Speaking and listening to reach understanding

By Grayson Ruhl

Executive Staff

On Monday, February 2, Amy Donald, the Internship Coordinator at the University of the South, led a screening and brief discussion of two TED talks given by Julian Treasure. TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a non-profit series of global conferences in which speakers discuss problems, innovations, and ideas with the hope of spreading insight. Julian‘s TED talks focus on enhancing communication, both by speaking and listening more consciously.

Julian’s first talk, “How to speak so that people want to listen,” describes the human voice as “the instrument we all play,” and perhaps “the most powerful sound in the world.” Thus, he explains some ways in which one may enhance his or her voice. First of all, Julian describes, people must avoid the “seven deadly sins of speaking”: gossip, judging, negativity, complaining, excuses, lying, and dogmatism. Julian insists that these habits should be avoided, as they weaken the power of one’s voice. However, Julian provides listeners with his strategy for speaking effectively, HAIL: honesty, authenticity, integrity, and love. With these four combined efforts, one’s voice is more likely to be heard. Julian also describes the physical measures one may take to make his or her voice more powerful. First of all, one’s register should carry “weight.” Speaking from the chest deepens one’s voice; Julian explains that people vote for politicians with lower voices because “we associate depth with power and with authority.” Also, timbre is a key factor: people prefer voices that are “rich, smooth, warm—like hot chocolate,” says Julian. Next on the list is prosody—the “meta-language.” This means that one’s way of speaking should never be monotone or repetitive (such as ending each sentence as a question). Such habits “restrict your ability to communicate,” explains Julian. Pace and the use of silence, as well as pitch and volume, also contribute to one’s ability to communicate effectively. Julian explains these methods as the “toolbox” of the human voice.

Julian’s next talk, “Five ways to listen better,” pleads with the audience, “we are losing our listening.” Studies have found that people spend over half of their communication time listening but only retain about a quarter of what is heard. Julian defines listening as “making meaning from sound,” a mental process. He explains that the modern world is so noisy that it is often “tiring” to listen, and the art of recording the human voice has decreased how seriously we take one’s actual voice. Julian also touches on our desensitization. Sometimes the only thing that can catch our attention—and make us truly listen—are bold and striking headlines. He explains, “Our media has to scream at us” for us to consciously listen. This is not a trivial matter, explains Julian, because it inhibits our ability to understand one another. Julian believes that “conscious listening creates understanding.” A world “where we don’t listen to each other at all,” a world void of understanding, “is a very scary place to be,” Julian explains, as pictures of violence, war, and torture populate the projector behind him. Again, Julian brings many helpful exercises and tools to the table for retaining the ability to listen. The first is silence—“just three minutes a day of silence is a wonderful exercise to reset your ears and to recalibrate,” says Julian. Also effective is counting all the sounds you can hear at once and savoring them. Julian tells the crowd that the monotonous sound of his tumble dryer is “a waltz!” This makes it easier—desirable even—to listen to mundane sounds and increase our listening capabilities. Julian calls these “the hidden choir.” Most importantly, however, are listening positions: being active or passive, reductive or expansive, critical or empathetic.

Finally is the acronym RASA: receive, appreciate, summarize, and ask. Julian believes that “every human being has to listen consciously in order to live fully.” This, he argues, would lead to “a world of connection, a world of understanding, and a world of peace.” Currently, people speak poorly to people who are poor listeners in environments that are noisy and have bad acoustics. However, if we speak powerfully to people who listen consciously in purposeful environments, Julian insists that we would live in a world that “does sound beautiful,” a world “where understanding would be the norm,” says Julian. While there is much to keep track of when speaking and listening consciously, the benefits could be invaluable.