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Tuning in to the Hidden Choir — and Each Other

Julian Treasure insists that schools get it all wrong.

“They spend years banging ‘reading and writing’ into our heads, rather than focusing on speaking and listening.”

The result, he says, is a tragedy — and a crime — for people both individually and socially, because most of what we learn and how we connect with others comes through listening.

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People may not be listening to each other, but apparently they are listening to Treasure. One of his TED talks has garnered nearly 60 million views on YouTube alone.

Spending a minute talking with him makes it clear why.

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“Sound is my passion. I live to listen. And I believe that every human being needs to listen consciously in order to live fully — connected in space and in time to the physical world around us. Listening connects us in understanding to each other, and it connects us spiritually; every spiritual path I know of has listening and contemplation at its heart.”

Yet, he laments, “we're losing our skill of listening. Recording has reduced our premium on accurate and careful listening. The world is now so noisy; it's tiring to tune in. People are taking refuge in personal sound bubbles.”

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He lists a cavalcade of other reasons we’ve become such bad, inattentive listeners. “We’re impatient. We want sound bites. The art of conversation is being replaced by personal broadcasting. Our media screams at us with clickbait headlines to get our attention. And that means it's harder for us to pay attention to the quiet, the subtle, the understated.”

To help counter these social trends, Treasure offers five practices to cultivate deeper listening skills:

Practice #1: Silence. Just three minutes a day of silence is a wonderful exercise to reset your ears and to recalibrate, so that you can hear the quiet again.

Practice #2: Break Down the Mix. Wherever you are, stop and listen to how many channels of sound you can hear at once. What’s in the mix? Voices? Music? Birds?

Practice #3: Savor Mundane Sounds. For instance, listen to your clothes dryer. He does, and says, “suddenly, it's a waltz: one, two, three; one, two, three; one, two, three. I love it! I call mundane sound the "hidden choir" that’s around us all the time.”

Practice #4: Filter. Apply a mental filter to focus on what's appropriate to whatever you're listening to. Treasure calls these “listening positions,” where you make a decision to listen a certain way. He gives the example of committing to listen to his wife every day as if they had just met. He admits he fails daily but keeps trying!

Practice #5: RASA. Use this acronym: RASA, which is the Sanskrit word for "juice" or "essence." RASA stands for "Receive," which means pay attention to the person; "Appreciate," by making little noises like "hmm," "oh," and "ok;" "Summarize," by using the word "so…" to help the speaker distill the meaning of a communication; and "Ask," always ask questions afterwards.

LISTENING LIKE A LEADER

An advocate of conscious listening, Treasure is quick to point out that conscious speech is equally important. Unconscious speech shuts down others — a recipe for disaster in personal relationships — and poison to business success.

By way of example, he teaches leaders how not to invalidate employees because it destroys useful challenges. “A leader might react with a straight out ‘No!’ when he or she doesn’t want to hear something,” he says, “and that makes people stop talking. They stop coming up with ideas. They get shut down and they leave, and you get turnover and low morale.

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By contrast, he counsels, “a leader should take a moment and say, ‘I understand where you're coming from.’ It doesn't take more than a second to avoid invalidating somebody. But if you're a leader — and not merely a boss — you validate, and people feel heard, respected and encouraged to speak.”

Recently, he’s been working on bringing his wisdom around speaking and listening to the wider world.

Listening isn’t a neutral thing, he says. Sometimes — often — you have to proactively listen “behind” the words.

"Every individual's listening is as unique as his or her fingerprints,” he says, “because we all listen through filters that develop from our personal mix of culture, language, values, beliefs, attitudes, expectations, and intentions."

He sees his work apply to the family, companies, societies, and even inter-civilizationally.

“I hope what I’m doing is something of an answer to the state we're getting into in this world of polarization, caricaturing, hatred, all of that stuff that we see around us in politics, in society, everywhere.”

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According to Treasure, it all comes down to one word: validation. “As in, ‘I really don't agree with what you just said, but I can understand why you would believe that.’ That’s very different from ‘what you say is rubbish and wrong.’”

Invalidating is the enemy.

“And that’s an addiction,” he explains. “It’s endemic. What’s the gain in it? So I feel better about myself because I've made you wrong. You're less than me. Great!”

He explains how “that ego-driven process is what is behind all of the conflict that we're seeing today. We're not interested in listening to people we disagree with. But we must. If we want to grow and to learn more about this world that we live in, we can’t if we only ever talk to people exactly like us.”

Written by Adam Gilad


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