A couple of weeks ago, I sat in a packed Melbourne Town Hall. And there, on the stage, was Nigella Lawson. It is possible that I have never been so excited in all my life – the original and greatest domestic goddess in all the lands was sitting about five metres from me, sharing the same air! She is every bit as poised and elegant in person as she is on screen and her beauty is startling. I certainly squealed when she walked onto the stage!
So, was the hour or so that Nigella was sitting on the stage worth the time and money? Well yes. And no.
I have been to a number of these ‘in conversation’ events before and they can be hit and miss. Largely their success is dependent on the person asking the questions, or rather, guiding the conversation. And that was the frustration with Nigella’s session. Food writer and restaurant critic, Jill Dupleix, was a little clumsy in her attempts to steer the conversation. It probably didn’t help that she started with a dud question that I am sure was meant to break the ice, but had the complete opposite reaction. Nigella looked positively uncomfortable. Perhaps asking someone who has recently gone through a very public and awful relationship breakup about her sex life wasn’t very well considered.
But even after that, I felt that Dupleix was not a great choice of interviewer. She interrupted and gave her opinion about the audience questions. She was clearly afraid of silences!
Everyone in the room had come to hear from Nigella. We wanted to hear the secrets to her success and about her every day life. For me, I wanted to hear about how she had turned something she was so passionate about into a successful career. I had the kidlet with me, and she was enthralled as Nigella shared stories of how she got her start as a journalist and how she built an empire as a food writer.
When given the chance, the Domestic Goddess, using language in a way that was both beautiful and mesmerising, shared snippets into her life that were amusing and telling. (She keeps condiments such as mustard and soy sauce in little jars on her bedside table for when she is eating in bed so she doesn’t need to climb down the stairs, back to the kitchen, for them. Brilliant!)
Where the discussion worked was when Jill shut up and Nigella could speak, uninterrupted. Unfortunately, too often she was cut off, or the silences – probably where Nigella was trying to formulate her next thought – were cut short and we never got to hear the titbit of information that she was finding the right words to disclose.
I left feeling elated that I had been in the same room as Nigella, but disappointed that I had not heard more. Several people I spoke with afterwards said the same thing.
This is the power of effective communication. Whether it is in a room like that, or as a one on one consultation, the most important person in the room is the one who needs to be heard most, be given the most time to speak, and have the opportunity to set the agenda and direct the conversation. And this is the case in a formal interview, health appointment or even a conversation with a loved one at the kitchen table.
I have really kept this in mind recently. Yesterday was the first day of school and over the last week or so I have frequently checked in with the kidlet about how she is feeling as the holidays come to an end. As with any eleven year old, she moved between being excited and nervous. Some of the things taking up her attention were hilarious (how will I wear my hair on the first day, mum?) but as they were her concerns, they are legitimate. It wasn’t my place to tell her that no one would care if she was wearing a high or low ponytail, and she should be concentrating on important things like revising her times table.
No, my job is to shush and listen and ask gentle questions to get more out of her and then try to make her feel as calm and happy as I can.
It’s the same with the way that diabetes consultations are very frequently criticised for not allowing the PWD the opportunity to use the forum for what they need, instead, going through a tick-box exercise of what the HCP needs and wants. Surely the HCP should shush and listen.
I think that often we like to think that we are the most important person in the room; the our opinions count for more; that our voice should be the loudest; that anything we don’t like should be defended. But most of the time, unless we really are the most important person in the room (i.e. in the case of a HCP consultation, or if we are Nigella in a Town Hall full of people), we need to just shush and listen.
Because if we did that, just imagine how much more we would hear and learn.