Julian Treasure

Chairman, The Sound Agency


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TED Speaker Julian Treasure: What would a conscious listening world be like – and how do we get there?

In my talk from this year's TEDGlobal, I warned that we are losing our listening, and explored the links between listing and connection, understanding and peace. How do you think listening (or the lack of it) affects our society? And what would a world of conscious listening be like? How would your life experience change? Is it something worth striving for – and if so, how do we get there? And how can you contribute?

Please type in your responses/comments/questions below.

  • Oct 10 2011: Listening is very important. I believe that we often think we are alone in our thoughts, we think we are special or that we are strange. If we take time to really listen to others we can understand that we collectively deal with the same things, have similar thoughts, similar intuitions. When you really listen to someone you don;t just hear their words, you hear their intent and we can start to relate to one another differently. LIfe would change tremendously if we were all less self-involved and really dedicated ourselves to connecting with others without worrying if you will have the chance to talk and to be present in the moment when someone is saying something to you, then we would be in much better shape.
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      Oct 10 2011: Exactly. The thrilling thing for me at the moment is the huge response to my talk, which tells me there is a need in us all to listen, and to be listened to. this is important, and it's a largely unmet need in the modern world - getting more so with every extra smartphone, tablet, laptop and iPod we buy. What does everyone think about technology and listening?
      • Oct 10 2011: I listen to TED TALKS... even a bit more than I listen to weekly White House videos...
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        Oct 10 2011: Technology opens up the potential for listening to a much wider audience. The elements of listening and really hearing what is being said or given are the same. The volume requires the same culling and caring as listening in a physical presence.
      • Oct 10 2011: See Socrates position on literacy in Plato's Phaedrus. Age-old question.
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      Oct 10 2011: Cheryl, I fully agree with you about the importance of listening. I think the challenge is how do we train this muscle and listen effectively? I am someone who pays a lot attention to my communication- both listening and speaking but even I struggle to be present fully, instead being pre-occupied with my concerns all of the time. Others have never really focussed on any aspect of their communication and not only do not know how to listen but also struggle to get their point across. Do you have any suggestions? What has been your experience?
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        Oct 10 2011: Dear Sufiya, it is a muscle, or rather two, or rather 2 on each ear, so 4 in total.... these can indeed be trained to listen better! Dr. Alfred Tomatis found that we listen not just with our ears but with our entire bodies, and in addition to air conduction, sound is also conducted thru the bones of the skull. If someone has a particularly sensitive point/frequency on her/his bone conduction, s/he will have a very hard time to focus and listen..... if someone's 'bone conduction' is uniformly more sensitive than their 'air conduction' they will remain self-absorbed and in their own world, and will have a hard time listening to others in general.... listening to oneself is very important but not at the expense of listening to the outer world.....
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          Oct 10 2011: I think Tomatis's work is very interesting, if not uncontroversial. His life, too. One of his conclusions is that high frequency sound charges up our neurology and helps us to be present, while low frequencies discharge it and zone people out. When you think about bass-heavy music like rap and reggae and where it comes from, that thesis seems intuitively credible.
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          Oct 10 2011: Thanks for the input Mita and your comments Julian.

          I think everyone knows how important it is to listen but I do think we should also look at the how. This is so often left out of commentary and discussion. My own way of listening better is simply to stop multi-tasking (and this is why being in a busy city like London makes it hard to listen well- you always seem to be surrounded by lots of sounds so by default you are multi-tasking just by listening!)
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        Oct 11 2011: Sufiya,
        You say you are often pre-occupied with your own concerns, and therefor not fully engaged with a conversation? We have a choice regarding what we think about at any given time. How about putting your own concerns aside when you want to be fully present with someone in conversation?

        Conversations provide information about ourselves and others. We are like mirrors, constantly reflecting information back and forth. I would not deny myself the opportunity to be totally engaged in a conversation, because I would be missing something. Being fully present in the moment is a gift I give myself. Perhaps if you had this idea in your heart and mind it would help you be more present in the moment?
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          Oct 11 2011: Hi Colleen,

          Thank you for your comments. I just re-read my comment and I guess it wan't totally accurate in how I stated my point, however, your observations are still valid.

          My point really is that I am someone who has done some active work on listening better, precisely for the reason you make about being engaged and opening yourself up to something new. Despite this, I still find there are times when I am not a good listener, when the focus is elsewhere (sometimes just because of external factors). If I am struggling, what do we do with people who pay no mindful attention to listening? What are the practical things we can do? This is where I think Julian's work comes in and I am firmly of the view that this learning needs to happen as early in out lives as possible.

          My point about multi-tasking is that I have discovered that it stops me being present, so now I do one thing and give my attention to it fully wherever possible. This has improved the way I listen as it means I am strengthening the muscle to focus on one thing much more.
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        Oct 11 2011: Hi Sufiya,
        The only thing we can "do with people who pay no mindful attention to listening" is model good listening skills, and if we are comfortable enough with the person, we can ask him/her to be more attentive. I agree...the earlier we learn, the better. I also agree that multi-tasking prevents us from being present, so focusing on one thing at a time is a gift to ourselves:>)
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    Oct 10 2011: Lack of conscious listening alienates people and makes them focus on their own perceptions as if they were the only ones. In my opinion, that can only lead to stagnation.
    The more we communicate our thoughts and ideas, the more we evolve and understand our differences in a productive and positive way.
    A world of conscious listening would have deeper understanding and faster humane development.
    It is definitely worth striving for.
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    Oct 10 2011: Thanks to everyone for engaging and for some brilliant thoughts and questions... I have to leave in a few minutes but this conversation will be active for a week, until Sunday night, and I will be coming back often to check in and respond to your comments. Keep on posting!
    • Oct 10 2011: Let me know when where how you will implement the teaching of listening; I must be there... I have so many thoughts on this topic.
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    Oct 10 2011: Hi Julian :) I just "listened" to your talks, and they are absolutely wonderful. I don't mind telling you that when you played the sound of birds singing, I got goosebumps and decided to download high-quality, uncompressed, wind, water and bird sounds and make it a habit to listen to them. So, that's for the influence of your talk on your audience--me, at least.

    But also regarding the topic of this conversation, I imagine our "loss of listening" is only one of the many problems associated with the constant bombardment of cognitive information. I have access to internet everywhere--and I mean absolutely everywhere from home, work, bedroom, bed, restroom, car, even when I go camping pretending to try to listen to the sound of the river! And I have 5 email accounts and 5 frequently visited websites that I go through every 15 minutes or so!

    The availability of information, and its "perceived" importance keep our brains busy (I say perceived, because, really, how critical is it for me to know who's whose new friend on facebook, no later than 15 minutes of its happening?). Most of the input data we receive belongs to the "cognitive" category, as per your own partitioning, leaving no brain power to process (listen, observe, sense, taste, smell) the pleasant sounds, like the birds' singing or the music playing. In our quest to stay on top of the constant stream of cognitive information that we receive, I think our brains just reacts to good, pleasant sound as if it were noise, eventually tuning out.

    Finally, this imbalance in input data proportions has also brought about an imbalance in our listening skills. Like you say, we are impatiently filtering (and largely discarding) incoming data, trying to cut to the chase, get to the point. Your TED talks should be longer, but probably it was studied and concluded that the audience members' attention starts fading out in about 5 minutes and some other speaker needs to follow immediately! Too much information, too little time.
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      Oct 10 2011: Thanks Arash. No my talks weren't shortened from audience research; they were given at TED-University, where 7 minutes is the longest talk. The main stage talks at TED are typically 18 minutes long.

      Wow, you are dealing with a lot of input. In fact this tidal wave of content coming at us all is a major issue for listening IMO. We can all get into content paranoia: the constant feeling that we're missing something. That something is almost never where we are, so we venture out again into cyberspace and leave our physical location and those around us. Trouble is, happiness is never over there – it's always right here, present and connected.
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        Oct 10 2011: Absolutely. We have completely lost our ability to live in the present, and in our very personal neighborhood. I remember some 15 years ago, when I was a teenager, and my dad would frown upon my sticking to my computer day and night, sacrificing sleep, food, family time, and just about everything else in my life, I'd tell him "Dad, this monitor is my window to the entire world. Just on the other side of this [14 inch,16 color] screen, there's the whole world that I'm in touch with... constantly".

