Conscious Listening: The Ultimate Act of Generosity & Caring

Did you know that we spend 60% of our time listening?

Unfortunately, most of us really don’t listen very well at all and we retain only 25% of what we hear. This lack causes all sorts of problems in personal relationships, at work, and even accessing everyday services like proper health care.

Since January is a time for resolutions, I suggest that we all resolve to practice better listening because good listening could improve nearly every other aspect of our lives. Good listening—conscious listening— is a way to be truly present to another human being, it’s an act of that shows respect, caring, and love.

The problem with listening is that we have filters—mostly unconscious—that create barriers to hearing the real content of what is said.  These filters include beliefs, expectations, values, and intentions (among others) and cause us to hear not what is said but what we want or expect.

Adding to the filter problem is lack of attention to the task. A friend told me that when she’s talking on the phone to her very chatty cousin (who she says she adores), she’s surfing the web and reading articles. And we’ve all seen people supposedly having a “discussion” while texting or playing on their phones. Saddest of all is to see a child trying to compete for attention with a parent’s phone or tablet. These examples are not a matter of rudeness, but of caring.

Being Heard: Most of us have experienced how wonderful it feels to truly be heard, to be understood (and therefore validated), or simply to successfully complete a task because you have all the instructions. Our society, awash in electronic distraction, is becoming less skilled at listening—and since we were never that good at it to begin with, that’s a big problem.

Sound expert, author, and international speaker, Julian Treasure (great name!) has 5 Tips to develop better listening that he presented last year during a Ted talk in Scotland.

Conscious listening, he said, is an exercise in mindfulness that takes practice but since listening is the ultimate act of generosity and caring, the effort pays off handsomely. To develop better listening he suggests:

  1. Take 3 to 5 minutes every day for silence
  2. Practice hearing “channels of sound” in open spaces or in noisy environments so that you can begin to exercise control over your “soundscapes”
  3. Savor listening; learn to recognize and enjoy the mundane sounds in your environment
  4. Switch your “listening position” (active verses passive,  empathetic verses critical, etc.)
  5. Use the acronym RASA: receive, appreciate, summarize, ask

Developing conscious listening, listening with our heart and not just our ears, is a skill that not only will strengthen personal and working relationships, it’s essential for generating the kind of understanding necessary to create the peace we long for in our lives, in our communities, and in the world.

“Words are a pretext. It is the inner bond that draws one person to another, not words.” ― Rumi

Julian Treasure’s Ted talk on Listening 


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