Episode 206 | February 4, 2020

How to Speak So That People Want to Listen with Julian Treasure

A Personal Note From Orion

I just had the most extraordinary conversation with Julian Treasure. He’s the author of the books Sound Business and How to be Heard. He is a highly-rated, international public speaker on business sound and personal communications skills, particularly conscious listening and powerful speaking.

His five TED Talks have been viewed over 80 million times and his latest is in the top ten TED Talks of all time. You’ll be mesmerized by listening to him because he got such a beautiful sound of his voice, but more than that, the insights about communication, listening, and how to be heard will transform the person that you are and the way you show up. Not only in your intimate relationship but mostly in the world in general, with other people, with communicating to strangers, with communicating your business to the world.

There was so much valuable information that was packed into this interview that it will blow your mind.

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About Today’s Show

Hey, Julian, and welcome to Stellar Life Podcast. It’s a pleasure having you here.

Thank you so much for inviting me, I’m looking forward to it.

Me too. I want to learn how to be a better listener because sometimes I don’t feel heard and I would like to know how to be heard. Those are all good and interesting topics. Why don’t you give me some background, how did you become a communication expert?

I started a company in 2003 called the Sound Agency. It was my second time running a business, sold the previous one. Having been a musician all my life, I wanted to do something about sound, because most sound around us is not very nice. It’s like an exhaust gas of the economy, it just happens. It’s not designed, it’s not thought about, it’s accidental. A lot of it is unpleasant. I was really reflecting that we’ve gotten kind of numb. We’re so used to suppressing our consciousness of sound because most of it is not that nice and people don’t listen very much.

Now, I had a background in marketing, so my first inclination with the Sound Agency was to address this with organizations, and that’s what we did. We started asking the question, “How does your brand sound?” We’ve been doing that for 16 years now, specializing in sound in physical spaces, but also looking at sonic logos. I don’t think many people listening to this could draw the Intel logo, but I bet lots of people can hear it in their head the Intel logo sound. It’s very familiar. That thing is very powerful and we’ve been doing that for a long time.

Sound Business by Julian Treasure

Along the way, I wrote a book called Sound Business and then I started doing these TED Talks back in. I think the first one was in 2009, where I was talking about the power of sound and how it affects people. As I went through the TED Talks, I started to reflect, “Well, you know what? Sound is being made not just as organizations. It’s being made by all of us. In fact, organizations are just people. The problem is none of us are listening.” I did a talk, a TED about conscious listening, that was the third one. Then I wanted to talk about the other side of the coin, the fifth TED Talk was about powerful speaking and that’s the one that went absolutely ballistic. It’s got like 40 million views or something on TED. I think it’s the sixth most-watched all the time. 

Interesting to me, the one on speaking has been seen several times more people than the one on listening. I think this tells us a story that two things are intimately related and that’s what I put into the book I wrote, How to be Heard. It’s the central thesis really of the book, that if you want to be listened to, it’s important to be a good listener. If you want to speak powerfully, you need to be able to listen, because the two things are intimately related.

How to be Heard by Julian Treasure

The way I speak affects the way you listen, the way you listen affects the way I speak. More than that, the way I speak affects the way you speak, and the way I listen affects the way you listen. They’re going on all the time in the circular relationship. That’s what I really understood and that’s why so many people have the experience that, “Nobody listens to me. I can’t get my point across. I can’t speak powerfully.” Largely, I think because we’ve become such poor listeners.

The best way to get listened to the conversation is to be a great listener. That’s why the book, How to be Heard is actually about listening skills because they underpin this circle of communication.

I loved what you’ve said about how many people have viewed the TED Talk about speaking in comparison to the one about listening. I used to live in Japan, I’m from Israel, where the louder you are, the more powerful you are. Then I lived in Japan for 3½ years and it was completely opposite, the quieter you are the more reserved you are, then you get more respect. Then I moved to the US and it was back to the louder you are, the more powerful you are and people can really hear you. What do you think about that?

I think there is a lot of culture about this, different cultures are different. Actually, it goes a lot further than you know. A really important realization is everybody listens in a unique way. Your listening is different from mine. It’s one of the most common mistakes that people make in relationships all the time, is to assume everybody listens like I do, so I can just speak the same way all the time, that’s not true. We all listen through a set of filters and the culture we’re born into is a big one of those filters. The language we speak is another one. There are languages on this planet with no words for the past and future, which would change our listening a bit, wouldn’t it?

Language, culture, values, attitudes, beliefs, the things you gather along the way from your parents, your teachers, your role models, your friends, whoever it may be, you pick up some, you discard others. Since everybody listening to this has traveled a different road to this moment here and now, that means that we’re all listening in a slightly different way.

Also, emotions change our listening. Our listening changes through the day as an individual, plus each person listens individually and in a unique way. That means there’s a key question we need to ask ourselves if we’re going to be effective in speaking. That question is, what’s the listening I’m speaking into? We’re always speaking into listening and it’s different all the time.

