Do You Want Improve Your Listening Skills?


Two interesting and seemingly unrelated writings crossed their paths recently on my computer screen. The first is a book The Zen Of Listening: Mindful Communication In The Age Of Distraction, written by Rebecca Shafir. The second is a Medium article The Rise of Audio & Voice, from the famous online personality and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk. Both writings have in common the topic of listening.

While Shafir’s book deals with the topic of HOW to listen and how to improve listening skills and do it mindfully, Vayberchuk’s article focuses on WHAT to listen and what to do to be listened more.

In the era of multitasking and ever diminishing attention span and focus, I find it fascinating to read such an article. Gary writes: “Before AR and VR and AI, audio is going to be the next major platform shift for consumer attention. It’s here today!” And he also gives a logical reason why this is happening: “Just remember, audio and voice are by far the most natural interface for humans to interact. We like to speak and listen.”

I have to add, that Gary is writing here about podcasting. And the truth is that he is big on the podcasting as he is on the vlogging.

I don’t want to argue with Gary, although statistics about audio streams he is referring to in the article, relate primarily to music. I am happy that people are able and willing to listen more, whether it is music or spoken word in podcasts and audiobooks.

My hope is that as “a rising tide lifts all boats”, with the increase of listenership will also grow is the ability to eliminate distractions and to focus. I just cannot imagine a “typical multitasker” listening to his favorite podcast, and at the same time chatting and also playing a computer game. That’s an example. I know that there are many who do it like that, or even worse. They eat, play, chat and listen a podcast. And in the moment they hear and their brain catches an interesting word or phrase, they refocus for a moment, absorb a snippet from the audio and switch their attention elsewhere. It’s hard to imagine someone consuming media this way and retaining any useful information.

Gary’s enthusiasm about audio & voice and podcasting could be understood also when viewed from a different perspective. For a large part of the audience, the traditional media like the TV and radio have become too boring or distracting. That could be a reason for the rapid growing Netflix, Facebook, YouTube, and podcasting. There you can find every imaginable niche and topic. You can consume whenever is convenient. And you can even build a community and socialize with the likeminded enthusiasts in your particular niche. The traditional mass-media have no chance to compete.

But do you see a contradiction in this whole scenario as I do? If we are to trust researchers who claim that humans have now shorter attention span than goldfish , where does that growing interest for audio and podcasting come from?

Although a large part of that growing number of listeners could be assigned to pure entertainment and only a small percentage would go to those who want to learn something new or gather a valuable information, majority of all these people need and want to listen. They need to focus and concentrate for a longer period of time, to make the time spent listening valuable. I cannon imagine someone playing Gary Vaynerchuk’s podcast as a background sound to any other activity. Gary is just too intense and entertaining to let your mind wandering.

If you are one of those who find it demanding to focus and listen to your favorite podcast or audiobook for a longer period of time, Rebecca Shafir’s book comes handy. As her book is about mindful listening, it will not only help you open your ears but also your mind. So that you are able to listen and understand better, and also be heard and be understood better.

Here is a quote from the book: “Mindful listening is the mind and body working together to communicate. Furthermore, it does not require two functioning ears to listen in a mindful way. Mindful listening requires you to see, hear, and feel with your whole being. To attend mindfully to the message, whether the message is spoken or signed, is to perceive as closely as possible the intent and experience of the speaker.”

The author also writes about the importance of listening to ourselves as at times it is challenging to understand what goes on in our own minds. Especially if we don’t know how to listen or are not able to.

Other interesting areas covered in the book are listening under stress, how to improve your listening memory, listening for a better health, and how to help others listen better. The last point is a very important and hugely neglected part of the communication. As I see it, everyone now wants to talk and speak – but less and less people want to listen or are not able to listen anymore. The book helps with useful advice and listening exercises which conclude each of the twelve chapters.

Knowing how to listen is important in many situations in life. Rebecca Shafir explains: “In order to reap the benefits of listening, we must let ourselves develop and expand our ability to concentrate. We should be able to sustain our focus for several minutes or as long as we choose, depending on the nature of the listening task.”

And here you have the full circle – a successful speaker or podcaster needs an attentive audience willing to listen; but to be a successful speaker, you need to be able to listen to your audience.

Above all this, there is but one domain that is completely based on listening – it’s music. Both authors touched it. But majority of the times someone talks about music, they mean only the passive listening and consuming music.

There is also a part of music much more beneficial  for you – the active music making, or musicking. Here the ability to listen, to concentrate and focus, plays a crucial role. Playing a musical instrument or singing helps develop ability to listen – listen not only to others, but also to yourself. When musicking, you have to concentrate on what you are doing – you have to be in present. Because in the moment you lose your focus, the moment your mind goes elsewhere, there goes also your musical expression, your rhythm and your tone or pitch. And you can hear it immediately. Thus musicking helps you learn to concentrate and to listen what you are playing and also to listen how your are doing it.

So to paraphrase Gary Vaynerchuk’s quote from the beginning “ Before AR and VR and AI expand inevitably the reach of music, musicking can be the next major platform shift for consumer attention.”


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