listen to him, but have him listen to me, it was life-changing for me.

Heather Morris:   

I became aware that it’s beautiful that my brothers, and I’ve got four brothers who having read Stories of Hope, “We were always jealous of your relationship with gramps. He never did the same with us.” He did not connect with them at anywhere near the same level. And it made me realise that you actually only need one person in your life. One is enough.

Heather Morris:

Okay if you’ve got more. That’s great. But if you can’t find that one person in your life who will validate what you say as being important, whether it is or it is not, who will not only engage with you so that you want to listen to them, but that they want to listen to you in return.

Oscar Trimboli:  

A quick pause. Good day, I’m talking to you rather than talking to Heather. When I create the podcast, there’s only really three questions. What’s the cost of not listening? What frustrates you when other people don’t listen to you? What gets in your way when it comes to your listening? Rarely do I get past the first question. And I have my level four question. It’s not for me.

Oscar Trimboli: 

It kind of is, but it’s really for you. I often get so lost listening to these amazing stories that I struggle with the tension between listening to the person I’m interviewing and listening for you. Here’s the question I ask. I ask it in the last third of the time allocated.

Oscar Trimboli: 

And the question is, what’s the question I should’ve asked that I haven’t? This is an example of a question at level four, listening for what’s unsaid. The gold the really powerful stories come out. And here’s a really good example of that. Heather, what’s the question I should’ve asked but I haven’t?

Heather Morris:  

Why did I want to write a book about listening? What was the impetus for it coming about? It came about because I was not only listening, but I was being observed listening. In a hotel in Kosice, in Slovakia, I’m there with my publisher who lives in London. I picked her up on the way. I was there to research Cilka Story and my contacts in Slovakia had set up meetings for me.

Heather Morris:

Now, where Cilka had lived for nearly 50 years was in the same apartment building. And I found, or my researchers found people in that apartment building who had known her for decades. And several of them had agreed to meet me. I went into the home of 93 and 95-year-old, Mr. and Mr. [Samuli]. They lived right next door to Cilka and her husband.

Heather Morris: 

And throughout the day, 20, 30 more people in that apartment building had heard about this crazy lady from Australia who had come and wanted to talk about Cilka. Or Cecilia, they called her Cecilia. And they were coming in and out the whole time. Some would stay for a couple of hours, some for half an hour. I had two translators and I had my publisher from London.

Heather Morris:    

It wasn’t till later on that night, we’re back in the hotel and we had dinner and we had a few drinks, we were going back to our rooms, we saw this bar downstairs that looked dark and dingy, “Let’s go and have a coffee at a Port,” that my publisher said to me how she had been sitting there spellbound, watching my engagement with all these Slovakian people from a wide range of ages.

Heather Morris:  

I never spoke any Slovakian. They never spoke any English. And yet we totally communicated. She said, “I was watching you listen to them. And they were responding.” They were telling me things, given they’d just meet me, that even they were shaking their heads at each other. Because my translators are taking it all down and they’re feeding back. I do a lot of work with translators.

Heather Morris: 

And so, I’m able to hear with one ear what they’re saying and not have it in any way affect what I’m doing in front of people. She said it was amazing. She said, “A couple of times I asked a question and they looked at me and then brushed me off. They kept their focus with you the entire time.”

Heather Morris:

She said, “Watching somebody listen and listen for so many hours like that,” She said, “it was incredible to observe.” We had a few more Ports by this stage. And she said, “Yeah, can you write down how you do that?” And she said, “And when you started doing it, and did you learn it.” And that’s when I said, “Gramps told me.” There was no question where I’d learned it as small child, it was gramps.

Heather Morris:

And we started tossing around the whole thing about listening and I asked her to read some of these emails that I’d got from thousands of people around the world who write to me because they have read Lale and Gita and Cilka’s stories. And they have found that sense of hope in their own lives, through those lives of those young people during the Holocaust. And they share that with me.

Heather Morris: 

And it was that word hope that was just over and over and over again, being reinforced. And it got me thinking about, what was the word I heard the most of working in a hospital? And it was the same word.

Heather Morris:  

It was hope. I hope my mum can live long enough to see her first great grandchild born. I hope I can live long enough to be able to walk my daughter down the aisle. Hope every day. And it made me realise that hope is the last thing that dies in us.

Oscar Trimboli:

Heather, we’re covered a lot. What’s the final tip you want to leave with everyone?

Heather Morris: 

Listening to yourself. Because if you don’t listen to yourself, then how can you possibly expect that you can relate and listen to others? And that is not only what your brain is telling you, it’s what your heart’s telling you, and it’s what your body’s telling you. My body right now is telling me that I spent too much time today sitting on my bum on the chair and I should move around a bit more.

