The most successful people listen more than they speak.
That’s according to legendary industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who passed the lesson on to Napoleon Hill for his 1937 book “Think and Grow Rich.”
He meant that people who excel use conversations to learn from others rather than inflate their own egos.
Speaker and author Julian Treasure gave a popular TED Talk in 2011 about the ways in which we are more distracted and worse at listening than ever before.
Studies have found that about 40% of one’s time spent communicating is spent listening, and by a wide margin more time is spent listening to others than reading, writing, or speaking.
Treasure recommends practicing focused listening as much as any other communication skills. He offers five simple exercises to become a better listener.
Immerse yourself in silence.
Treasure says the brain develops filters for sound so that it doesn’t become overwhelmed by stimuli. For example, if you’re at a noisy party, you’ll still likely be able to recognize someone shouting your name.
In order to “re-calibrate” your ears, Treasure recommends a period of meditation in complete silence, even if it’s only a few minutes each day. You may as well use the opportunity to quiet the cacophony of thoughts in your head, too.
Break soundscapes down.
Treasure recommends taking a moment to think of your mind like an audio mixer, breaking down every sound you hear in a setting in the same way a producer would isolate different instruments and vocals when working on a song. You can try selecting different channels of sound in a café, the office, or even in a song itself.
The exercise will allow you to enhance your selective listening.
Enjoy the mundane.
Focus your mind on sounds you would normally ignore, like your washing machine or a car driving by. This can help you break a habit of drowning out sounds around you when you become distracted.
Adjust your listening positions.
Treasure says this exercise is by far the most effective.
In the same way you imagined your mind as a sound mixer, practice jumping among each of the sound channels around you. If you’re listening to a song, try listening only to the drums before listening only to the bass line, for example.
Similarly, practice jumping among different perspectives. Try listening to a speech from a critical perspective, rapidly processing the validity of statements and their meaning, and then try listening from an empathetic perspective, focusing more on the emotion of the words and how the speaker is delivering them.
Practice engagement with another person.
And finally, learn how to be a better conversationalist.
Treasure says to remember the acronym “RASA.”
“Receive” by making eye contact with and focusing on the other person; “Appreciate” by giving indications of acknowledgment through cues like head nods or short vocal replies; “Summarize” by getting the other person to clarify the point of anything that doesn’t register; and “Ask” by giving follow-up questions to whatever you just learned.