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Lost Art of Listening

March 4, 2016



We’ve made it to March.  What a month!  We get more sunlight each day thanks to daylight savings, spring gets sprung and winter rolls out, and towards the end of the month we have an early Easter and Spring Break. Over that time span, people will be traveling either to see family or explore the country. Unfortunately I can’t make it home to my family for break, but I will be exploring Portland for a few days.  Whether we find ourselves on the road this month, or visiting familiar faces, I wanted to focus on how we can not only infuse our language with positivity, but also become genuine listeners with the hopes that we can enhance our conversations with more connection and meaning. 


Ever since I was a little boy, I enjoyed talking.  Words were my weapon. They helped me fend off my physically imposing brother, wiggle my way out of trouble, and establish a successful landscaping business.  Yet, as I got older and began studying language and words, I began to wonder why people struggle to listen when others speak.  What were the reasons for this? Shrinking attention spansA lack of listening?  Poor choice of words or ideas?  After some research, and three years of teaching a course on communication, I realized that all three play a role with the lack of connection between the speaker and listener.  In a world that is so technologically connected, I fear for the spoken word.  The value speaking and listening play in our digitally connected society is greater than ever, and because of that we must be precise and concise with our words if we hope to be heard.


“The human voice: It's the instrument we all play. It's the most powerful sound in the world, probably. It's the only one that can start a war or say ‘I love you.’”  This quote is from Julian Treasure, who is the founder of Sound Agency- a company that advises businesses how to use sound to enhance productivity.  On top of that, Treasure has also presented five TED Talks on speaking and listening.  His most successful talk, titled, How to Speak so That People Want to Listen, focuses not only on what we say, but how we say it.  (Sidenote: None of his information is revolutionary, they are ideas most of us already know; however, he stresses becoming conscious of what we say on a daily basis, being honest with ourselves, and how by doing that we can implement changes to our vocabulary.)  Treasure identified ‘seven deadly sins of speaking’ and how these seven sins negatively impact our ability to have people listen when we speak.  The sins he listed were: gossip, judging, negativity, complaining, excuses, exaggeration, and lying.  At one point or another, we’ve all engaged in these habits.  We know people who utilize these habits more often than not.  To an extent, it’s natural.  However, these are habits that we fall into, and just like with any habit, the more we engage in it the more likely we are to repeat it.


So we know what not to say to increase the chances that people will listen to us, but the other side of the coin is how do we improve our listening so that we can take in the words of others?  Luckily, Treasure has some ideas for that too.  In his TED Talk titled, Five Ways to Listen, he breaks down different ways we can increase our listening so we can better connect with each other.  The most practical and beneficial piece of information Treasure provided for listening was his acronym RASA. “ You can use this in listening, in communication. The acronym is RASA, which is the Sanskrit word for juice or essence.  RASA stands for Receive, which means pay attention to the person; Appreciate, making little noises like "hmm," "oh," "okay"; Summarize, the word "so" is very important in communication; and Ask, ask questions afterward.” For someone as extroverted as I am, this simple acronym changed my understanding of listening and it has forever changed my communication skills.  For anyone looking to enhance his or her communication skills, this one should be towards the top. 


The amount of conversations we have on a daily basis makes it hard for us to treat each one with the required attention needed.  Active listening is draining, which is why most people aren’t as eager to utilize it.  Staying positive requires work.  It’s easier to complain and be negative, which is why many people resort to this.  Conversations connect us to each other.  Furthermore, face-to-face conversations are essential and extremely valuable in the growing landscape of digital communication. So as we enter each conversation today, this month, and this year, let us do so armed with the knowledge and power of speaking and listening consciously. 


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