Updated: Feb 7, 2020
Strategies for empathetic listening in a world you sometimes want to tune out.
As a highly sensitive person who absorbs more stimuli than what is considered average, I have taken on a "survival tactic" at times of tuning out. This usually happens in exceptionally noisy environments. Restaurants, large parties, or even in crowds with lots of people around prompt my response to retreat. This can even happen when I'm asked a lot of the same questions over and over again, and my voice automatically responds without the rest of my mind coming along. If I'm totally honest, this also happens at other times when my husband is cracking the ridiculous jokes that he loves to do or my kids are going on and on about a TV show episode they watched or, of late, a Toca Life: World game they played. In my own defense, I'm usually trying to read my dinner recipe or figure out the menu for the next week's grocery list. Sometimes though we all use the coping mechanism of visiting our tuned-out "happy place" in order to deal with the onslaught of questions and demands that life brings. When reflecting, I can't help but wonder what has been the cost of these moments where I lose my listening.
“Conscious listening creates understanding." Julian Treasure
Hearing a Better Way
I was recently guided back to listening through work with my teaching team and students. As part of our emotional intelligence study, we focused on the power of empathetic listening for business and personal effectiveness. If you have not seen the TED Talk "5 Ways to Listen Better" by Julian Treasure, please watch it now. He breaks down cultural reasons why we are all losing our listening, from noisy environments within earshot to recorded information at the tips of our fingers. Furthermore, he questions whether the context of social media creates an environment not of conversation but instead of personal broadcasting. (As I type these words through the medium of a blog and isolated written word, I can't help but feel a bit condemned too.) Whether we can't listen or we choose not to, the results are the same: we begin to lose our understanding and connection to each other. Treasure contends that this is a dangerous trend because "conscious listening creates understanding." Hmmm, isn't understanding what we all fundamentally need and all secretly crave?
"Listen consciously to live fully."Julian Treasure
Before I quit writing altogether in fear of broadcasting and not conversing, what are other simple action steps I can take to point the way back to understanding and connection? Luckily, Treasure gives five strategies in his TED talk. Have you listened yet? Do it now. One of them, I actually get to do tonight through my choir practice (with all my grandma friends, yay!): intently listen to the different sounds around me. Another strategy, called RASA, is one that my collaborative teaching team is working on individually and with our students. Introduced by Treasure in his TED talk, RASA is an acronym for four actions of empathetic listening: Receive, Appreciate, Summarize, and Ask. The chart below breaks each one of these elements down. These simple actions like nodding our heads, eye contact, making affirmative sounds of recognition, and asking questions can go a long way to building empathy with those we work with and care about. Personally, what I also love so much about this idea is that Rasa is the Sanskrit word for "juice" or "essence." In Ayurveda, Rasa is the "juice" that flows in the body and nourishes all other tissues. How true is that also of our listening to others. I can't help but think optimistically of how improving my listening will nourish and feed the life of my relationships. Perhaps, it could even improve my overall quality of life. Treasure calls us all to action: "listen consciously to live fully." I nod my head and let out a small, affirmative hum of recognition. I hear you, man, I hear you.
Try it with me, and let me know how it's impacting your leadership and relationships. I'll listen. I'd much rather have a conversation than a broadcast! (ooh--can't wait for the podcast. I love to have conversations!)
Resources: RASA Chart