Blog Reviews

5 Ways to Listen Better

This post is based on the wonderful TED talk by Julian Treasure. Much of the text below is directly from the video. I heard about this talk on an NLP mailing list, and apart from its value in developing sensory acuity and rapport skills, it is also of interest to me in a university course that I teach called “Sound and Education Media.” For years, I have been teaching students about the value of listening and doing various exercises based on the work of Barry Truax and R Murray Schafer. I am delighted to see that some of this earlier work is being pursued and extended by people like Julian Treasure. Incidentally, Treasure’s use of language is excellent and from his words it sounds like he would be a fine hypnotist!

Treasure starts out by claiming that “We are losing our listening.” People retain just 25% of what we hear. Listening is the extracting of meaning from sound.
Techniques Used by the Brain
1. Pattern Recognition
We recognize patterns (e.g. our names) in order to distinguish noise from a signal.
2. Differencing
In the video, he gives the example of ‘pink noise’, If ‘pink noise’ is on for a few minutes, we literally cease to hear it. Pink noise is a type of artificially created regular noise which covers the entire spectrum of human hearing.
Treasure also talks about the other filters that we use at an unconscious level to listen to sounds. These include:

  • Culture
  • Language
  • Values
  • Beliefs
  • Attitudes
  • Expectations
  • Intentions

5 Ways to Listen Better
These are the five simple tools that I will be sharing with my university students in the second semester when it begins in October.
1. Silence
Just three minutes a day is a wonderful way to recalibrate your ears.
2. The Mixer
Identify how many channels of sound you can hear in a place. This improves the quality of listening.
3. Savoring
Listen to a mundane sound and recognize its beauty. For example, a clothes drier can have a waltz rhythm. ‘The hidden choir’ is around us all the time.
4. Listening Positions
Start to play with your listening filters. Here are some examples that you can start to play with:

  • active vs passive
  • reductive vs. expansive
  • critical vs. empathetic

5. An easy mnemonic to remember how to listen more effectively:
Receive (Listen to the person)
Appreciate (Make little backchannel sounds to show you appreciate it
sk questions
Treasure reminds us that every human being needs to “listen consciously in order to live fully, connected in space and in time to the physical world around, connected in understanding to each other, not to mention spiritually connected …”
And I agree strongly with his conclusion that we need to teach listening in our schools as a skill. With the rise of technological background noise, personal music players, shrinking personal space in noisy cities, and a general overload of information, listening is an endangered art and one that needs attention.

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