When I first learned about the True Stories project, I was apprehensive because I thought that it may be difficult to find someone who was willing to take time out of their busy schedule to be interviewed by a college student. This worry proved to be somewhat true when the first person that I was supposed to interview suddenly stopped responding to my emails. At first, I was very upset about this because I was looking forward to interviewing someone in my future career field. However, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I was able to connect with Anne Marie Varga, who has inspired my interest in the public relations field. Anne Marie’s experiences as the Communications Manager at the Orange County Government, as well as her experiences prior to obtaining this position, provided me with a unique perspective on the crucial role that public relations professionals play in our society. After speaking with her, I gained a new interest and appreciation for the careful thought and critical listening that is involved in public relations.
My interview with Ann Marie also demonstrated the applicability of the concepts that we have been learning in class to the professional world. First, Ann Marie spoke frequently on the importance of critical listening in her profession. The first thought that I had when she brought up this topic was the SIER model. In crisis communication, she must focus on the content and context of the message, interpret the meaning behind the message, critically assess the meaning of the message, and finally respond to the message in a way that adds value to the situation. Hearing her speak about process behind formulating responses to crises demonstrated how the different concepts that we have learned in class can truly be applied to many real-world situations. The fact that I was able to make these connections was a huge success for me because I believe that my knowledge of listening concepts will allow me to thrive in the professional setting.
As a whole, the interview with Ann Marie was quite successful. However, we did come across some barriers to listening throughout the experience. First, I realized how important the environment is for effective listening. Our interview took place in KeKe’s Breakfast Café, so the interruption of the waitress, the loud conversations of other customers, and the abundance of background noise were quite distracting in the moment. Another barrier to listening was the fact that I had come straight from swimming practice to the interview, so I was fatigued and not in the best state of mind to concentrate. In other words, sometimes I was focused more on my own feelings than the conversation, which was a significant barrier to my effective listening. Nonetheless, despite these barriers, the interview as a whole was a fulfilling and successful experience because I was able to build a connection between what I’ve learned in the classroom and how it applies to the professional realm.
My interview experience with Meredith Hein went very well. Luckily, Meredith’s role as the director of the Center of Leadership & Community Engagement makes listening a pivotal skill in her role and she could easily discuss how listening has shaped her into the person she is. Meredith discussed how her strengths, such as empathy and developer, have helped her shift her listening behaviors from good to great. We met in her office, which is closed off and quiet. Meredith is known to have plenty of students in and out of her office throughout the day, so she’s used to having these specific conversations. Something that was quite interesting to me that I learned through the interview was how knowledgeable Meredith is about listening behaviors and skills. She would often refer to active listening, and empathy, both of these terms are pivotal to successful listening during a conversation. Here’s an article written in The Wall Street Journal about the benefits of active listening: Active listening makes both participants feel better. Meredith is a great listener and she’s also very thoughtful. She recognizes her strengths and weaknesses and the way she can address them. She often makes students ask themselves the, “do you really believe that,” idea which Mark Goulston discussed in his book, Just Listen. By doing so, it makes people much more aware of their actions and behaviors. When giving her responses, she took time to truly process the questions before answering them. I could tell that just by how she considered the question, she would also be a great listener. She talked about how her role made her think more about the question and situation, rather than create an automatic response for everything. She touched on one listening behavior that I think many of us need to work on. Meredith said she used to have an automatic response for everyone and everything, which I see a lot of in myself. She told me that this isn’t always the best method when dealing with sensitive topics and said it took many years before she could respond patiently and intuitively.
Each situation and person is different, and it’s important to take each conversation like it’s the first you’re hearing of it. However, one barrier that inhibited some of Meredith’s responses were the random phone calls she would receive, and some of the external thoughts she was dealing with. Something she addressed was how often she becomes the listener for so many people, and how seldom she is the speaker. As a result, she takes on a lot of people’s baggage, often disregarding her own needs and feelings. Another barrier was the repetition of conversations she often has. She talked about the recurring conversations about relationships and how she has to pretend like she’s hearing it for the first time. I think her addressing some of her listening successes and failures will make my interpretation of the interview much more detailed and relatable. By originally talking about the importance of active listening, having genuine conversations, and why skills develop overtime, it makes the research process that much easier.