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TEDGlobal 2011

Julian Treasure: 5 ways to listen better

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Views 5,573,235

In our louder and louder world, says sound expert Julian Treasure, "We are losing our listening." In this short, fascinating talk, Treasure shares five ways to re-tune your ears for conscious listening -- to other people and the world around you.

- Sound consultant
Julian Treasure studies sound and advises businesses on how best to use it. Full bio

We are losing our listening.
00:15
We spend roughly 60 percent of our communication time listening,
00:18
but we're not very good at it.
00:22
We retain just 25 percent of what we hear.
00:24
Now not you, not this talk,
00:26
but that is generally true.
00:28
Let's define listening
00:30
as making meaning from sound.
00:32
It's a mental process,
00:34
and it's a process of extraction.
00:36
We use some pretty cool techniques to do this.
00:38
One of them is pattern recognition.
00:40
(Crowd Noise) So in a cocktail party like this,
00:42
if I say, "David, Sara, pay attention,"
00:45
some of you just sat up.
00:47
We recognize patterns
00:49
to distinguish noise from signal,
00:51
and especially our name.
00:53
Differencing is another technique we use.
00:55
If I left this pink noise on for more than a couple of minutes,
00:57
you would literally cease to hear it.
01:00
We listen to differences,
01:02
we discount sounds that remain the same.
01:04
And then there is a whole range of filters.
01:07
These filters take us from all sound
01:10
down to what we pay attention to.
01:13
Most people are entirely unconscious
01:15
of these filters.
01:17
But they actually create our reality in a way,
01:19
because they tell us what we're paying attention to right now.
01:22
Give you one example of that:
01:25
Intention is very important in sound, in listening.
01:27
When I married my wife,
01:30
I promised her that I would listen to her every day
01:32
as if for the first time.
01:34
Now that's something I fall short of on a daily basis.
01:36
(Laughter)
01:39
But it's a great intention to have in a relationship.
01:41
But that's not all.
01:44
Sound places us in space and in time.
01:46
If you close your eyes right now in this room,
01:49
you're aware of the size of the room
01:52
from the reverberation
01:54
and the bouncing of the sound off the surfaces.
01:56
And you're aware of how many people are around you
01:58
because of the micro-noises you're receiving.
02:00
And sound places us in time as well,
02:03
because sound always has
02:06
time embedded in it.
02:08
In fact, I would suggest that our listening is the main way
02:10
that we experience the flow of time
02:12
from past to future.
02:14
So, "Sonority is time and meaning" -- a great quote.
02:16
I said at the beginning, we're losing our listening.
02:18
Why did I say that?
02:21
Well there are a lot of reasons for this.
02:23
First of all, we invented ways of recording --
02:25
first writing, then audio recording
02:27
and now video recording as well.
02:29
The premium on accurate and careful listening
02:31
has simply disappeared.
02:34
Secondly, the world is now so noisy,
02:36
(Noise) with this cacophony going on
02:39
visually and auditorily,
02:41
it's just hard to listen;
02:44
it's tiring to listen.
02:46
Many people take refuge in headphones,
02:48
but they turn big, public spaces like this,
02:50
shared soundscapes,
02:53
into millions of tiny, little personal sound bubbles.
02:55
In this scenario, nobody's listening to anybody.
02:59
We're becoming impatient.
03:02
We don't want oratory anymore,
03:04
we want sound bites.
03:06
And the art of conversation
03:08
is being replaced -- dangerously, I think --
03:10
by personal broadcasting.
03:12
I don't know how much listening there is in this conversation,
03:14
which is sadly very common,
03:17
especially in the U.K.
03:19
We're becoming desensitized.
03:21
Our media have to scream at us with these kinds of headlines
03:23
in order to get our attention.
03:26
And that means it's harder for us to pay attention
03:28
to the quiet, the subtle,
03:30
the understated.
03:32
This is a serious problem that we're losing our listening.
03:35
This is not trivial.
03:38
Because listening is our access to understanding.
03:40
Conscious listening always creates understanding.
03:43
And only without conscious listening
03:47
can these things happen --
03:50
a world where we don't listen to each other at all,
03:52
is a very scary place indeed.
03:54
So I'd like to share with you
03:58
five simple exercises, tools you can take away with you,
04:00
to improve your own conscious listening.
04:03
Would you like that?
04:05
(Audience: Yes.) Good.
04:07
The first one is silence.