        It sounded like a good enough argument then, essentially getting him off my back, going on with my addiction to "information"... I'm not saying it's all evil, but some 15 years later, that habit has turned out to take over and shape my whole life. Now, it's basically my education and job to keep doing what I was doing then. And along the way, I have certainly missed out on unique opportunities to listen, pay attention, and enjoy the beauties of life.

        In response to your other question, I think technology has created a "different" world for us. Not necessarily better, and not necessarily worse... I find it extremely challenging (if not impossible) to live and enjoy life like before, simultaneously as we allow technology to intrude further into our lives.

        I don't think there will ever be robots and computers "smarter" than us. But I can see why that's a fear; we are getting dumber and number (that is, more numb and more senseless) to what constitutes being a human, which may result in a generation of mundane information slaves, and that's when computer will take over our lives.
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      Oct 10 2011: Arash, you have really hit on something there. The constant bombardment of new information, the lack of time to process. It's as if we are aware of our own life clock ticking away ever faster ... hurry, hurry, hurry, no time to waste. Therein we lose the moment, we are so busy trying to catch up with what has just passed and aware that the future is limited to us as an individual. To let go of all of that, to slow time down to 'now'. Would that harm us so much? I think we, as individuals and as a society would benefit. I believe that many mental health issues would diminish.
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        Oct 10 2011: I certainly agree with your Ellie. This constant stream of information is an extremely powerful double-edged sword! On the one hand, if it were not for technology (TED, Facebook, my constant internet connection), I wouldn't have learned about this important conversation here, missing out on the opportunity to listen to three fantastic talks, and intriguing discussions here with you, Julian, and others. On the other hand, if it were not for these very technologies, we'd probably not even need to have this conversation, as the topic would be immaterial!

        So, I think we are a generation that--although tangled up in this storm of information and expansion, and constant connection--at least remembers what life used to be like. Maybe we can consciously take time out to enjoy the simple beauties of life; or as you say, "slow time down to now", every once in a while. But what about the next generation? Our kids, and theirs, don't even know what life used to be like. My one-year old cousin is on facebook!... well, a few years later, his childhood memories will be "being on facebook"... as opposed to being out in the open, by the river, atop a mountain peak, etc, which shaped our childhood. That is actually pretty scary!
  • Oct 10 2011: I believe that listening is a skill that should be taught from birth on up. Taking turns making sounds with a baby is a form of this, as is asking a child to repeat what you have just said to them... making sure that you have heard what others say and restating it is a model for children. Putting their words into your own reflects understanding, while providing adequate time for response is important. These are intelligent and polite ways of nurturing listening skills and responsive dialogue. Polite people will allow for response, for the most part. I think that people whose attention is fragmented cannot hear or respond well, as a general rule. We have lots of distraction and electronic stimulus in this day and age, children grow into adulthood without understanding that short bursts of attention are not effective tools for thorough communication. What can we do to recover personal social skills that should be part of daily life?
    • Oct 10 2011: Exercises sound like a great idea. I'm a pretty diehard Behaviorist, though, so I would believe that. Mindfulness is also a bit of an obsession with me.
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      Oct 10 2011: I so agree Linda. This is exactly why i believe we need to teach listening (and its benefits, and the costs of not doing it) in schools. I formed a Google group called Teaching listening, and I invite anyone interested in this to join it.
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    Oct 10 2011: I grew up in a deaf household, listening is relative - for me it's all about paying attention.
  • Oct 10 2011: There's a therapeutic modality called Reevaluation Counseling that revolves around teaching people how to listen to each other. I think it was developed by a longshoreman in Seattle who found that having people witness his emotions enabled him to express them more effectively, deeply. Perhaps the ability to listen to others bears some relationship to being able to listen to ourselves -- distinguish between, and maybe even choose to engage in, types of thinking, such as ruminating, being in the thrall of racing thoughts, thinking v feeling, being logical, empathizing, etc
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    Oct 10 2011: It all boils down to mindfulness....it's as simple and as complicated as that.
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    Oct 10 2011: I'm really enjoying your work featured on TED. From my business experience I also believe listening needs to be repurposed. With so many pressures on us to act quickly, people are refusing to disconnect from their various gadgets and therefore are never really listening consciously ever. Last time I had an office, I put my phone on one table and my laptop on another so i was forced to break away from one to engage with the other. It's not just teen kids ignoring their parents; parents are listening to their kids with half an ear, and that's not counting the mental dialogue that is often occurring in one's mind, adding further "noise". I'd love to participate in brainstorming teaching listening skills... keep talking and sounding off... thanks
  • Oct 10 2011: Seems there are several different kinds of listening that Julian talks about and studies. I gather that here we are discussing listening as relates to human relations and connection. Conscious listening then would refer to "hearing" or understanding the meaning intended in another's communication. I find that I listen to or hear different people differently. People who are skilled communicators are much easier to follow no matter what level of consciousness one is at but I find it much easier to hear and stay focussed on the conversations I have with very "authentic" people than I do with people who seem less aware of who they are. Thus listening is relative; it is a process depending on both the listener and the speaker. I do not think that increased consciousness comes from listening per se, but rather growth in levels of consciousness will change the way a person can listen to others and understand the intended meaning (which is quite often unclear on face value)
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      Oct 10 2011: Agreed Greg, but bear in mind that listening is not just to people talking – it's to everything. Now that *does* increase your consciousness.
      • Oct 10 2011: true that,

        listening to the "all"= increased consciousness = greater ability to listen to the "all" = increased consciousness
  • Oct 10 2011: Wondering if anyone would care to define mindfulness. Julian?
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      Oct 10 2011: That is a HUGE question! I think I'll stick to listening if you don't mind... ;)
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      Oct 10 2011: Nancy, put simply, mindfulness is 'being in the moment'.....every moment. Whether you are rock climbing or washing the dishes, talking to someone or brushing your teeth, listening to music or taking a walk.....THAT is what you are doing.....and that's it. In our modern day, multitasking world (we fool ourselves into thinking we can multitask effectively) we are constantly trying looking ahead at what's next, usually missing out on what's NOW. NOW is all that matters. The dish you're washing, the person you're talking to, the email you're typing, the leaves you're raking......are all that matters.
      • Oct 10 2011: Thanks, Robt. I was confused by the bandwidth issue. Too tired to explain. Sorry, Julian.
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        Oct 10 2011: OK I will have a go... it's being completely present, wholly conscious, fully aware – but all without making an effort.
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        Oct 10 2011: Fully aware in the moment, with unconditional love and the curiosity of a child:>)
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        Oct 10 2011: A stilling of the mind and a opening of the heart to be in and feel the matter at hand fully.

        I think it takes effort and practice as do most worthwhile things.
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    Oct 10 2011: So what does the TED community think about our T - technology - and listening? People engaged in virtual conversations seem to become oblivious to their real surroundings - I spoke about this in my talk on sound and health, and used Murray Schafer's word schizophonia to describe the dislocate between this virtual sound and the world that's actually around us.

    Can we use more and more technology and still listen?
    • Oct 10 2011: Lately I have been having serious problems with my 17 year old and listening. He can't stop texting or being on facebook. His constant need to return to his technologically based threads is ruining his ability to listen. Technology has become an epidemic killer of listening. How does one deal with this as a parent? With 5 people in the house its really difficult to coordinate moments when everyone is away from a TV, a computer and a cell phone. Advice on this would really be welcome.
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        Oct 10 2011: A billion parents of teenagers groan in sympathy!

        Teaching him the importance of listening in relationship, with people and with the world around him, and just getting across the sheer value of being present through listening (like to girls!!!) might help. It is a real uphill struggle and if anyone has some great experience on this one it would be a wonderful gift to post it here. I too have a 17 year old son!

