Guest Blog: Stuart Watson of ManListening Podcast
May 08, 2020 05:20PM
By Shannon McKenzie
Stuart Watson is the creator and conversationalist of the podcast ManListening (the opposite of “mansplaining”). He’s written his first book which will come out later this year. The working title, What She Said & What I Heard: Journals On Women Who Changed Me. ManListening evolved from Watson’s realization that he didn’t accord women the kind of respect he should have for years. He says the podcast “is me kind of making amends, by trying to shift. By saying I was wrong.” Natural Awakenings caught up with Watson just in time for the Mother’s and Father’s Days issue.
NA: You said in a February 18 Charlotte Observer article (Tinyurl.com/EmpathicListening) that your wife helped you learn that you weren’t the empathetic listener you thought you were, and that upon reflection, you realized you didn’t listen to women in particular. Why do you think this was the case?
SW: Actually my wife said I was dismissive of women, which really stung! It’s bad enough that I did not listen well. But to be dismissive? Yikes!
I think that for a long time I was not very self-aware of how I dismissed or discounted women in conversation. It’s hard for this man to admit he was wrong. I have three daughters, and they have introduced me to a number of concepts beyond plain ole misogyny and toxic masculinity. One is the notion of the feminine value of collaborative decision making and hearing everyone out before you speak—not staking out a position and then doubling down without considering what everyone else has to say.
As my eldest daughter says to me, “The patriarchy oppresses us all, Dad.” The first fifty or so times she said that, I had no idea what the hell she was talking about. Then gradually it dawned on me: She’s saying that top-down, hierarchical decision making leads to a repressive, dictatorial process, that does not work well for men or women.
Put another way, as one of my (female) coaches told me, “We all do better when women are heard.”
NA: At this point you have interviewed more than 40 women for the ManListening podcast. What do you see as your role in these conversations?
SW: I call them conversations but I do start out with questions, so I guess “interview” is accurate. But I find that if the questions are open-ended and I abandon any agenda, then the conversation just naturally goes surprising places. So I don’t call myself a host, and the women who talk to me are not guests. I ask if I can come talk to them in their home—at the kitchen table or sitting on the couch. How am I the host? How are they the guests? If anything, I am their guest. It’s just that we’re not talking about me! I want to know all about them.
On my business card I thought about putting my title as Media Mogul, but I was worried people would think I was serious. So I replaced it not with CEO or Founder or Creator but simply Conversationalist. Whether you call conversation a lost art or a ministry or a therapeutic, healing practice, we all can sense the difference between controlled interviews and freewheeling conversations in which anyone can speak without fear or judgment or argument or anger or vitriol.
So what is my role? The opposite of angry-man talk radio host. Peaceful-man-listening-to-women podcaster!
NA: There are so many podcasts out there. What makes yours different?
SW: I think you’ll hear a distinct difference in the tone of ManListening. It’s much more real. It’s not like a contrived, show-biz talk show. No one is selling anything—not pitching a book or a film or a candidate or a product. No one is cutting away to go to break or commercial. There are no begathons to endlessly raise funds. And there’s not a hard out at the top or bottom of the hour.
Also, I take great pains to record every conversation in person. This isn’t easy, and it isn’t cheap. I’ve flown to Houston, Jersey City and Harlem and driven to Tampa, Birmingham, Atlanta, Nashville, Cary and Durham. That’s not including driving all over and around Charlotte to record on location! A lot of podcasts just dial it in on Skype or Zoom. Not me. Even satellite interviews sacrifice the kind of intimacy I demand. (Sorry, Terry Gross—you know I love you.)
But I think there’s a huge difference in the quality of conversation when you’re meeting real people quite literally on their home turf and sitting down and chatting face-to-face. There’s research on this point as well—and a whole lot of new, frustrating experience with Zoom and other webcam meetings. We communicate an awful lot of information when there’s not a screen to filter us.
I’m betting my own money—thousands of dollars of it—that you will hear the difference when you listen. And there are a couple of ways to do that. You can listen to it streaming at ManListening.com, or you can find ManListening (one word, no spaces) wherever you get your podcasts—Apple, Spotify or Google Play.
NA: Based on your interactions and experiences producing the ManListening podcast, do you have any final thoughts you’d like to convey to women and men?
SW: Any thoughts I have about listening aren’t really different for one sex or another. There’s a good book out now called You’re Not Listening, by New York Times contributor Kate Murphy. Her book points to a lot of research that both men and women believe women are better listeners.
Now, there may be some dispute as to which sex is the better speaker. (My youngest daughter won a statewide speaking contest. Her brother did not. They still argue about who is the better speaker.) But there’s a pretty fair consensus that women pay closer attention to what’s being said. Women listen to understand and establish relationship. Men may simply listen to get the facts. But we’ve already established that we hear the facts differently depending on who is stating them. So I’ve learned that I need to check my expectations. I need to scan myself for my own preconceptions. I need to learn to listen differently. I ain’t woke. Don’t claim to be. But I guess you could say I’m waking!
Stuart Watson is our guest blogger for the month of May. Please visit AwakeningCharlotte.com to participate in this ongoing conversation.
Watson is a three-time Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter, a Nieman Journalism Fellow at Harvard University and a past board member of Investigative Reporters and Editors. He’s a native of Albany, Georgia, and a graduate of Vanderbilt University. He has reported for more than 30 years in the South—at WKRN-TV, the ABC affiliate in Nashville; at WRAL-TV, then the CBS affiliate in Raleigh; and at WCNC-TV, the NBC affiliate in Charlotte—winning 10 Emmys. He and his wife, Lorraine, have four grown children and call North Carolina home. Connect with Watson through social media @ManListening on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, on LinkedIn or by email at [email protected].