04:09
Just three minutes a day of silence
04:11
is a wonderful exercise
04:13
to reset your ears and to recalibrate
04:15
so that you can hear the quiet again.
04:17
If you can't get absolute silence,
04:19
go for quiet, that's absolutely fine.
04:21
Second, I call this the mixer.
04:24
(Noise) So even if you're in a noisy environment like this --
04:27
and we all spend a lot of time in places like this --
04:30
listen in the coffee bar
04:33
to how many channels of sound can I hear?
04:35
How many individual channels in that mix am I listening to?
04:37
You can do it in a beautiful place as well, like in a lake.
04:40
How many birds am I hearing?
04:43
Where are they? Where are those ripples?
04:45
It's a great exercise
04:47
for improving the quality of your listening.
04:49
Third, this exercise I call savoring,
04:52
and this is a beautiful exercise.
04:54
It's about enjoying mundane sounds.
04:56
This, for example, is my tumble dryer.
04:58
(Dryer) It's a waltz.
05:01
One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three.
05:03
I love it.
05:06
Or just try this one on for size.
05:08
(Coffee grinder)
05:10
Wow!
05:19
So mundane sounds can be really interesting if you pay attention.
05:21
I call that the hidden choir.
05:23
It's around us all the time.
05:25
The next exercise
05:27
is probably the most important of all of these,
05:29
if you just take one thing away.
05:31
This is listening positions --
05:33
the idea that you can move your listening position
05:35
to what's appropriate to what you're listening to.
05:38
This is playing with those filters.
05:40
Do you remember, I gave you those filters at the beginning.
05:42
It's starting to play with them as levers,
05:44
to get conscious about them and to move to different places.
05:46
These are just some of the listening positions,
05:49
or scales of listening positions, that you can use.
05:51
There are many.
05:54
Have fun with that. It's very exciting.
05:56
And finally, an acronym.
05:58
You can use this in listening, in communication.
06:00
If you're in any one of those roles --
06:03
and I think that probably is everybody who's listening to this talk --
06:05
the acronym is RASA,
06:09
which is the Sanskrit word
06:11
for juice or essence.
06:13
And RASA stands for Receive,
06:15
which means pay attention to the person;
06:17
Appreciate, making little noises
06:19
like "hmm," "oh," "okay";
06:21
Summarize, the word "so" is very important in communication;
06:23
and Ask, ask questions afterward.
06:26
Now sound is my passion, it's my life.
06:30
I wrote a whole book about it. So I live to listen.
06:32
That's too much to ask from most people.
06:34
But I believe that every human being
06:37
needs to listen consciously
06:39
in order to live fully --
06:41
connected in space and in time
06:43
to the physical world around us,
06:45
connected in understanding to each other,
06:47
not to mention spiritually connected,
06:49
because every spiritual path I know of
06:51
has listening and contemplation
06:53
at its heart.
06:55
That's why
06:57
we need to teach listening in our schools
06:59
as a skill.
07:01
Why is it not taught? It's crazy.
07:03
And if we can teach listening in our schools,
07:05
we can take our listening off that slippery slope
07:08
to that dangerous, scary world that I talked about
07:11
and move it to a place where everybody is consciously listening all the time --
07:14
or at least capable of doing it.
07:17
Now I don't know how to do that,
07:19
but this is TED,
07:21
and I think the TED community is capable of anything.
07:23
So I invite you to connect with me, connect with each other,
07:26
take this mission out and let's get listening taught in schools,
07:29
and transform the world in one generation to a conscious listening world --
07:32
a world of connection,
07:35
a world of understanding and a world of peace.
07:37
Thank you for listening to me today.
07:40
(Applause)
07:42

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About the speaker:

Julian Treasure - Sound consultant
Julian Treasure studies sound and advises businesses on how best to use it.

Why you should listen

Julian Treasure is the chair of the Sound Agency, a firm that advises worldwide businesses -- offices, retailers, hotels -- on how to use sound. He asks us to pay attention to the sounds that surround us. How do they make us feel: productive, stressed, energized, acquisitive?

Treasure is the author of the book Sound Business and keeps a blog by the same name that ruminates on aural matters (and offers a nice day-by-day writeup of TEDGlobal 2009). In the early 1980s, Treasure was the drummer for the Fall-influenced band Transmitters.

More profile about the speaker
Julian Treasure | Speaker | TED.com