        The best suggestions I have are to become very good at it yourself, and to book times when everyone lays down their technology and talks. Maybe meal times?
        • Oct 10 2011: Mealtimes are all that seems to be left. But yes, I am simply not putting up with it anymore. I think its one thing for kids to be taught listening. They just don't seem to do it all the time. They need to think you're serious before they put their listening ears on. I find that I have to constantly point out when I need their attention before I open my mouth. It's a real dilemma.
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          Oct 10 2011: :) booking times to talk and to listen is one way. However, I find that leading by example, in the moment, can be just as effective. For instance, when my son or my brother pop in unannounced, needing to talk, I will say to them "I'll just finish up here, it will take me one minute, and then I can give you my full attention. Go and put the kettle on, will you?". It just sends the simple message that I'm willing to put all else aside for them. I then leave all bits of technology (computer, mobile, home phone) in another room and join them at the table in the kitchen.

          Children, and adults, all learn the skill of communication and the art of listening best by our own actions.
        • Oct 10 2011: It is a challenge; I have found that providing an opportunity for teenagers and even young children to respond to what they just heard by asking a question about it has been most effective. And then we, in turn, pause, wait for their response and listen as well. Creating space and opportunity for connection and reciprocity seems to inspire deeper listening. I do agree that modelling real listening is the best first step.
        • Oct 10 2011: Listening is a choice. It starts with a mindset. It is a lost art. In my opinion true listening is a heart felt experience that begins with "listening" to your own inner voice. It takes practice. As you better care for you, by understanding your own needs, you can better listen to and care for the needs of others. I suggest being careful creating any additional "scheduled" activities unless you have everyones buy in first. If not you may cause greater frustrations. Try this thought with your teenager: In the end the participants have to "want" to be in the moment and share in growing the relationship. Still... quiet... calm... awareness... is a learned skill no different then driving a car only more important because relationships are paramount to any success.
      • Oct 10 2011: Yes "no screen" times are a great idea...
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      Oct 10 2011: I find that when I'm reading or writing I have to give full attention to the words on the screen. I like certain post rock bands like Explosions in the Sky and Pelican because their music has no lyrics to distract the language processing in my mind. The musical part of my mind can listen to that, and isn't otherwise disturbed by non-verbal sounds in my environment (like the crow cawing in the park next door as I type this).

      I'm engaged in an ongoing practice to improve lucid dreaming. During normal waking hours I periodically engage all of my senses at the same time as fully as possible so that I'm aware of bodily sensations, sounds, smells and sights all at once. I find that I can't maintain that full awareness for long, because my mind wanders off. I hope that by continuing the practice the skill will improve.

      I hear what sounds like a jet going overhead as I move to click Submit...
    • Oct 10 2011: It is possible to use more technology and be able to listen, but in order to listen instead of just hearing, one would need a more disciplined mind.
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      Oct 10 2011: Teenage son here, know the problem well.
      However...technology has allowed me to have visual and vocal communication with coworkers, friends and family around the world on a daily basis. I even attended my fathers funeral last year virtually. The only thing I could not share was the senses of touch and smell. I was listening and listened to.
      Listening via technology is different for sure and although it is not quite as good, in every way as being physically present, it is a very valuable tool when used wisely.
      I contend that it is the spirit and mindfulness of the listening that is the essence of the task.
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        Oct 10 2011: Point taken Mary, though I do believe it's possible to listen in both the virtual and physical domains simultaneously. we don't have to leave this world altogether to text, IM or talk on the phone!
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      Oct 11 2011: Julian,
      You ask..."can we use more and more technology and still listen?"

      As with anything in life, we can balance our use of technology at any time. Recognizing the importance of listening in relationships, leading by example, being fully present with a conversation, making the time, sending the message that we're honestly willing to fully engage in conversation by putting other tasks aside, creating space and opportunity, are all choices we can make in our daily lives. Technology is a valuable tool, and I agree with Mary, that it is our mindfulness and intent that may change the dynamic of our communications. It's important to know ourselves, and know how we can create the space and time we want to have for ourselves.

      One tiny step I've taken recently is to ask people NOT to call me when they are driving a vehicle. If it's an emergency, of course I'll take the call, but I no longer engage in conversations when people are driving. First of all, there are too many accidents, injuries and deaths caused when folks are texting, using computers or cell phones while driving. Secondly, they are not fully present for a conversation with me, and I can feel that. My time and energy are important to me, and I make the choice as to how I use my time. Talking with someone who is engaged in operating a motor vehicle is not enjoyable.
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    Oct 10 2011: As an teacher of English I am pretty sure that most of my students hear a lot but don t really listen, be it to me or to their classmates and that is the real reason for their lack of progress
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      Oct 10 2011: No question, hearing is necessary but not sufficient for listening. Listening is an action, a practice, a conscious state, whereas hearing is involuntary.
    • Oct 10 2011: I agree, as a teacher.
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      Oct 10 2011: you are absolutely right.
      Dr. Alfred Tomatis delineated a "Listening Posture" which is where one sits with a straight back without any tension in the neck and shoulders, knees slightly below the hips, as tho one were hanging from the back of one's head from an invisble rope.... in this position, one of the semi-circular canals in the vestibular part of the inner ear, is completely parallel to the ground, and the second canal is exactly 90 degress or perpendicular to the first.... this is the BEST position for listening and learning.... furniture for schools and universities need to be modified to take this seminal finding into account, and then we wd have better listening in classes!
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    Oct 10 2011: There is something in niceness, politeness that verges on "I do not care" while listening says "I do care". Makes sense?
  • Oct 14 2011: I think we should aim for the Futurists ideal of an omni-present symphony of the soundscape.

    With the arrival of the noiseless engine and quiet tires of the electric car and the ability to adapt your personal soundscape on your pocket devices, we're starting to gain more control over our sonic environment. Let's make some conscious decisions.

    Luigi Russolo and more participants in the early twentieth century Futurist Movement embraced all the new sounds of the modern world they were bombarded with. They incorporated these sounds in their orchestral works.
    If we can listen to our sonic environment as if it were one big composition in which we al contribute we find a new arena for social interactions. Conscious listening is the key.

    I've been finding a lot of musical patterns in everyday sounds and soundscapes, but found it really hard to record these because a microphone is much to objective and can't 'lock on' to a specific pattern in an abundant soundscape. The human brain can! Easily! That's what we do!...

    It only takes a mindset to hear this music.

    With me it made a click when I started enjoying "chaotic" electronic music (DJ Spooky, Stockhausen, Cage, some Aphex Twin, Autechre, et al.) and Free Jazz(rock). While cycling through The Netherlands I have these musical frases in mind and occasionally an accidental harmony occurred between the soundscape and this music in my head. Imaginary music with one foot rooted in reality...

    I started calling this Musique Trouvé.

    Having a culture based on vision was nice for a while but with almost 40.000 pictures being uploaded to Flickr every hour it's kind of losing meaning and urgency...
    Let's explore what a culture based on sound can do for us.

    I'm always making music with the soundscape that's surrounding me and the people around me.
    Public parks should have more creative sound installations.

    In my mind I've already arrived at the symphonic soundscape. Everyones mind is wired to experience this.

    Mark Thur
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      Oct 16 2011: This is exactly what I mean by the exercise 'savoring' that I included in the talk. Your practice is not far from Cage's concept of musique concrete, and it does as you say make life far more interesting to be (as I like to term it) hearing the hidden choir in mundane sounds.
      • Oct 16 2011: Hi Julian,

        thanks for the reply.

        As much as I respect John Cage's work in the field of classical music, I prefer the viewpoint of Edgar Varésè that music is organized sound.
        When you lock on to musical patterns in the soundscape you organize sound within your brain. When you accept any 'accidentally' present sound as being musical, like Cage, you forget that in a natural world without humans there will be sound, but no music.

        'Choice' is wat makes sound into music.

        I propose creating "Listening Fields" opposed to "Lookout Points". Conscious listeners should choose locations with an exceptionally beautiful soundscape, possibly with a hidden choir in it.
        Murray Schafer already suggested making sound reserves, I propose that we should put sticks in the ground with notes on them pointing out the music you can find in the present soundscape. Off course this changes over time, so an app or online map would be better, but an unknowing passer-by could stop and be moved by sound.

        Lookout Points are so twentieth-century... Standing in one place being told where to look... While Listening Fields are spread in a large acoustic arena in which you can choose your point-of-ear, but can always be surprised by a sound from behind.
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    Oct 13 2011: Hi! Can't tell that this is a new problem but it surely looks like that is getting worst!
    In the last 40 years there has been a cut between what "older" people know and learned from their ancestors and what "new" people learned from the former.

