Listening to Author Kate Murphy

By Miranda Estrada

Kate Murphy, a New York Times contributing journalist, writes on various topics but was inspired to write her novel based on conversations she was having with complete strangers. She spoke about how often strangers would dive into to telling her personal details in conversation all because they wanted someone who would listen to them.  Her new book is about why this happens and what to do about it.

Before the event, the Brazos Bookstore staff indicated that Kate Murphy requested that no photographs be taken.  So, we have no photographs of the actual book discussion.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, Brazos Bookstore, Kate Murphy, "You're Not Listening"

With the everyday usage of social media and cellphones often, we find ourselves distracted and always wanting to control the narrative. “You’re Not Listening” takes a unique approach to how to combat this issue incorporating a mix of psychology and science (not that those are mutually exclusive…).

During one of her first interviews (by phone) for the novel, Ms. Murphy recalled how construction on her street forced her to conduct the interview in her closet so that she could hear. During her interview, which was with Oliver Sacks, they began to exchange weather metaphors. She refers to this ability to connect with someone is called “snatches of magic”, but in science, these moments can actually be measured by watching the brain. During these moments, the brain releases chemicals that make people feel good and creates a bond. Ms. Murphy explained that without listening to one another, these moments are few and fleeting, which has caused loneliness all over the world (England recently appointed a Minister of Loneliness…).

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, Brazos Bookstore, Kate Murphy, "You're Not Listening"

Although identifying a problem is the first step to a solution, the audience was eager to learn how we can become better listeners. In conversation, there are two kinds of people: shifters and supporters. Shifters are people who immediately shift the conversation back to themselves, and supporters are people who ask furthering questions about what the other person said. “Everyone is interesting enough if you ask the right questions”, Kate Murphy said, encouraging the audience to become supporters in every conversation. To be better listeners she also challenged us to ask ourselves two questions after every conversation, “what did I learn?” and “how did the other person feel about what we were talking about?”

Ms. Murphy acknowledged that not listening is pervasive, from personal conversations to congressional hearings (the audience laughed at the irony of that one). She spoke honestly that learning to listen is a skill that takes times to develop, like skiing or riding a bike, but one that is necessary to start regardless of age.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, Brazos Bookstore, Kate Murphy, "You're Not Listening"

After the talk, we had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Murphy and thank you for her advice as well as thank the Brazos Bookstore Staff for another great event.

Black Walnut Café

After a full evening of listening, we headed to Black Walnut Café for dinner. We started with a table favorite – chips and queso. Black Walnut Café offers something for everyone and our entrees were a true token of that. Our entrees include the Fiesta Jalapeno Chicken Pasta, Chicken Pesto Bowl, Turkey Croissant Club, and several others.

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With full stomachs we headed back to Huntsville, eager to apply what we learned.

Author: mikeyawn

Mike Yawn teaches at Sam Houston State University. In the past few years, he has taught courses on Politics & Film, Public Policy, the Presidency, Media & Politics, Congress, Statistics, Research & Writing, Field Research, and Public Opinion. He has published academic papers in the Journal of Politics, Political Behavior, Social Security Quarterly, Film & History, American Politics Review, and contributed a chapter to the textbook Politics and Film. He also contributes columns, news analysis, and news stories to newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time, Huron Daily Tribune, Laredo Morning Times, Beaumont Enterprise, Connecticut Post, and Midland Reporter Telegram. Yawn is also active in his local community, serving on the board of directors of the local YMCA and Friends of the Wynne. Previously, he served on the Huntsville's Promise and Stan Musial World Series Boards of Directors. In 2007-2008, Yawn was one of eight scholars across the nation named as a Carnegie Civic Engagement Scholar by the Carnegie Foundation.

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