Effective Listening

The definition of listening is

“to give one’s attention to a sound.”

In our louder and louder world, some experts predict we are losing our ability to listen.

Listening is a critical mental process extracting meaning from sounds that we hear.

It’s a mental process, and it’s a process of extraction which is a very attention heavy process for the human brain making it very tiring to listen intently for any length of time. But just like any activity, if you practice, it will become easier, if you neglect it, or take it for granted – you will lose the ability to perform it effectively.

It’ s easy to walk through your day not hearing other people or the world around you.

Techniques we use to listen

Pattern recognition

One of the processes humans use to listen effectively is pattern recognition – an example of this is the ‘Cherry EffectLink – if you are at a party where there is lots of noise and someone says your name you will tend to hear it – we are pre-programmed to sift the world around us and its noise for potential sources of opportunity or danger.


This is another very useful technique we use. If we are in an environment of constant background noise, after a couple of minutes we begin to simply filter out that constant noise, so we don’t hear it.

We listen to differences; we discount sounds that remain the same. There are in fact a whole range of filters which reduce the noise down to what we pay attention to and most people are entirely unconscious of these filters.

For example, if you close your eyes, you’ll quickly become aware of the size of the room or space you are in and how many people are around you,

Why we are losing the ability to listen.

The need for accurate and careful listening is fast disappearing because we can record and share conversations ‘as live’ so easily.

Because the physical cost of listening is so tiring [in terms of energy and brain power] it is tiring to listen.

In the 21st century many people take refuge in headphones, which turn big public spaces into our own personal sound bubbles where nobody is listening to anybody.

We are also becoming impatient. We don’t want to listen to the full story any more we want sound bites. The art of storytelling and indeed conversation is being replaced by personal broadcasting.

Why do we need to listen?

It is a massive problem that we are losing our ability to listen because listening is our route to understanding and a world where nobody is listening to anybody else, it will become a very scary place very quickly indeed.

So, what can you do?

Practice listening consciously every day. We should attempt to connect and try to understand, each other and the physical world around us.  

5 quick daily exercises to improve your ability to listen and understand.

1: Silence.

Just three minutes each day, to reset your ears and to recalibrate, so that you can hear the quiet again.

2: The mixer

Pick a noisy environment like a coffee bar and listen to how many channels of sound you can hear? How many individual channels in that mix am I listening to? It’s a great exercise for improving the quality of your listening.

3: Savouring

Enjoy a mundane sound. Running water, A car or a washing machine – really listen to it

4: The listening position.

This is probably the most important of all of these, the idea that you can move your listening position to what’s appropriate to what you’re listening to. This is playing with those filters, being consciously aware of the filters and how they work for you.


R “Receive,” which means pay attention to the person;

A “Appreciate,” making little noises like “hmm,” “oh,” “OK”;

S “Summarise” – the word “so” is very important in communication; and

A “Ask,” ask questions afterwards.


There is always

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