July/August 2002


Ascolta! *
by MsTurandot




For the benefit of those who have not been graced with the Operatic Genre, I will take a moment to explain why I chose ďAscolta!Ē as this columnís title. In Italian, the word ascolta means to listen. In Opera, listening, along with the many hours of work involved, is probably one of the single greatest attributes that set apart the good sopranos from the Divas like Maria Callas, Montserrat Caballe and Joan Sutherland. A song isn't good unless the listener says itís good; audiences determine music's success. However, it is equally true that we aren't serious listeners until we have educated our ears.

In our quest to be a good Dominant we spend hours working on scenes, practicing with a myriad of implements, including floggers, canes, or single tails etc. We experiment on ourselves with latex and wax or having someone else push needles in us all for the sake of making sure we know what weíre doing to our submissives physically. We spend lots of time reading and setting up simple or elaborate scenes and work on learning some of the more psychological aspects of D/s so as to make sure our path with our submissive is heading in the right direction. As with Opera, the work involved in self-mastery takes time and effort. It is my opinion that to be one of the better Dominants, you really need to add listening to your list of techniques.

Ask yourself if you ever find yourself falling into any of these habits?

  1. Interrupting your submissive, impatient or you talk too much.
  2. Not looking at your sub. Not giving eye contact (eyes wander).
  3. Rushing your sub and making them feel that theyíre wasting your time.
  4. Showing interest in something other than the conversation (doesn't care; daydreaming).
  5. Getting ahead of your submissive and finishing their thoughts.
  6. Distracted (fidgeting) and not paying attention to your sub.
  7. Judgmental and/or closed-minded.
  8. Self-preoccupied and changing the subject.
  9. Not responding to your subís requests. Giving them little or no (verbal or nonverbal) feedback.
  10. Saying, "Yes, but . . ." as if youíve already made up your mind and listen when told how a sub feels, not telling them how they should feel.
  11. Topping your subís story with "That reminds me . . ." or "That's nothing, let me tell you aboutÖĒ
  12. Forgetting what was talked about previously. Be careful when youíre working with multiple subs so that youíre not confusing oneís issues with another.
  13. Asking too many questions about details.

Here are the traits of a good listener:

  1. Uses eye contact appropriately.
  2. Is attentive and alert to a person's verbal and nonverbal behavior.
  3. Is patient and doesn't interrupt, waits for the other person to finish.
  4. Is responsive, using verbal and nonverbal expressions.
  5. Asks questions in a non-threatening tone.
  6. Paraphrases, restates or summarizes what the person says.
  7. Provides constructive (verbal or nonverbal) feedback.
  8. Is empathic (works to understand the other person).
  9. Shows interest in them as a person.
  10. Demonstrates a caring attitude and is willing to listen.
  11. Doesn't criticize, is nonjudgmental.
  12. Is open-minded.

Listening does not mean simply maintaining a polite silence while you are rehearsing in your mind the speech you are going to make the next time you can grab a conversational opening. Nor does listening mean waiting alertly for the flaws in the other personís arguments so that later you can mow them down. Listening means trying to see the problem the way the speaker sees it, which means not sympathy, which is feeling for him, but empathy, which is experiencing with him. Listening requires entering actively and imaginatively a frame of reference different from your own.

But a good listener does not merely remain silent. He asks questions. However, these questions must avoid all implications (Whether in tone of voice or wording) of skepticism or challenge or hostility.

So why is it that I stress listening as one of my priorities in this lifestyle and in life in general?

Think about all the miscommunication that seems to goes on within our BDSM communities. Take a look at our discussion lists that so often break out in feuds, generally because weíre all trying so desperately to be heard. If we listen with our heart and our ears we might find that we can learn from others even if we donít agree. We also might find that others will be more apt to listen to our viewpoint and respond appropriately knowing they wonít be attacked for opposing our personal views.