Heather Morris:   

And I need to listen to that part of it a bit more. If you do listen to yourself, you recognise your own emotions, things that are happening around you and you allow yourself to process your own grief or trauma or pain, whatever it is. That does open you up to be able to recognise it in other people.

Heather Morris: 

I’ve always thought that listening to yourself was … and we’re taught this working in a hospital environment, but not everybody gets that kind of training, being observant. And I’ve been sitting here talking to you and I’ve been looking behind you, and it’s one of the things like if people who say, “Well, how can I get my mother or my aunt or my sister to talk to me?”

Heather Morris:

And I very simply say, “Well, pick something that you’ve seen in their lives for years or decades. And when the time is right, not in the middle of a party with people around you, ask them about that trinket that’s been on their mantlepiece for the last 50 years. Ask them, do they remember where they got it from? Who bought it? Who was with them when they did it?”

Heather Morris: 

Finding objects as an in to being to get someone to talk to you and tell you even stories about your own family, for goodness sakes. How many times people have said to me, “I had to learn about my mom or my dad at their funeral. At their funeral, because I never asked the question.” And if you don’t ask, you may not get told.

Oscar Trimboli:  

The best listening cultures are the best storytelling cultures and building muscles for both is really critical. Telling stories to your children is a way for you to help to develop their listening muscles. And for parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles, supporters, telling great stories is going to help tune young ears into listening to stories that will last for the rest of their lives.

Oscar Trimboli:  

The irony for me is that to help everyone become better listeners, I had to become better at telling stories. And for many of us sharing our own stories is as uncomfortable as listening to someone else’s story. So, what am I taking away from Heather’s conversation today? I need to tell more stories. I need to be comfortable telling stories about myself, about my family, about others.

Oscar Trimboli:  

Learning to tell stories has been a big struggle for me, but to get to this quest of 100 million deep listeners in the world, keep me honest, get me telling more stories. If there’s a story you’d like to hear from me, send me an email podcast@oscartrimboli.com. That’s podcast@oscartrimboli.com and we’ll figure out how to incorporate that story into future episodes.

Oscar Trimboli:    

If you’ve listened this long, thanks so much for listening. What you’re about to hear is Heather deconstruct my listening while we were having a conversation. I’m Oscar Trimboli and I’m on a quest to create 100 million deep listeners in the world. And you’ve given me the greatest gift of all, you’ve listened to me. Thanks for listening. Heather, what have you noticed about my listening while we’ve being speaking today?

Heather Morris: 

You listen with your eyes. Absolutely. And it’s been just a delight to be able to sit here and to see it. Your smile very rarely leaves your face, but your eyes, they’re what’s sparkling and creasing. And there was no question but that you are engaged totally in this conversation with me. And also, and this is a good way of also telling somebody’s listening, that your questions had not necessarily possibly followed the script that you may have had in front of you.

Heather Morris:

You responded to what I said. Can I tell you another brief story about not listening? I do a lot of interviews. I have done for a lot of time, all around the world. And a lot of them I have to do at night.

Heather Morris:   

And I was doing a live interview into Ireland, gosh, this was just after the tattooist came out and I was told that, it’s about midnight my time, that the producer of this radio station, it was actually the BBC in Ireland, they would ring me 10 minutes before the interview. Make sure we’re all connected. And then Sean would come on and we’d have an interview.

Heather Morris:    

Okay, great. I’m good with that. They do that and then Sean comes on and he’s having the news break. So, they come on, they have this little brief chat to you. Anyway, Sean comes on, and excuse my attempt at an Irish accent folks, but he comes on, he goes, “Hello, I’m speaking to Helen Morris.”

Heather Morris:     

And I said, “No, my name is Heather Morris.” “Would you get me Helen, please?” and I went, “No, there’s no Helen Morris. My name’s Heather Morris.” “I’ve got a piece of paper in front of me and it says your name is Helen.” “I’m sorry, Sean, it’s not. “Well, how do I speak to Helen Morris?” “You tell your producer to go and find you a Helen Morris.”

Heather Morris:   

I said, “Do you want the person who wrote the book, The Tattooist of Auschwitz?” And he went, “Yes, Helen Morris.” I said, “Okay, look, I don’t care what you call me, but let’s just have the interview. My name is Heather.” And he went, “Okay. Well, would you mind if I called your Heather then?” “Whatever, Sean.” Now, he had a list of questions. At that point, I knew he wasn’t really listening to me.

Heather Morris:   

He asked me the first question and I never answered him. I just told him something. He asked me the second question. I did the same thing and I went, “Oh dear, I don’t think I can mess with her much more. I better get back on track.” But yeah, he wasn’t listening to me. (silence)

 

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