    Somehow people became more intellectually arrogant. They were able to extend that teenage typical psychologically phase through the twenties and so on.

    I imagine that is due to the format education generally has and because there was a wider social access to knowledge and academic education after the second world war, then latter the computers, mobile phones, smartphones, the www (internet)...

    I like to listen, fortunately I get a lot to listen to in the hospital, all those elderly people are dusted and wrecked treasures with valuable lessons to take from their life stories.
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      Oct 16 2011: Wonderful description of the locked up beauty we can access by listening to old people. Surely along with teenagers they are among the least listened to people on the planet – and yet they have so much to share. I agree with your concern: in the talk I mention the relatively new paradigm of 'personal broadcasting', which requires no listening at all and goes hand in hand with the 'me-first' materialist culture we've managed to entrench and amplify with every successive generation. Hence 'sodcasting' in all its forms.
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        Oct 16 2011: Thank you for the time spent on commenting back.
        I am very thankful that I can listen to people with great knowledge and ideas here at TED, let alone to interact and have some feedback.
        Wish you all the best with your work and hope you reach more people.
      • Oct 16 2011: Wouldn't it be nice to have more of our elderly people become more active in our education system? To become teachers and mentors to the younger generations, would also give them more purpose and communication in their retirement years. But would the youth listen, probably not, unless if they were their own grandparents. Maybe getting these two groups together would make the " conscious listening" easier to achieve.
  • Oct 12 2011: ..Aware listening..being present is difficult for more than 90 % of the world’s population...and to accept sincerely...listening is easier but understanding the thought heard in the same manner is more difficult..We can make any person hear us...whatever we want..by many ways...by talking the way he/she is interested...by talking about them (this aspect interest ....... people)...by talking about their interest areas...but more difficult is making the person understand the same way you have said...one can use the best suitable word required for the them to be talked about...but do you think the person will get you in the same way...In my daily life I meet many people who show the readiness to hear but lack of understanding to be understood...they are full of their own perception which they feel is right...they are not ready to discuss rather boost or pretend...Sir...as you said how I can contribute to this aspect is through meditation...I insist while I organize seminar for parents and teachers to try different techniques of meditation with primary kids....teens ... before they start their class... I feel when meditation will become a part of education the conscious listening will appear...
  • Oct 12 2011: This seems like a very large question to me but I believe it is rooted in the value we place on people. I hope it is more than simply finding a quiet place, I see it as making a conscious effort to value another person. We are becoming a society based on promiscuity in all things, with emotional promiscuity having the largest impact. We seem to long for immediate gratification for ourselves with the smallest amount of effort. If we can teach the real, inherent value of people then conscious listening will simply 'be', regardless of the amount of ambient noise around me, if I truly value others I will listen.
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      Oct 16 2011: Yes Mike, that is a huge part of this. Whether it's cause or effect of conscious listening matters little... the beneficial outcome seems to be universally accepted in this TED conversation and all the comments from my talk. This is the cause for optimism: it appears that there is a massive untapped desire for better listening. I am planning a project for 2012 to take this movement much wider, possibly another book: my current book Sound Business focuses on using sound well in business, which is the other half of the equation in my overall vision, to create a world that sounds beautiful.
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    Oct 10 2011: Everything is too loud. People have become accustomed to blocking out background "noise", i.e. if someone lives in a city they don't hear traffic because they are accustomed to it. If someone is whispering, people will try harder to listen in, which causes the listener to "pay closer attention" to the details of the conversation. A conscious listening would result in much less noise pollution, a greater understanding of communications, or more awareness of the sounds that surround our environments. Nature makes beautiful music if your far from technologies buzz.
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      Oct 11 2011: Absolutely Patrick – the exact thesis of my first TED talk, and my third, in one paragraph. My vision os a world that sounds beautiful and I believe we can achieve that with a twin strategy: get everyone listening consciously so we all start to complain about noise and create our own good sound; and show organizations that good sound is good business (which is the subject of my book Sound Business and what my company The Sound Agency does), so that the makers of most of the noise start to design with sound instead of randomly assailing us all with noise.

      If anyone's interested in the latter conversation, you can get a free chapter of my book at www.thesoundagency.com.
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    Oct 10 2011: Julian, I was raised in a home where the radio was tuned to talk radio most of the time. As I aged, because i was not exposed to music, I preferred books on tape when I drive. In fact, I can only listen to instrumental music if I am reading or trying to write or the words of the songs highjack my attention. Can you comment on this phenomenon?
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      Oct 11 2011: I am sure you are not alone Debra. Check out Oliver Sachs's fine book Musicophilia for case studies of many more extreme relationships with music, from the man who got struck by lightening and became an obsessive concert pianist (having never played before) to the woman who is physically sick when she hears a particular type of music. I also find background music very distracting in public places: part of my brain is always listening to it... which after all was the intention of those who made it!
  • Oct 10 2011: Why, thank you, Colleen.
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      Oct 10 2011: Truly my pleasure. Listening is fun, enjoyable, educational, insightful and a HUGE opportunity when/if we are willing to open our heart and mind to the unlimited possibilities:>)
  • Oct 10 2011: My personal interjection is; people seem to have become desensitized to the needs and emotions of others. In a society that appears to have become self-centered, and the bottom-line seems to be achieving the "goal", we often get lost in trepidation. Listening is distinguished from 'hearing, in that involves using the heart and mind (as well as other faculties), in order to truly understand others' emotions and perspectives. When dealing with our emotions, and those of others, us humans tend to be defensive of criticism and feedback, often causing us to miss out on valuable learning opportunities.
  • Oct 10 2011: Listening without acknowledging is merely the registering of so much white noise. Tertiary background sounds that help keep us from feeling alone. If we truly listened I believe we would realize no one is listening back and that our voices are just a rattling cacophony in a large emotional void.
    When we feel someone has listened there is such a connection, a feeling of validation, a moment of radiance. The depersonalization of the human voice brought about my email, texting, caller ID and indifference. Conscious listening would bring with it pain, delight, understanding. confusion, enlightment, anger, comprehension and attachment. -Those life experiences that we claim to strive for. The feeling of being alive.
    Depressed individuals go to therapists to be heard.
    Teenagers scream at adults to be heard.
    Protestors picket and chant ton city streets to be heard.
    We all have a need to be heard. To have our life voice validated. To know what was heard matters. To know that we mattered.
    Dare to listen to the quietest voice out there.
    Shhhhhhh....who's out there?
  • Oct 10 2011: Hi, Julian: I was wondering if you have done any research on mantra chanting for healing purposes (specifically the mantras practiced in kundalini yoga). I am currently blending two passions...yoga and work with young people on the autism spectrum and with various mental illnesses. I have noticed that these remarkable people are responsive to the sound current of mantra yet I am uncertain of what is happening. The changesI have observed: sustained eye contact, calm (after initial agitation), even curiosity? (of course I think I am biased because I feel so good while chanting the mantras but I also feel that I am more perceptive, sensitive and observant) Do you have any insight into this?
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    Oct 10 2011: I also think true listening has nothing to do with politeness.. being polite is often simply waiting your turn to say your bit. it doesn't mean that you truly hear what the other is saying.. or even really want to. Being polite can get i the way of clear commuication and clear communication has true listening at its core. In effect, the ability to stand in the others shoes and hear form their point of view. If the wrld could practice this ... conscious listening - peace would prevail as how can you fight someone in who'e shoes you have been.
  • Oct 10 2011: It has been increasingly obvious to me that many of our "1st world" problems are due to overstimulation. There are so many people, cars, buildings, ads, media, etc. that in order to stay sane we shut down and stop taking any more in. I moved back to the bay area after living in a quiet rural north CA town for 5 years and experienced illness and panic for the first 1.5 years of being back, until my brain started to learn to shut things out. I was so used to being open and receptive before, that it hurt me when I got back here. If we are to become better listeners we need for those who have the power to make noise to turn down the volume. I mean that metaphorically as well as literally. If we have space to breath and stretch out and look outside the window, rather than trying to shield ourselves from constant bombardment coming from all directions, then we will be much more receptive to one another. Meditation and yoga are what get me through the day and allow me to somehow manage all the stimulation out in the world. You don't want to meet me when I am lacking in quiet time. I've especially learned the importance of all this through having a daughter of my own. Give her a room full of screaming kids and she is a monster. Give her quiet space filled with opportunities for creativity and play and a couple playmates, and she's amazing.
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    Oct 10 2011: Hi Julian,

    I wanted to know your thoughts on a couple of things related to sound :-)

    1. What do you think about listening to buddhist/hindu mantras ? Some say they have experienced profound shifts in consciousness when they have listened to certain sounds /syllables etc .. What are your thoughts also on brain-wave tones/frequencies ?
    2. I listen to mp3 format .. The sleeptime audio s/w which I use also use mp3 audio. Are we really losing much by compressing the pure sound into mp3 formats ? Will that affect things a lot ?
    3. I am 25 years old now. And I am really worried if my listening to music off my ipod is going to affect my hearing 20 years down the lane. My workplace is a buzzfield of computer noise as well. Any tips ?

