While conventional education tends to focus on teaching through reading and writing, if you stop and think about it there are at least four ways of communicating - reading, writing, speaking and… listening. Even in circumstances where students get to practice their public speaking skills, very little of conventional education is directed at active ‘listening’.
Why is that? Why do we think that listening isn’t a skill that has to be developed alongside writing or reading? Could this be the reason that so many of us encounter ‘communication issues’ and are frustrated by our inability to express ourselves properly? Is it even possible that because we take listening skills for granted, we often misunderstand our children - simply because we do not know how to consciously listen? I don’t know about you, but this realization came as a shock to me.
Luckily, sound and communication expert Julian Treasure came to the rescue, and in one of his TEDtalks he explained a very simple set of tools that we can use everyday to improve the quality of our listening.
Here are three simple steps you can take to improve your listening:
- Spend 3 minutes a day in silence (or at least in a quieter place than normal). This will help you to reset your ears and recalibrate so you can appreciate the nature of quietness again.
- When you find yourself in a sound-rich environment, try to isolate the different sound channels you are hearing. For example, take your kids for a walk and ask them how many different birds they can hear, the different sounds of the ripples on a pond or, if it is a windy day, ask them if they can distinguish between the sound that the grass and the trees make when the wind blows. These sorts of exercises will help you to improve the quality of your listening.
- The third step is the acronym RASA, which stands for:
- Receive. Become more receptive by paying attention to the person who is communicating with you.
- Acknowledge. Make little noises such as: “ah” and “mmm” so that the person you are conversing with knows that you are listening. This of course must be done in a way you do not interrupt the person who is communicating with you, so be patient, particularly when talking with children.
- Summarize. Briefly repeat what the other person has just told you so they know you listened fully to what they just said. Use words such as “so” and “I see” to help you get the message across.
- Ask questions. Only ask questions once the person has finished speaking. An important point here is trying to avoid interrupting the person with questions while they are expressing their ideas, as this could divert the conversation into a direction that the speaker didn’t original intend to go. Remember, we are practicing how to be better listeners, and therefore we must not lead the thoughts of the other person. Keep your question for when they have finished expressing their thoughts.
Taking the time to improve our listening skills will enable us to connect and understand each other in a more profound and meaningful way. By concisely listening to each other, we will be breaking down a barrier in our day-to-day communications, allowing us to better understand each other and ultimately living a richer and fuller life.
Give it a try and start practicing these simple exercises. Don’t just try it with your kids, try it with everybody you speak to - I will certainly be giving it a go! - and see where it leads you.