Active Listening as a 9-1-1 Dispatcher Made Me a Better Writer

Active listening as a 911 Dispatcher taught me to listen with attention, so I know the right questions to ask when listening on the phone, listening to clients, or listening to my characters.

Juneta Key
The Ninja Writers Pub
5 min readOct 6, 2020


Photo by Hack Capital on Unsplash

The role of a 9-1-1 Emergency Dispatcher and Call Taker is as a first responder. They are the first line of assistance to anyone calling on the phone for help. They are the only link to help and information available to the caller in the middle of a crisis and the emergency units responding.

In that position, you only know what you are told or can hear. Obtaining priority information is important to the safety of all, and to a quick response. People in crisis often do not know what to do, or what to tell you so you can help them. It is all dependent on the call taker asking the right questions to obtain vital information.

I worked in 9-1-1 public safety telecommunications for twenty-three years. One of the skills you acquire is active listening. Active listening is more than just hearing what is said; it is understanding the undertones of what is spoken and reaching the right conclusions.

In emergency situations, interpreting the background sounds provides a lot of information that can’t be spoken, but you can hear it. That information might tell where the person is who has no idea where they are such as a child, or injured person or a lost visitor in your city.

Background sounds can reveal misinformation and lies by the sounds you hear when talking to people, which is a trick you can use when telling your stories. Those background sounds might reveal where an active shooter is within a large building when the caller can’t tell you.

Getting creative with this technique is a terrific way to reveal character, setting, and situation.

One of my roles as a writer is listening to my clients talk about their stories in one-on-one coaching.

Sometimes it is not what they are saying that reveals the right question to move the story forward but how they say it, or the…