    Enjoyed all of your talks. Glad to see you here in TED :-)
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      Oct 10 2011: Good questions.

      1 There is research about the beneficial effects of meditation in general, though I am not aware of any that specifically focuses on mantras. I have had some very positive personal experiences with chant, but I don't' personally subscribe to the mystic power of one syllable. That's just an opinion!

      2 It depends entirely on the compression rate. I would happily listen to mp3 at 320kbps, or even in a pinch 192kbps for convenience (if I had to). But if you're listening below that it really does make a difference. And why would you now with storage so cheap?

      3 Do NOT listen for hours at a time, and never so loud that you can't hear someone talking to you. When you go to gigs or clubs use hearing protectors - silicon molded that attenuate by just a few dB, flat, not those nasty yellow things that just take the top end off. When you encounter excessively loud noise in the street, just walk away!
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        Oct 10 2011: Thanks a lot for your answers Julian !

        1. I am into meditation and find that it helps me silence my own thoughts to listen effectively. Simply wanted to know your opinion on sound meditation :-) There is in fact some meditation techniques to allow sound to silence your thoughts within. But thank you for sharing your opinion :)

        2. THANK YOU FOR THAT ! I will be using high compression rates from now on :-)

        3. Thank you for these tips. The protectors will definitely be a part of my life .. Will reduce the music time also .. Do you think investing in an expensive noise-cancelling headphones is worth the money in the long run ? Any personal recommendations ? :-)
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          Oct 10 2011: I use Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) headphones a lot when traveling, especially on planes and trains. There are many good makes out there, for example Sennheiser and of course the ubiquitous Bose. The former to me sound better but the latter have excellent noise cancellation algorithms.
        • Oct 10 2011: Recently, a friend told me about some New Age biz, ClearPoint?, that claims to increase meditation submersion/effects by providing a series of sounds to focus on (CDs). Their claim: something like twice as many measurable benefits of meditation in half the time, or some such thing. Trippy.
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      Oct 10 2011: Dear Santhip,
      - Yes, MP3s affect the sounds a LOT. Compression is a no-no. We are losing all the higher harmonics when we do that. Try to listen at least in Wav.
      - Better to use speakers or over the ear headphones rather than in the ear ones. And ALWAYS turn the volume to as low as possible. Its consistent exposure to too much sound at a high volume which will cause your ear to deteriorate.
      - there is a whole field called "nada yoga" in India which is a study of how sound affects consciousness......
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        Oct 11 2011: Thanks Mita .. Will try to get WAV as much as I can .. Will also try to listen to higher bitrate mp3s..

        Heard about Nada yoga .. Thanks for sharing .. :-)
  • Oct 10 2011: My guess is that if you're polite you're at least skilled at pretending to listen. Actual listening would be a bonus. Sometimes politeness means listening selectively and changing the topic when you think what someone's saying could ruffle feathers and derail the conversational sensibility.
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      Oct 10 2011: "Pretending" to listen takes energy. Why not actually listen? If one is thinking about changing the topic, your attention is on something other than listening. In doing that, you're actually derailing the conversation....yes?
      Actually listening is a "bonus" to ourselves, because it allows a conversation to flow more easily:>)
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    Oct 10 2011: Hi Julian! Apologies for being the harbinger of bad tidings, but unfortunately, to have everyone actively listening all of the time (as in their waking moments) is not sustainable. I agree that it could be done for a day (or other short amount of time), but all of the time is not possible. As people, the ability to run on auto-pilot takes over, and then there is the issue of perception (existentialist, I know but...) - and personal morality just get in the way - read that as there are some people who just don't care what others have to say unless it specifically benefits them, and they tune the world out. I love TED! Keep the good ideas coming!
    • Oct 10 2011: Is actively listening not sustainable, or just that to do it, it requires effort? True of being "present" generally. It's work and yes, it's easy to tune out, but that doesn't mean it's impossible to stay "tuned in."
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      Oct 10 2011: Cory please see my reply to sally murfitt
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      Oct 10 2011: "Auto-pilot" cannot "take over" unless we allow it to. I believe actively listening IS sustainable, it requires effort and the conscious choice to do so.
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        Oct 10 2011: Absolutely. Practice, as always, makes perfect. It's a little like breathing: you can do it completely unconsciously (or the consequences are serious!!), or you can do it very consciously, as with prana yoga. After some time, the conscious becomes unconscious and you can transcend the effort while still reaping the rewards.
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    Oct 17 2011: It seems we un-learn some of our ability to listen consciously.

    In a recent project in Switzerland called "City Life" a group of children spent a week digitally recording the soundscape of their town, led by musician Luca Congedo. By Friday they had created a huge map of the city and were able to express with startling clarity the audio environment. This attention to the sound of things (they recorded patients in hospitals and machines and animals and plants,..) provided them with access to a rich detail of other sensations of the places including smells and colors and emotions.
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    Oct 17 2011: To possibly achieve conscious listening one would have to be fully capable of visual impression. Too often there is an attempt to understand without perceiving context (i.e., facial expression, gestures, feeling, photographs, imagery...) and creating that image within our own minds to create a behavior or feeling towards the environment or self.

    The lack of listening in our society creates self-absorption with the lack of capacity to understand how our actions may trigger a pattern in behavior that very well mimics our own. I believe that we would fail to understand those things that may not particularly pertain to our own lives/ selves and therefore disregard it as uneventful or meaningless.

    I think it is something worth striving for first and foremost on an individual basis. People would need the appropriate and individualized tools catered to suit their needs and their learning styles.

    I would hope to contribute by engaging in discussion. I would believe that in order for conscious listening to be established an interest or concern needs to be present.
  • Oct 16 2011: I think it is the first step to a world without the need for war and violence.

    Listening is to open your heart (being vulnerable) and be willing to challenge your own personal beliefs, customs or even moral values.
  • Oct 16 2011: Good to hear you will be doing more work on this. I would suggest that the cause or effect is important depending on your goals, until your final words I was going to agree. If your goal is to achieve "Sound Business Focuses" then I agree, cause or effect does not matter. You can simply teach people how to consciously listen to their own benefit and they will improve what ever business they persue, but, it seems to me that if we truly want to change the world (not just teh business world) then a more encompassing model must be sought.
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    Oct 16 2011: Lovely idea. Worth fighting for also, with only a tiny proportion of the Earth not polluted by overflights or toher man-made noise.
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    Oct 15 2011: I met an amazing woman, Barbara, coincidentally also in Surrey, who used to train schools, parents, and couples on listening and adjusting skills.

    In her personal experience she had moved a lot, and understood the communication divide of most of her clients, expats always on their way somewhere else. Lack of enough time in addition to the imperative need to quickly manage too many factors simultaneously (new job, new office, new position, new town, new house, new school, new social network, new friends' group for the kids, new language, new foods) can have a short circuit effect, or at least tunnel vision of sorts, where everyone listens to their own music -not each other.
    Her seminaries were excellent. Beyond the practical results at that particular time and place, they empowered us to re-focus and take charge of our life. The principles learned there have been totally transferable to later life events.

