Are you suffering from information overload? I certainly am. The amount of noise in my life seems to be increasing exponentially. My definition of listening goes beyond just hearing the sounds around you. It also encompasses the amount of digital noise that we have to deal with on a daily basis, including SPAM, Twitter feeds, text messages, and Facebook updates.
To combat the increasing level of noise in our lives, I see a number of people working on refining their multitasking skills. Unfortunately, the human brain is not really wired to multitask, so instead of handling multiple feats simultaneously, we end up doing two or more things poorly. If you doubt it, but try to hold a phone conversation with someone checking their email at the other end of the line. Or try talking to your teenager while their thumbs are busily texting their friends. You not only don’t have their attention, but they are actually actively ignoring what you have to say.
We need to recapture the art of listening. We need to rediscover ways to cut through the noise and re-engage with those around us. Especially in the age of social media, we have all become “skimmers,” sifting through the cacophony of incoming noise and taking away the sound bites we want without applying critical thought to the context or the bigger picture. In fact, we are all starting to communicate in sound bites since we know our listeners won’t take the time to hear a longer statement. One of the prime criteria for bloggers is keep it short so you don’t lose your audience. (I recall the Jeff Goldblum character in the film “The Big Chill” stating that the editorial criteria for People magazine is “I don’t write anything longer than the average person can read during the average crap,” which seems to apply to most communications these days.)
To quote Julian Treasure from a recent TED presentation, “Conversation is being replaced by personal broadcasting.” This particularly true with social media where we are all shouting at each other for online attention, and have to ask ourselves if anyone is listening. Sure, we each can count the number of Twitter followers or LinkedIn contacts, but how many of them are paying attention to you?
As Treasure states, listening is our access to understanding. It’s time to renew our commitment to conscious listening.
In his TED presentation, Treasure offers five exercises to improve your listening skills, which I will present here for your consideration. We all need to reassess our listening skills and stop shouting at one another, so take a moment to consider these exercises:
- Practice Silence – Take three minutes each day to recalibrate your consciousness. Get yourself back in tune with the world around you.
- The Mixer – How many individual channels can you hear in your environment? If you are at Starbucks or waiting for a BART train, or just sitting in your backyard, sharpen your listening skills by trying to tune into to as many simultaneous sounds of “channels” as you can.
- Savoring – Enjoy mundane sounds. Tune to something that generates sound in your life and pay attention to its sound and how you can deconstruct that sound to make it more meaningful.
- Listening Positions – Work with the filters to get conscious about the sounds around you and work with the ways we listen. Is your listening active or passive? Reductive or expansive? Critical or empathetic?
- RASA – This is the Sanskrit word for “essence” and can be applied to the acronym Receive, Appreciate, Summarize, and Ask. This is the process of listening in its most active form. If you are going to engage with your audience or as a member of someone else’s audience, then you need to listen carefully and critically, which means you need to apply RASA.
Listening is a critical component of any communications campaign. If you can’t engage with your audience in a manner that promotes critical listening, you are just adding to the noise. Let’s all think more about listening and less about trying to get our own message across.