Listening is a vitally important skill. We spend 60% of our time listening but apparently, we only retain around 25% of what we hear. This is an alarming statistic and a rather sad one; as connection with one another is becoming increasingly fragmented and digitalised.
In his excellent TED talk 5 ways to listen better Julian Treasure explores this concept and provides some valuable advice on how to listen better.
Listening can be defined as hearing and interpreting the sounds around us. When listening to sound we process what we are hearing through a range of filters; cultures, values, beliefs, attitudes, expectations, intentions.
Most of these filters happen at a subconscious level but they create our reality as they define what we pay attention to. In effect, these filters tend to skew what we are hearing and how we interpret what we are hearing; it’s a complex layer of turning the sounds we hear into what we actually hear.
Treasure argues that we are tragically losing our ability to truly listen, but offers some very practical exercises to develop better listening by being more conscious of what we are hearing.
We are losing our listening due to many reasons. There is so much background noise now t can be hard to focus on one sound stream with all the competing background noise at times. We are also busier now and therefore becoming more impatient, we don’t allow ourselves time to really listen. In a digital world, the art of conversation is being replaced by personal broadcasting or social media and disjointed forms of communication that doesn’t involve listening skills.
We are also exposed to so much ‘noise’ that we are becoming desensitised, it’s harder for us to pay attention to the subtly and the understated. There’s a lot competing for our attention. Just look around a busy city with all the advertising, scroll your social media, check your inbox – it is bombarded with companies trying to get your attention constantly.
Our diminishing ability to truly listen is a serious matter. Listening is our access to understanding and in a world where we don’t listen to each other, we are losing our access to understanding each other and the word around us. Here are five simple tools to increase your conscious listening;
- Try 3 minutes of silence a day. This is a powerful way to reset you ears and recalibrate your hearing so you can hear the quiet again.
- The mixer. Whether you are out in the park having a walk, or in a busy restaurant listen to how many channels of sound can you hear; the chatter of people, the clinking of cutlery, the traffic outside…
- Savouring. Enjoy mundane sounds more. Maybe the sound of the coffee grinder or the kettle boiling. What do these mundane sounds make you feel?
- Move your listening position to what’s appropriate to what you are listening to. Some of the many various positions are active listening (listen attentively to a speaker, understand what they’re saying, respond and reflect on what’s being said, and retain the information for later), passive listening(listening without reacting: allowing someone to speak, without interrupting), reductive listening (results oriented listening where you listen for the speaker to get to the point and let us know what’s needed), expansive listening (where the listening is the journey, you are deeply immersed), emphatic listening (where you listen patiently to what the other person has to say, even if you do not agree with it).
- Follow the Sanskrit mantra RASA – which stands for Receive Appreciate, Summarise and Ask.
It’s helpful to understand the different stages of listening in order to get better at it. Otto Scharmer’s 4 levels of listening are;
1. Downloading. The first, most simple level of listening; this is when we listen to confirm what we already know or to confirm our opinion. At this level we are not open to hearing anything other than what we want to hear to confirm our own values, opinions or ideas. We are listening by reconfirming habitual judgments.
2. Listening with an open mind (factual listening). This next progressive stage is when we listen to factual and to the novel or disconfirming data. In this type of listening you pay attention to what differs from what you already know. You are open to ideas and opinions different from your own rather than denying them.
3. Listening with an open heart (empathetic listening). You guessed it, in this level of listening we are connecting with the whole person and what they are saying. This level allows you to shift out of the boundaries of your own mind and into the field of the other person. It requires you to activate your empathy to connect with the other person.
4. Listening with an open will. For the truly woke amongst us, when you listen on this level, you move far out of yourself and your own boundaries and connect with something bigger than yourself. You are listening from the emerging field of the future at this level and you are so connected in the moment, time slows down. When you come out of the conversation a different person that before, one more connected to your authentic self, you know you have been in this profound level of listening.
Being more conscious of the way we listen, how we listen and what we hear is an important exercise to practice. How can you get better at truly listening? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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