The Simple Act of Listening

“The art of conversation is being replaced by personal broadcasting.” – Julian Treasure

How often do you have to repeat a question because you didn’t listen to the answer the first time you asked?

Do you ever space out in meetings because you are thinking about dinner, carpools, and errands?

When was the last time you insisted to your spouse that he or she never told you something, but in truth, you just weren’t paying attention?

The above quote about the art of conversation can be found in one of my favorite TED Talks, which was a given a few years ago by Julian Treasure, The Master of Sound (who even admits he can do better at listening!)

In his talk, which I encourage you to watch, he says that 60% of communication is listening but only 25% of what we hear/say is retained. When you consider that “Listening is our access to understanding,” that 25% statistic is scary. It means we are missing out on important information and hampering our ability to learn every single day.

Here are several ways you, like Julian, can become an expert on the simple act of listening:

Go silent

Julian suggests you spend three minutes a day being completely silent (in a silent, or at least, very quiet) setting. Why? “It recalibrates your listening.”

Listen to individual sounds

Listen to the various sounds you hear in any given setting. When you go for a walk outside, pick out the sounds of birds, and listen to them. Then listen to the wind as it rushes through leaves. Next, focus on traffic humming in the distance.

This simple exercise will really help you focus your listening so you can tune out background noise.

Practice active listening

Julian has an acronym for active listening that I really like. RASA stands for:

  • Receive – listen to the words being spoken
  • Appreciate – make “I’m paying attention to you” sounds like, “uh-huh” and “mm-hmm”
  • Summarize – in your own words, repeat the message you just heard
  • Ask – dig deeper to gain a better understanding

Cultivate curiosity

This tip ties into “Ask,” and it also takes us back to our childhoods. As children, we were naturally curious about the world around us, constantly asking, “Why?” As we grew up, we were trained to ask fewer questions, simply because the teacher does not have time to answer 15 questions about a subject before moving on.

Well, shake off the dust from your curiosity. The more thoughtful the questions that you ask, the more you will learn – and isn’t that what listening is all about? Learning new information and gaining a new understanding?

Keep an open mind

It is very frustrating for a speaker to be constantly interrupted with questions and counter-arguments. Plus, it shows that the listener is not really listening, but instead thinking about a response.

As you listen, just keep an open mind. Let the speaker finish before you ask questions. Or, take the time to think about what he or she said before responding. (Bonus: This is also a great EQ exercise!).

For your homework, I want you to think about all of the areas in your life that can be improved by becoming a better listener. How will it affect you during meetings? While working on a project? At home? While on the phone?

I can guarantee that this homework will have a profound and positive effect on you. Good luck!

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