“I only wish I could find an institute that teaches people how to listen. Business people need to listen at least as much as they need to talk. Too many people fail to realize that real communication goes in both directions.”
— Lee Iacocca, former president and CEO, Chrysler Corporation
Have you ever wondered what our world would be like had our founding fathers had protected our listening instead of speech? For centuries, philosophers, leaders, educators and parents have extolled the virtues of listening. Yet, in a culture that guarantees us the freedom of speech, listening has been subservient to talking, the symphony of sound surrounding us often drowns out our own authentic voice, leaving us deficient in one of the most valuable skills for our own growth and satisfying human relationships. Fortunately, sound designer, renowned TEDTalker and author, Julian Treasure, provides us some guidance on how to turn down the volume on the external and internal noise that distract so we can listen to ourselves and others.
Listening is the process by which we make meaning of the sounds we hear. It’s a complex process that requires attention, active engagement and discernment, skills that most of us struggle to possess living in our modern, 24-7 world where our brains and bodies are so conditioned to the endless stream sound assaulting our senses that the sound of silence can be deafening. So, what are we to do when the rattle and hum of our daily lives prevents us from listening?
We can begin by understanding listening as the Japanese do. In the Japanese, language, the symbol for listening represents not just the ears but the eyes, the heart/soul and our attentiveness, thereby acknowledging the need for us to commit physically, psychologically and emotionally when we listen. Listening with our whole body helps us ground and center ourselves, exponentially increasing our presence so we can be fully aware, focused and able to make meaning of the multi-layered messages we receive.
“We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.”
Zeno of Citium, as quoted by Diongenes Laërtius
Then, we can also follow the advice of Julian Treasure, sound and communication expert and founder of the Sound Agency, whose 5 TED Talks have amassed more than 100 million views.
Create conditions conducive to contemplation: Creating environments in which noise is diminished or eliminated not only reduces stress on our brains and bodies, it creates space for us to slow down and focus our attention on listening to our internal voice. Playing music or sounds designed for mindfulness or meditation at a low volume helps to create an optimum environment in which we can think and reflect. Journaling can help to process what you hear inside your head.
Attend to the channels of sound: Treasure encourages us to practice tuning our focus on the various sounds we hear to improve our attentiveness. Ask yourself, “What is that sound?” “Where is that sound coming from?” “How does that sound make me feel?” Attending to sound raises our awareness and perceptual abilities, foundational skills for effective listening. According to Treasure, this practice “improves the quality of our listening.”
Practice discernment: In quiet environments, we may experience “monkey mind,” thoughts racing through our brain like a monkey swinging from limb to limb in the jungle. To quiet the mind, imagine a giant broom sweeping those thoughts away and refocus your attention on the sound of your breath. While we might believe that our running to do list or the sudden question, “Did I shut the garage door when I left this morning” is just our brain doing its work, it is most often the voice of our fear making manifest perceived threats (Oh my gosh, what if I left the iron on and burnt down the house?). Shutting down enables us to create the conditions in which we can hear our authentic voice, the voice of our intuition and creativity.
Adopt different listening positions: One of Treasure’s most important suggestions is to change our listening positions. He notes that we employ several perceptual filters through which we process all messages: culture, language, beliefs, values, attitudes, intention and expectations. By practicing different listening positions, (active/passive, reductive/expansive and critical/empathic), we alter the way in which we listen. To do this, simply ask yourself the following questions to add an element of self-monitoring to your listening:
Am I listening actively by consciously processing what I’m hearing or listening passively by allowing sound to simply resonate?
Is my communication behavior displaying that I’m wanting to listen (expansive) or not wanting to listen (reductive)?
Am I in my head focusing on preparing my response (critical) or am I in listening from my heart to understand the emotions accompanying the message (empathic)?
Being aware of your listening position can not only change how you make meaning of the message, it can impact the sender to change their communication behavior.
Raise awareness of intention and expectations: In listening to yourself, pay close attention to the filter of intentions and expectations. Ask yourself, what’s my intention? Am I listening to learn or am I listening to judge? Listen for the words “should,” “have to” or “wish” to discern expectations. Whose voice is expressing those expectations? Your fear? You? Someone else? What is your intention in listening to yourself? Are you listening to your fear and your anxiety or to your intuition and authentic voice? “What was my intention in listening to that message?
Remember RASA: Treasure uses this Sanskrit word as an acronym to remind us of the steps necessary to listen:
Receive - Open your ears, eyes, hearts and heads to all the sounds around and engage in listening to that wall of sound
Appreciate – Set an intention to listen openly, and with gratitude for your ability to listen, especially to others
Summarize – Before offering your response, summarize what you’ve heard. It’s an important part of perception-checking to clarify meaning and eliminate misunderstanding
Ask – Listening is often mired in assumptions. Instead of responding, ask questions that allow for clarification and elaboration. It slows the conversation and results in deeper understanding.
“To say that a person feels listened to means a lot more than just their ideas get heard. It's a sign of respect. It makes people feel valued.”
— Deborah Tannen, author and professor of linguistics, Georgetown University
Just take a minute to imagine how much better our conversations would be if we could end the ceaseless war of words that locks us in a perpetual fight to be heard; how much more integrity our communication would have if we were checking-in with our hearts before verbalizing whatever was in our heads; how much more peaceful our relationships would be if we could discern the most meaningful messages from those that contribute to unnecessary drama and conflict; how much healthier we would be with more peace and quiet. Listening takes practice, so why not begin today? After all, listening to another can only truly be achieved when we are able to listen to ourselves first. So turn off those social media notifications, find a quiet spot, and just listen.
If you struggle to listen, feel you’re not being heard or struggle to find your authentic voice in the cacophony of life, remedy what ails you by booking a session with a certified life coach at ManifestGuides.com. Start actively listening for what you want and one of our dedicated coaches will be listening to you at ManifestGuides.com!
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