Are You A Capable Listener?

Listening is an integral part of our communication with each other, and a lot of our energy is continuously dedicated to improving our message: Making our communication clear, ensuring slogans are catchy, verifying our information, or seeking those best words that capture our thoughts.

While the messages we share are vital to our daily livelihood and work, we must not lose sight of the role of listening. Listening involves making sense of these messages, internalizing them, and integrating them into who we are as friends, community workers, etc.

After all, what happens to a message that falls onto deaf ears?

In our unending efforts for global equity and change, listening becomes an important part of our relationship with a community. Community members know what their needs are, they best understand their lived experience, and what needs to be done to sustainably execute solutions.

Our partners listen to their respective communities for vital information and mentorship. They cannot successfully do the work they do without a deep sense of understanding, which can only result from the lending of an ear to a voice that has something important to say.

That's why we like this TED Talk from Julian Treasure, 5 Ways to Listen Better.


Treasure begins his talk with some alarming statistics. For example, we spend roughly 60% of our time listening, but only retain about 25%. What this means is that 1) we are not as skilled at listening as we may have previously thought, and 2) we are not managing our time well as far as listening goes.  We listen, but information does not get heard (or stored).

We encourage you to watch his brief talk on TED. But if you don't have time for his 7-minute lecture, we are happy to pass along his main points.

Treasure reviews five tools that anyone can use to improve their listening skills:

1. Silence – We live in a noisy world where we perpetually get bombarded by messages.  Treasure suggests finding a few minutes to enjoy silence every day. Just three minutes per day can recalibrate your ears.

2. The Mixer – In a loud environment, try to pay attention to the number of unique sounds you can hear. So go sit at a lake or a coffee shop and really pay attention to how many different sounds you can hear (What are they? And where are they coming from?).

3. Savoring – Try to find enjoyment out of mundane sounds in your environment (maybe your washing machine? Or the sound of traffic?)

4. Listening Positions – Try to change your position depending on what's most appropriate to what you are hearing in a conversation or message. These positions can include active versus passive, reductive versus expansive, or critical versus empathetic. Be conscious of these filters, and adapt them to the message communicated. According to Treasure, listening positions are the most important takeaway from his entire talk.

5. RASA – An acronym that stands for Receive (pay attention to the person you are speaking with),  Appreciate (for example, making “uh-huh” noises throughout a conversation to show your understanding), Summarize (he emphasizes how important the word “so...” is in communication), and Ask (make sure you understand the message by asking questions afterward).

Even when we are motivated to hear what other people or communities have to share with us, we want to ensure that we are skillfully listening to their ideas. To do so, we must be flexible and interactive. This talk reminds us that listening is something that requires two ears and mouth. Information enters our comprehension through our ears, but our shared understanding comes from our ability to appreciate, summarize, and ask if we are on the same page.  When we are capable listeners, we also become much more competent doers.

Julian Treasure even suggests that we should teach listening in our schools, because “Every human being needs to listen consciously in order to live fully.” And living fully is what we all strive for every day, in our personal lives and in our global development work.