When was the last time you actually sat and listened to the experiences of someone of a different sexual orientation than your own? Did you feel like you really understood their point of view, even if it differs totally from your own? This is one I try to do as often as I can. I am not Bi and Iím sure everyone around me knows it. I donít get nasty in letting someone know. I have tried it. It just doesnít do anything for me. I am not homophobic either. I Top other women quite often and I enjoy it just as much as a good session with one of my boys. I have spent time getting to know many people of differing sexual orientations and enjoy the conversation regarding the differences and the similarities of my friends.

Take a good look at scenes that end with one or the other of the parties involved being upset, or worse, physically or mentally harmed. Listening is a huge part of the negotiation process and to rush that is asking for trouble. This is not to say that you necessarily have to spend hours negotiating. If you need hours, then by all means take the time you need! I recently met a switch on only one occasion, one week before a play party. At the forth-coming party we negotiated only minutes before our scene together. It was rather impromptu and it was necessary to negotiate further and talk and listen to one another for the first 30 minutes of the scene. Yes than can be distracting to a bottom to be constantly giving feedback during your scene but it was due to communicating and listening, on both sides, that allowed for some wonderful exchanges to occur and we both had a delightful 2-hour scene together.

What about a 24/7 relationship?

It's hard to listen when someone you care about is saying things that make you angry or you don't want to hear. Try not to blow up, try to take a few minutes to settle down and gather your composure. Even five minutes apart can help both parties calm down. If neither of you are listening, you might try talking to each other in turns. If what youíre not understanding what youíre hearing, continue asking until you do understand. Listening is a powerful tool. When you can say to your partner, "Itís time for you to talk and I'll listen," you may find it possible to transform an intense situation into a much calmer one.

Can you talk about the issues without fighting? If you can't, then that's another problem. It's important to slow down and try to listen and communicate clearly. Donít assign blame when trying to sort everything out.

If the problems are within the power exchange itself and not a basic relationship issue, then you may be able to deal with them by renegotiating your initial agreement. In order for power exchange to work, both partners have to feel they have power to begin with. You can't give anything away unless you have it to start with, and you can't take something that someone isn't giving. Don't be afraid of renegotiating. You may find that your new situation suits you much better. But also keep in mind that even if it doesn't look different from the old one, sometimes reevaluating the situation is all that's needed.

And now for the other people who test you!

One of the more difficult times for good listening is when youíre faced with someone, either personally or in a group situation, in whom youíve had a quarrel. This may be either currently or in the past. You may absolutely despise this person or you may simply be irritated with them, but to be a good listener, you must always listen with empathy. It's easy to let your mind chew on a point of disagreement if you hear something that bothers you or if you just don't like the person who's speaking, but you'll miss what's being said. Try to see the world through their eyes. And yes I KNOW how difficult this can be. Think of it as a practice run for when you're in discussions with people you like and respect, i.e. Your submissives, slaves, a Top or Bottom and of course other Dominants. You may be amazed a time or two at the mere fact that you may be the one in the wrong. Yes even we Mistressí have been known to eat crow a time or two.

Remember that in this community, we call BDSM, we are all teachers whether we are relatively new or been around for ages. We are all in some form leaders and examples during certain situations. The leaderís success in their decision making will be affected if not conclusively determined by his ability and willingness to create an atmosphere that will free individuals to talk with them without the fear of being too quickly categorized, rejected, or reproved.

We should listen to those whom we serve, to those with whom we serve, and to those under whose direction we serve, both in our homes and in our BDSM groups and communities.

One last thought:

To be a successful Dominant, you must also believe that listening is power. Because our society places so much emphasis on speaking as the way to win friends and influence people, good listeners can quietly have a powerful and subversive impact. You should also remember that speakers have little power without listeners. Speakers share their wisdom and try to persuade, but listeners make meaning of what is heard - Your submissive/slave/bottom makes the ultimate decision to act on what they hear. (Read and repeat!)

In writing this article, I found that I needed to reevaluate my own listening skills. Better listening skills is not an easy thing to accomplish. When it comes to others in business, I find I am a keen listener, but there are also times with my own husband, Master Briggs, in which I am lacking sorely in my skills.

"Everyone and everything around you is your teacher. Listen well."

Be well and play safe!

This material may not be copied in any manner.
For permission to reproduce this essay, contact MsTurandot@hotmail.com


* Italian for Listen!