The importance of listening in customer service, sales and relationship building is paramount. According to industrialist Andrew Carnegie, the most successful people listen more than they speak.  Studies have found that about 40% of one’s time in communicating is spent listening, and by a wide margin more time is spent listening than reading, writing, or speaking.

Julian Treasure, a top-rated international speaker has given five TED talks on various aspects of sound and communication, which have been viewed an estimated 30 million times. His latest talk, How to Speak so that People Want to Listen, is in the top 20 TED talks of all time.  Treasure recommends practicing focused listening as much as any other communication skills and offers five simple exercises to better your skill.

1. 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, he recommends a period of meditation in complete silence, even if it’s only a few minutes each day.

2. Enjoy the mundane- This exercise asks to 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.

3. Break down the soundscapes- This exercise is to take a moment to think of your mind like an audio mixer, breaking down every sound you hear in the same way a producer would isolate different instruments or vocals in a song. One way would be to select different channels of sound in a restaurant, your golf shop, or even in a song itself. This practice of focused listening can be very helpful in noisy situation.

4. Adjust your listening positions- Treasure feels 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. For example, if you’re listening to a song, try listening only to the drums, then the treble, then the bass line, etc.

Another way would be to practice jumping among different perspectives. Listen to a speech from a critical perspective and process the meaning and validity of statements, then listen from an empathetic perspective, focusing more on the emotion of the words and how the speaker is delivering them.

5. Practice engagement with another person- Lastly, learn how to be a better conversationalist. Treasure emphasizes remembering the acronym “RASA”.

  • Receive by making eye contact with and focusing on the other person
  • Appreciate by sharing acknowledgments like nodding your head or saying “OK” or “I understand”
  • Summarize by sharing a bit of what you just heard
  • Ask follow-up questions for clarification

Communication involves both speaking and listening. In any business, listening is key to effective working relationships among employees, between management and staff as well with customers. A bit of focus on these exercises may be helpful to you and your career path.

Contact Carol Pence by calling (510) 706-1583 or via e-mail at