Conscious Listening: 5 Ways to Listen Better

Author, speaker, and sound expert Julian Treasure is passionate about the often overlooked power and importance of sound. In a 2011 TED talk, Treasure addressed a critical concern, that “We are losing our listening.”


He explained that since we’ve invented ways of recording, there’s become less of a premium placed on accurate and careful listening. Also, the world is unquestionably noisy now – it’s tiring and hard to listen amidst all the noise. We’re becoming impatient too; we prefer quick sound bites rather than lengthy oratory, and the art of conversation is being replaced by brief bursts of personal broadcast through text messages and social media. And perhaps most significant of all, we’re becoming desensitized. As we can see in the media, headlines must be crafted to “scream” at us in order to just get our attention.


Treasure noted that all that noise and desensitization “means it’s harder for us to pay attention to the quiet, the subtle, the understated.”


In addition to these significant listening challenges, we tend to unconsciously filter sounds according to our culture, language, values, beliefs, attitudes, expectations, and intentions. These filters dictate what sounds we pay attention to, and also what sounds we miss.


Treasure went on to explain, “This is a serious problem that we’re losing our listening. This is not trivial. Because listening is our access to understanding; conscious listening always creates understanding.”


So how do we become better at listening? Treasure offered five tools or exercises that we can practice to become more conscious listeners:


  1. Silence. Purposefully enjoy at least three minutes a day of sweet silence – or at least relaxing quiet. This “resets” your ears so you can hear the quiet, the subtle, and the understated again.
  2. The Mixer. In a busy sound environment, like a coffee shop, challenge yourself to identify each separate channel of sound. This is a great exercise for improving the quality of your listening.
  3. Savoring. Enjoy the “hidden choir” of mundane sounds, like the washer or dryer, or a coffee grinder or ceiling fan. These everyday sounds can be very interesting and even beautiful if you just pay attention.
  4. Listening Positions. Experiment by considering sounds through different personal filters, or from different positions or attitudes, such as active or passive, reductive or expansive, critical or empathetic.
  5. RASA. Receive: pay attention to the person who is speaking. Appreciate: acknowledge what’s being said by making appreciative sounds while listening. Summarize: briefly recap what you just heard to confirm you understand. Ask: pose thoughtful questions after listening.


If we make a conscious effort to practice and improve our listening skills, better listening really is possible, and the rewards are significant! As Treasure put it, “I believe every human being needs to listen consciously in order to live fully.”


Learn to listen consciously – and you will be more fulfilled!



To watch Julian Treasure’s full TED talk, please click here.


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I am a leader, speaker, and author who is passionate about Leadership Excellence and Achieiving Greater Success. I am the author of the books Be An Inspirational Leader(2016) and Presidential Leadership (2013), and deliver keynote presentations on those topics and several others.

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