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How To Improve Your Listening

People tend to think they are good listeners, but research suggests otherwise. 

The average person listens with just 25% efficiency.¹ Twenty-five percent seems rather mediocre, considering listening helps us effectively communicate, negotiate, empathise, follow instructions, learn, understand, and meet a minimum threshold of being a good co-worker and friend. (It should be noted that people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing have other avenues of “listening” that are just as – if not more – effective than listening with ears.)

Despite our general mediocrity, there’s good news: As with reading and writing, listening is a skill that can be developed and improved. In his TED talk, “5 Ways to Listen Better”, Julian Treasure gives insight into what causes us to be poor listeners as well as five suggestions to become better at listening. Treasure’s five suggestions are: ²

1. Silence

Practice 3 minutes of silence everyday. Silence means getting away from noise and not being on your phone or computer. Hearing silence will allow you to to reset your ears, recalibrate your listening skills and allow you to hear the quiet again.

2. The Mixer

Listen for how many individual channels of sound you hear. Listen for something close, something far, something rhythmic and something random. This will help improve the quality of your listening. 

3. Savouring 

Enjoy mundane sounds, i.e. expresso machine, washer & dryer Scientifically, we know that this can improve the attentiveness of your inner ear and sharpen your focus for group situations. 

4. Listening Position 

Be conscious of setting your listening position to what’s appropriate to what you’re listening to. Plan ahead to be active (rather than passive), expansive (rather than reductive), and empathetic (rather than critical) listening. Julian Treasure classifies this as the most important of the five.

5. RASA (Receive, Appreciate, Summarise, Ask)

The 4 elements of active listening can be summarised with RASA. Receive means to actually hear exactly what and how someone is saying things. Appreciate is to interpret and digest yourself. Summarise is a verbal confirmation using synonyms and Asking means querying the information you have received. These 4 elements are very a very practical way to ensure you are actively listening. 

While Treasure’s five suggestions can be easily summarised, the nuances of his TED Talk cannot; thus, the whole talk is well worth a watch. (It’s less than 8 minutes long.) Give it a watch (and make sure you’re listening!) and start honing those listening skills.

1. Huseman, R. C., Lahiff, J. M., & Penrose, J. M. (1988). Business communication: Strategies and skills. Chicago: Dryden Press.

2. Ted Talk