    Yes, conscious listening is important, and it can be learned. Mostly, it needs practice.
  • Oct 15 2011: I think you must quiet your mind to listen or actively listen. I work with the mentally ill and the most important thing you can do is listen to them. I also have a mental illness myself and like to be heard. However, I've been trained to listen first, ask if I understood them correctly and then speak. Nobody likes to be talked or over or have someone texting while they are talking. I don't want to lose the art of listening, it's how I learn from others, it's a combination of words spoken, body gestures, facial expressions, tones of voice and so on. our new way of communicating is cold and easily misread. I also do public speaking for a living along with training, there is nothing like being in a room full of people with their undivided attention. People often comment or write something on what I spoke about so I know they were listening and it's a good feeling to be heard.
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    Oct 14 2011: Forgive me if this has already been covered, but I think that listening is multi-sensory - not just through sounds - but also touch, smell and even taste.

    For instance, the exciting atmosphere of a live concert is multi-sensory. Listening to that same music on a hi-fi is less likely to stimulate excitement - more likely it would elicit a singular emotional reaction to what is endemic in the music itself.

    There have been occasions where I have listened to a band playing on a hi-fi and have not enjoyed it at all - yet on seeing them play live, enjoyed every second of it. I then go back to my hi-fi and listen to that same band playing with almost the same enjoyment as I had at the live performance.

    My listening changed in response to the ways in which the music has been reproduced.

    I wonder if a correlation exists between our listening responses to live/recorded music ,and speaking to real people/speaking to 'electronic representations' of people? Watching and responding to facial expressions and body language of other people, absorbing the sense of place where the conversation is taking place, is as multi-sensory and exciting as a live musical performance.

    I also know that my own conversational and listening styles are completely different and the interaction feels 'hollow' when using electronic media.

    I suppose the upshot is that we have evolved to interact and listen to live human beings using all the senses we possess.
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      Oct 16 2011: I completely agree. This is part of Murray Schafer's full definition of schizophonia, the dislocate between what we hear and what we see that arises from recorded or transmitted sound that's divorced from the other sensory stimuli. There are many cross-modal effects (interactions between the senses) that affect our total perception, and listening is absolutely altered by what we see, smell, feel and taste. Google the McGurk effect to get one great example.
  • Oct 14 2011: Not sure if we should see this as only about noise and listening by its meaning as a word. In my view, it is about mind switch, change of perception and behavior. We all can hear when our brains get the signals and when our heart pay attention then we can get the message! The heart whispers and sometimes this is the listening skill we miss the most.
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      Oct 16 2011: Take a look at the distinction I make in the talk about listening positions... heart listening is important in several of these, but not all. for example, listening to an academic lecture or a teacher is probably hampered, not helped, by engaging the heart too much.
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    Oct 12 2011: I appreciate the idea of listening for the quieter things, we can only do that if we're intentional about listening. Planning to start to practice your suggestion of 3 minutes of as close to silence as possible daily, thanks Julian.
  • Oct 12 2011: I think this is a really interesting topic -- and agree that listening has become increasingly difficult, but processing what is heard, interpreting the voice is far more difficult. Listening may be likened not to an act (an active function), but to the mode of processing. Particularly, processing thought . Listening is primarily a "process" and this is were the difficult lies. Can we ever "listen" if we never process what was said? and can we ever process? i.e. is the process of listening ever complete. What we listen to essentially never leaves us ( at least until the process is complete).

    We listen to only what we have processed, and this is not necessarily listening to what was said. That is not to say that all listening is generically ego-centric, but simply that it is a selective process. The 21st century -- a world propelled into modernity, obscured by media, sound and technology-- a society which makes full use of this reality that "listening" operates within. A reality which in many ways, we ourselves have constructed. We "listen" then, only to our interpretations of what we hear. The mind becomes the ear in many ways.
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    Oct 12 2011: Almost at the end of the movie " Se7en " Mills ( Brad Pitt ) asked the serial Killer why did you do it ?

    John Doe replies : " Wanting people to pay attention, you can't just tap them on the shoulder. Sometimes you have to hit them in the head with a sledgehammer... and then you get their strict attention ".

    As you mentioned on your talk not just media but even we have to shout to get others attention,

    One of the biggest contributors to this are SMS and twits , because of 150 character limit, the conversation are compressed to their very core essence and they are just key words not dialogues. This has an amazing effect because in a dialogue when you say Hi I should say Hi right away , but when you send me a message I don't need to, you can have my attention at the time of my choosing not yours.

    I call it " Dialogue on Demand " , you can talk but I will listen to you whenever I want. No surprise that kids are having difficulties during a simple conversation and get bored very soon and want to end it a.s.a.p.

    By the way , Thanks a lot for the talks, and there is something that I would love to know.

    The way you talk , your voice and your speech pattern is so calming and listening to you is so relaxing, Did you specifically worked on it , because I noticed it was at its best at your 2011 speech.

    Your speech is very soothing and musical, and I was wondering if you practiced to talk based on 12 frequencies of ocean waves or something similar ? or I could be totally wrong and this is just how you talk :) , I love the way you talk, it is great.
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      Oct 16 2011: Thanks for the kind words Amir. I have trained in speaking and presenting of course... I encourage others to train their voice if they are to speak compellingly, so it would be inconsistent not to do it myself. I work with a lovely voice coach called Randolph Matthews (a fine singer and thinker about sound who has a gig coming up soon if anyone's in the London area). I haven't ever come across 12 frequencies of ocean waves, but I do aim to be very conscious when on stage (or indeed all the time) and to use this lovely instrument we have all been given as mindfully as possible.
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        Oct 16 2011: that is amazing , I would love to meet you someday and Mr.Matthews as well, I love Thinkers, a Sound Thinker, that is awesome, I believe big improvements won't come unless we think deeply about it, thinking by my sight is the most important asset that we humans have and a big , gigantic requirement to that is Listening and conscious Listening , Thanks a lot for bringing it up to the public's conscious.

        by the way any news on teaching Listening at schools ? I would love to hear the news of that.
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    Oct 11 2011: Hello Julian; do you think it would be possible to teach kids to listen in a better way? Would you do some lessons that could be shown on Khan Academy or Youtube? I would be happy to translate them in italian if you think they won't lose effectiveness when transalated. Of course I would like to do it for free..no money involved. I am at a point in life where I think I can give people something without expecting a 'material' return.
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    Oct 11 2011: I think that the relationship between technology and listening, and the lack of listening, is that we lose the essential elements of connection between humans by using those devices constantly. We lose the personal contact: face-to-face, eye contact, heart-to-heart connection, breath, and tones. The connection is rational and everything happens quickly. A conscious listening means that two people are rational and emotional connected. It means self-examination and self-awareness.
    It happens when you are connected with someone “in real”, when you take the time and space for both in favor for the connection without rational purpose. Of course, it’s worth it!
    I can’t remember where I read this, but it was illuminating, “To listen is to have integrity and to be conscious of the integrity of others, of being present to the “global” field of awareness".
  • Oct 11 2011: active listening discerns the essence of verbal and non-verbal interaction. active listening feels the sub-text and the current of intent behind the words - the energy behind the words. words most often to not reflect reality. a person's sense of their reality can be detected in their movements and their sound. trauma, pain, joy, love - all strong emotions - are stored in the body as a somatic response. listening is about watching too. creating space around, above, below the words being said - observing somatic response - can indicate what is real in a human interaction. active listening can provide a very precious opportunity to hear, see and meet the person in their reality. active listening gives you, the respondee, a very precious opportunity to respond to the very heart and soul of that person - if judged (through intuition and active listening) that the person will hear your response. hearts and souls can be seen, met and elevated through deep and active listening. this brings about a change in consciousness through deep connection.
  • Oct 10 2011: To start with, listening cannot happen unless the participants are fully present. Once true listening (and not just hearing) occurs, empathy and compassion can follow. And once we have empathy and compassion, we are let to accountability .And that's where things can happen that have the power to change the world! Might I suggest that we start to change how we speak to one another? Perhaps we could stop every now and again to ask the person(s) we are speaking to if they can repeat back to us what we have just said. Perhaps we could strive to maintain eye contact with the person we are speaking (or listening) to. And perhaps, when it is appropriate, consciously try to maintain a physical contact between the listener(s) and the speaker. Touching arms or fingers can often be a non-invasive way of creating the intimacy that promotes listening. And yes, most certainly, distractions from tv, ipods, books, and so much more can destroy listening. But most importantly, it's the INTENTION to listen that will make the most difference. The ways to accomplish this will follow and be different for each individual. So perhaps it's a good idea to ask the listeners first declare their INTENTION to listen, whether it's in a classroom or a home, or anywhere else people want to speak and be heard. It's also important for the person talking to take responsibility for speaking in a way that makes listening possible.
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    Oct 10 2011: At TEDxTheHagueLIVE last July Kathy Voyles spoke eloquently about spending 20 min a day at the table eating without any screens, tv or radio, just twenty minutes sitting and talking or even being silent. See het talk here: http://youtu.be/5gsMSXhumBY
    Her focus was on food, but really it was about being with each other.
  • Oct 10 2011: Yes "no screen" times are a great idea...
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    Oct 10 2011: Perhaps if middle schools started the day with 3 minutes of birdsong, one could measure the impact, compared to other schools that apparently start with the song from Oklahoma (Oh What a Beautiful Morning), or school announcements. I propose middle school as it seems to be a time where kids are going through more cognitive development, and also a time when parents and teachers recognize difficulties and challenges in reaching kids effectively - earbuds or not.
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    Oct 10 2011: Hi Julian, We are losing our listening because many things came up on our modern world, these are:-

