How to Listen Better

Listening is of the most important skills we need to develop as a leader.  Accurate and careful listening to others and quiet, listening to ourselves.  It’s funny we teach speaking skills, but we usually don’t actively teach listening skills, well at least most people don’t.  In our house, listening was an emphasized skill.

Growing up, family dinners were the norm. Every night my Dad would come home around 5:25pm he’d change out of his work clothes and then we’d all sit down to dinner. He’d always have something interesting to share with us. But here’s the twist-sometimes it was true and other times, well, he would just make up a story.  All of his stories were always just on the border of being possible and impossible, so you really had to apply your listening and critical thinking skills to discern if what he was saying was true or not.  Because he made up stories so frequently, when occasionally the odd story was true, we wouldn’t believe him until we had hard evidence. Of course, that was pre-internet days, we couldn’t just Google it to find out if it was true or not.

My Dad would always say that listening is an important skill that we needed to practice.  We needed to listen carefully both with our ears and with our eyes.  He told us to look for body language that might indicate how someone was really feeling.  In fact, we even made excursions to the mall to sit on a bench and “read” people as they walked by.  My Dad felt this was good training for life.  At the time I just thought it was fun to spend time with my Dad, I never realized just how important it was that he did that with me.   In his own unique was my Dad taught me to listen better.  I know I’m a better listener as a result of his training, yet I listening is a skill that requires regular practice.  Listening a skill that I get asked about surprising often.  It’s one question I receive on a regular basis, “Lisa, how can I learn to listen better?”

I’ve written about it on my Quick and Dirty Tips blog, The Public Speaker.  In one episode I talk about how to improve listening skills.  In another episode I give you some practical techniques for practicing and improving your listening skills.

One of the best talks I’ve seen about listening was by Julian Treasure, Five Ways To Listen Better.  He suggests the  following things:

1.  Listen to silence for five minutes everyday to recalibrate our listening.  If you can’t find silence, go for quiet.

2.  Listen and count the channels of the sounds.  Do you hear birds?  Do you hear cars?  Do you hear a fan?  Do you hear keyboard clicks from typing?  Do you hear the trees rustling?  He says it will improve the quality of our listening.

3.  Listen and change your position.  So move to from a passive listener to active listener or critical listener to empathetic lister.  Change your position to create better understanding.

4.  Listen following RASA (which is a sanskrit word for essence):  Receive (pay attention), Appreciation (little noises..ah), Summarize (so…) , Ask (move conversation forward)

(Yes, he did make 5 suggestions, but you’ll need to listen to the video for the fifth!)
Here’s the video 5 Ways to Listen Better from Julian Treasure if you haven’t seen it.

For me (and for Julian) listening is about connection it’s about understanding.  Listening is what allows us to negotiate with those around us in an authentic, compassionate, caring manner that allows all us to achieve success.  Listening is what ultimately brings us peace.

We must teach listening to our children. Listening was an important and lasting lesson from my father that has served me well. Listening effectively is something I want to pass on to my children.

In that effort to help my children understand listening, we watched the deaf percussionist, Evelyn Glennie’s TED talk, called How to Truly Listen. Here’s here talk:

I love the idea of feeling the sound. I combined her ideas with Julian’s and when I listen to sounds I try to imagine how it might feel. I separate the channels and feel the sound. I listening to rustling leaves and I feel small rain drops hit my face and arms, I hear the wind blow and feel imaginary feathers on my skin.

Listening is a gift–it seems in our loud, loud, world. What are you listening to these days? I suggest you listen to one more video from Julian Treasure. He will describes 8 steps to sound health. We watched this in our house and we do them all!

Finally, here is another TED talk related to listening that made a big impression on me. In this talk he talks about the impact of humans on our soundscapes. It was at the same time upsetting and eye opening to me. Here is it is again, in case you missed it.



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Copyright Lisa B. Marshall ©2012-2016. All Rights Reserved. Photo of Lisa B. Marshall by Joan Ford Photography.