    1- Songs beat.
    2- High sound we are hearing.
    3- Drinking a lot.
    4- No person to person contact.

    Thanks for the topic.
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    Oct 10 2011: Julian and others, do have a look at the book "Listening for Wellness" by Pierre Sollier, available at amazon and at www.listenwell.com
  • Oct 10 2011: I'm just referring to what passes as politeness. Didn't say that I adopt that strategy myself, for the most part. Personally, I try for a blend of polite and authentic. Sometimes, when dealing with a loose conversational canon, I just do what it takes to survive and endure
  • Oct 10 2011: Hi Julian - thank you for this conversation and for turning our collection attention to the art, science, and practice of listening.

    Are you familiar with the Ashoka Empathy Initiative? Check it out (http://usa.ashoka.org/empathy) This movement is all about teaching children to listen and to master applied empathy in order to equip them with the tools they need to be a changemaker. Worth a look for you and your followers.
  • Oct 10 2011: Do you think the lack of listening skills is what ultimately leads to the sort of civil unrest that we are seeing play out in the "occupy" movements around the world? And dont those movements at least somewhat prove that we can listen and coexist with technology since Twitter and social media have been so vital to those movements?
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      Oct 10 2011: I have no doubt that not being listened to for a long time and in a determined way (eg by a state) creates a pressure effect and this has certainly been in play over the last few years in many arenas, not least the Arab Spring countries. Politicians are not known for their listening, more for their talking!
  • Oct 10 2011: One time I ran into someone and asked "How are you?" and they replied "thank you". Did they assume I was telling them they looked great? Not listening to the question and auto-polite response??(random thought that first came to mind)... But when it comes to larger problems... If you really listen to what's going on, i think it would be hard to be polite. Maybe for some, it's strategy. I would hope a conscious listening world would mean less people being indifferent to the troubles of others. That would change a lot. I love TED. Full of thought-provoking material to absorb. Thank You :)
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    Oct 10 2011: wow, this is a huge topic with many levels of understanding! I believe there are qualities of listening which are directly related to qualities of sounds being listen to. By listening to cacophony and distilling meaning from it requires a certain kind of listening; probably one which requires skill or training. Much mental energy would be needed to "decode" sounds into meaning(s). Then there are singular sounds which require very little filtering from the mind to bring out meaning. Politeness might be a form of sound which requires little filtering (i.e. energy) from the mind to find truth and honestly. I think these types of interaction are generally preferred by people who have a social purpose or a vested interest in social order. Those who are unsatisfied with the status quo or who want change in social order will prefer to create debate, confusion or disruption depending on their point of view. Politeness is just a reflection of the need for people have/want social order. It is necessary to listen to views which are unpolite even though it is difficult comprehend the intention of the unpoliteness due to the "cacophony" of meaning.
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      Oct 10 2011: This is an interesting point Antonio: noise can be not just unconsciously made, undesirable sound but also it can be disguise, deliberate obfuscation, like chaff from a plane that's under attack. we can certainly maintain compassionate listening even when someone is doing this.
  • Oct 10 2011: I find people listen more when they do not see the speaker, radio. Often I will hear something someone has written as radio copy and think..did they really say that? Had it been said on televised news it would have slipped right by. I am a more conscious listener when I don't see the speaker.

    I love the distinction between listening and hearing.
  • Oct 10 2011: It seems to me we are attracted to noise and strive to create more. Restaurants, sporting events, and concerts are very loud - and partially because of people generating noise by yelling. Television shows that feature people screaming are popular - from Jerry Springer to "news" shows where people argue. I assume alcohol must suppress the ability to hear because people get louder the more they drink. Are we intent on making a world so loud it would be painful to actually listen?
  • Oct 10 2011: no personalities, lots of silence.
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    Oct 10 2011: In school one is often told that one has learnt a subject well, but it's not acknowledged when one has listened well. There are many blocks to listening, one of which is that when someone relates how they feel about a topic the listener begins to ruminate on their own experiences, formulating their reply before the narrator has even finished all they need to say.

    Greg Aldrich is right about one of the ways in which we can become better listeners; the repeating back of the main points and checking that what we think we have heard is what was intended to be said. It does take a bit of practice since too much of that type of intervention can be downright annoying to the narrator and the opposite of what is intended. However, the main point as I gather it from Greg, is that the person doing the telling needs to feel that they have been heard, that we are truly engaged with them in the listening process.

    Nonetheless, there is no ideal world in which we can be good listeners all the time. Often, there are times in life when we feel as if we are on a fast moving rollercoaster, no time to breath, with problems and worries needing our attention. There is, then, just nothing left to give to others as we try to keep our own above water.

    If we can just get off that rollercoaster for long enough, then we can begin to connect, to listen, to be in the moment with ourselves and, eventually, with another.
  • Oct 10 2011: I believe that a world of conscious listening would be a more calm and productive one in which understanding and acceptance would play a larger role.
  • Oct 10 2011: Wouldn't you agree that our inability to listen is because we are over inundated with noise, that we are constantly having to be connected and we have lost the appreciation for solitude and silence? We have sub-conciously learned to tune out...
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    Oct 10 2011: Julian don't you think that being "in a listening" for someone is related to our capacity for compassion or interest and then the other senses come into play. We "become" something else after we have listened.
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      Oct 10 2011: The best listening always grows us. But no I don't equate having a listening for someone with compassion: sadly it can just as easily be a bigoted or restrictive listening that stops us from hearing the full beauty of someone because we prejudge them and simply don't hear what we don't expect to hear.
      • Oct 10 2011: Are you listening if you're prejudging? Who knew? Semantics, definitions -- important stuff.
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    Oct 10 2011: ...i'm an English teacher too and i have noticed how i have really really developed a sense for detecting missing articles, words, tenses and all that. however, i'm most surprised by how i picked up accents quite quickly. i can hear an accent and tell where it's from and usually what level of english they are
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    Oct 10 2011: how can i listen to this live?
    • Oct 10 2011: Oh, I thought it was people typing live, not talking. Don't know.
  • Oct 10 2011: Imho, listening and talking is cultural - not necessarily related to politeness.
    • Oct 10 2011: Politeness is most definitely a cultural construct
  • Oct 10 2011: It seems to me there are two levels of conversation that one might be discussing. That which I will call personal conversation where we are talking with close friends work associates and family. The other I will call public conversation.
    In public conversation so few people are truly listening that it is common for speaker to spout nonsense which contributes to more unconscious listening. After all how do you listen when folks speak from a prospective of ignorance. The other issue is the vast the amount of knowledge in the world has be come so vast that, frankly, vary few of us have the time, even if we have the inclination, to be fully cognizant of the facts. How do listen well when the underlying facts are not clearly known.

    In private conversation. most folks are so focused on their on reply that listening is a lost art form. We learn from school and other sources that having the answer first is a good thing. How can you be listening if you are focusing on your answer. I know I can't. And as much as I try to listen carefully, it get stuck in thinking about my reactions to what one is saying. One of the techniques I am practicing in important conversation is to repeat what I have heard to ensure that I understand the content of what was said. First, that means I am truly understanding what has been said. Secondly, my speaking partner, knows I understand what they said. Thirdly, I have time to digest what has been said while I am rephrasing their thought and finally my response is more likely to be based on their actually statements than some other misunderstood ideas.
  • Oct 10 2011: ¡I feel like no one's listening to me!
  • Oct 10 2011: Hi Julian - I am working on the paradox of technology and wandering into literature on the senses. Have you worked on sound for websites? Or the differences in offline and online sound?
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      Oct 10 2011: We have done some sound for the web. I believe a whole aural Internet is coming (and it's getting closer with the iOS5 voice features we are all looking forward to). The key quality for websound (at least on websites) is not to impose: it must be optional, appropriate and valuable.
      • Oct 10 2011: Speaking of aural options, I've always thought it would be fantastic if one were able to remove the musical +/or verbal soundtrack to yoga videos. Bad, bad tunes for this gal.
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  • Oct 10 2011: Hi Julian. When you have a moment (I don't want to interrupt), can I ask whether you travel in search of silence, or the sounds of nature? Are there any particular places that you would recommend to travelers looking to escape the noise of urban life? Thanks.
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      Oct 10 2011: I do travel and I always seek out silence. You can find it even in some cities - Geneva is a good example. But the best silences I have found have been very high (above the treeline in the Dolomite mountains for example) or very low (in caves).
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        Oct 10 2011: I also LOVE the mountains for peace and quiet...anywhere in the world:>)
      • Oct 10 2011: We can also find the deepest silence anywhere and anytime by going inside, blindfolded with ear plugs, focusing on our breathing and searching for our heart beat...
    • Oct 10 2011: I heard an NPR report a few years ago about how few places are left in the world where you can hear no man-made sounds. Since then I've tested that in various locations and it is exceedingly rare to not hear something.
      • Oct 10 2011: Thanks Julian and Patsy. I'm going to see if I can find that NPR story.
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    Oct 10 2011: The funny thing is that the sodcasters think they *are* listening (to the music). I think listening is probably one of those things that everyone thinks they are good at. After all, if you were a poor listener, how would you know?
  • Oct 10 2011: so what is consciuouis listening?
    • Oct 10 2011: Or consciuouis spelling? ; )
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      Oct 10 2011: Bear in mind I am not talking about just listening to people talking. Listening is to everything. Conscious listening is very related to mindfulness - a state of being aware of the sound around you, not necessarily reacting to it. In my talk I mentioned three scales of listening positions, and there are many more: metaphorical places you can listen from that are all conscious, but all very different.
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      • Oct 10 2011: V helpful distinction. Sounds almost like a description I've heard of autism where individuals become overwhelmed because all stimuli have equal weight -- an opening door, the rustle of leaves, conversation, etc
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          Oct 10 2011: Yes, the filters are crucial, and a big part of conscious listening is becoming aware of them so we can play with them as control surfaces. That way it really is possible to change our reality at will, simply by altering our whole listening.
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          Oct 10 2011: YES!!! "...a big part of conscious listening is becoming aware...so we can PLAY..."
          To me, conscious listening is fun, pleasurable, and a GREAT opportunity to connect with others AND ourselves...let's play with the idea:>)
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    Oct 10 2011: There was research released in the UK this morning that said we are getting more polite as a society. They obviously don't live in London! I wonder how much lack of courtesy in the fast-paced modern world is down to lack of listening. I have blogged before about 'sodcasting' of many kinds, which is thoughtless braodcasting of noise into shared spaces. Are listening and politeness the same thing?
    • Oct 10 2011: No they are not. You may be able to find a correlation between the two, but I'm skeptical as to whether there is actual causation taking place.
    • Oct 10 2011: I think that listening is related to politeness to some degree. In order to be polite, we need to listen and observe in order to interact in a polite way. Part of the problem, and I know I'm guilty occasionally, is that so much is coming at you so quickly, or you allow so much to come at you so quickly that you can't keep up with all the input and therefore the output can be without politeness since the objective is to finish that interaction as quickly as possible to get back to all the input that is happening. Many times it is a matter of slowing down and "turning off" or tuning out all the other input.
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      Oct 10 2011: I think that some degree of politeness is generally necessary for listening to happen for most people. Once I feel insulted or attacked I move to defensiveness and that becomes my focus. If I'm listening after that, it is only to figure out how to defend myself.

      I just came from an occupation in Washington DC that operates on consensus deliberations, so I've spent a lot of time listening to many people this week. One of the first topics was on the process itself, whether to use an electronic microphone or human microphone (where the speaker speaks 3-4 words at a time, and pauses while everyone in earshot repeats the words in unison). It was an interesting experience, if frustrating at times.
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      Oct 10 2011: What is the best way to utilize sound to alter people's consciousness and focus?
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        Oct 10 2011: Well those are two very different things Paul. Focus (as in concentration) requires sound to be relatively low density, that is not too variable, not too many events per time period, and as repetitive as possible. The opposite of these conditions causes your brain to spend a lot of bandwidth listening to the sound rather than processing what you want. Very good sounds for focus are stochastic, like rainfall, birdsong or running water.

        Consciousness is a big topic! What did you mean specifically?
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          Oct 10 2011: Thank you for the response. As an example, many of my clients have challenges sleeping. Their main issue is that when they close their eyes to sleep, a rush of thoughts prevent them from going into a state where they can fall asleep. Others have a limited ability to stay focused on any one thing for more than a few minutes. Work and research around binaural beat and hemispheric synchronization appears to have powerful effects on both relaxation and assisting an individual experience states of mind similar to that of practiced meditators.
      • Oct 10 2011: Depends on what you want to alter it to?
    • Oct 10 2011: I don't think listening and politeness are the same thing, although it is polite to listen. Politeness attempts to keep everyone in their comfort zone, when doing what you have to do in a busy city, it's very handy. Real listening might just take us out of our comfort zone.. at least that's been my experience.
    • Oct 10 2011: I find that hard to believe. Or even to comprehend. Like how?
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      Oct 10 2011: Hi Julian,
      Yes, I have skim read that report you talk about. However, I don't think politeness and listening are the same thing. I do think being able to listen helps cultivate politeness, but they are mutually exclusive.

      The report talks about how to promote 'civility' and that having state-intervention from the top down does not work, I agree. In that case, I think there is huge scope to promote your work on listening and learning this from an early age is key.
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        Oct 10 2011: I agree Sufiya, as you know! Your work on communicating with young people is very inspiring and I hope we can join up the conscious, effective speaking with conscious, effective listening. After all, any good salesperson will tell you that listening is more important that speaking...
    • Oct 10 2011: I think you can appear to listen by being polite - but whether you are really listening depends on the background conversation you are having with yourself. If my background conversation is focused on understanding what the other person is trying to say - then I may be both listening and polite. If not - I am just being polite and giving the impression of listening. For me listening to another person involves being genuine - politeness doesn't require you to be genuine.
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    Oct 10 2011: Glad to be here!
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      Oct 10 2011: Are we NOW HERE? Or NOWHERE? Always a choice:>)

      If we listen consciously, we may find out:>)
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      Oct 10 2011: Hello Julian, This seems fascinating. Wd live to hear it live. Have you heard of the work of Dr. Alfred Tomatis? French ENT surgeon, educator, researcher, who spent a lifetime studying the ear. he talked of the different between hearing and listening. Listening can indeed be trained. If your stirrup muscles in your middle ear are too rigid or too flaccid, you will have a hard time listening. the "Earobics" set into action by the Tomatis machine help the ear better protect itself and prepare it to listen..... so its a listening therapy. Training listening using the Alfred Tomatis method can help everything from autism, to developmental delays, down's syndrome, depression, communication problems, language delays, language learning, voice, etc........ please have a look at www.listenwell.com