But it sounds impossible. If you say that everybody is individual and let’s say, you speak to a crowd of a thousand people, how do you do that?

Well, I do that all the time. The answer is, you ask yourself what’s their listening and there’s a compound thought of listening in the room. Now, this isn’t a thing you need to take a university degree, it doesn’t take years of training, or anything like that. It’s really simple. It just takes getting into the habit of asking yourself that question. I promise you, you will become naturally better and better at it, simply by sensitizing yourself and asking that question.

Listening is something that we have to work at - it's a relationship with sound. And yet, it's a skill that none of us are taught. Click To Tweet

The moment you admit that listening is different and that you need to be attentive to it, that’s the door open. Then you can go through it and start to become better and better, asking yourself that question, whether it’s one to one, in a conversation with your family, or somebody at work, or whoever it may be, or whether you’re on a stage in front of hundreds or thousands of people, what’s the listening? Indeed, you can ask yourself that question in advance of the conversation, or a talk, or whatever it may be. I always do that if I’m going to speak. 

That sounds really clear to you what’s the listening, but for me, I’ll ask myself, “What’s the listening of Julian?” and I don’t know. I don’t know what you’re listening to.

It’s not easy if you can’t see the person, it is made harder. It’s a lot easier if you can see the person, because you have a lot of visual cues, body language, facial expressions, microexpressions, and there are all sorts of ways of doing it. But you’re picking out my listening from my voice all the time, that’s why that you’re listening to me. As I said, the way I speak affects the way you listen, the way I listen affects the way you listen, the way I speak affects the way you speak, it’s all interrelated.

If you’re sensitive, if you’re asking what’s the listening, do I sound bored? Do I sound sleepy? You have got a lot of information, I mean, hopefully, the answer to those is no. You’ve got a lot of information.

No, you sound very engaged, interesting, and excited about your topic.

That’s the listening you’re speaking into because I’m interested in this conversation. You can pick it up even on the phone, when you’ve got degraded bandwidth and it’s all distorted, you can still pay attention and get them listening. We’re pretty good at picking up. How is that person feeling of being engaged in this conversation? Am I hitting the spot? If you are sensitive to that, that is the secret to hitting the bullseye in the conversation, as opposed to missing the target altogether. What’s the listening I’m speaking into? Think about it in advance and keep sensitive to it all the way through a conversation.

You talked about being a musician and being really immersed with the idea of sound. Right now, I just started a Mastermind with Roger Love, who probably is the top celebrity trainer for sound. He is the one who, you know the Lady Gaga movie? I forgot the name of the actor, but he is the one who taught him how to sing.

Okay, I have come across him. I’m aware of him.

He is amazing. I just started his Mastermind. We just had our call yesterday and it’s going to be all about sound. Hopefully, I’ll get better at communicating through sound, which is interesting to me, because it’s communicating through sound in a second language.

That is always tough. The cultural side is very important. You know there is a different style in each country so it changes the listening, it also needs to change our speaking and the way we relate.

I will give you an example. A few years ago, I did a talk in Finland. Finland is a very taciturn, restrained place, generally.

Observe your voice’s tonality when you speak. The same sentence can mean differently just by the tone you use when saying it.

I know. I was there. Can I just give you something about Finland, just for our listeners to understand how restrained it is? In Israel, we have the gay pride, it’s a humongous thing. There are 20,000 people on the beach, dancing, going crazy, it’s very loud, it’s very colorful, it’s a carnival.

I went to the gay pride in Finland. I was there for another Mastermind, we accidentally were there at the same time the gay pride was, so I told my husband, “Let’s go and let’s see what it’s all about.” It was so weird. It looked the same but it was the quietest gay pride I’ve ever experienced in my life. I saw those colorful drag queens on the grass and everybody were like whispering.

I’m used to this. That’s the way they talk, it’s really loud, and it’s like, “Woo!” That’s very celebratory. It’s the quietest gay pride I’ve ever been to. It was so interesting.

Okay, back to you. You went to Finland and you were talking about their listening. 

That’s exactly my experience.

Oh my God, it was shocking.

I did a talk at the wonderful concert hall. It is known to have some of the best acoustics in the world. At the end of the talk, I got sort of clap. I thought, “What happened?,” and I went for a coffee. People are coming up to me as I was having coffee saying, “That was the best talk we have had for several years.”

That’s how they are in Finland, so you have to adjust to that. If I have been whooping it up and hollering, they would have been feeling uncomfortable on stage. It’s very different from giving a talk in Orlando, or somewhere, you got a completely different reception. As you’ve said in Israel, I have been to Israel and yes, I found everybody, the volume there was very intense, personal space is a premium, it’s quite so long.

That is an important thing when you ask yourself, “What’s the listening you can think about culture, language, age, gender.” When I say culture, not just national culture, but also microculture—the family you grew up in, the neighborhood, the tribes you joined, and whatever it might be in your life.

Everybody has different listening. The power of speaking is to spot that listening and speak accurately into it. That can change through the days. I say, I often get put on after lunch on what’s called the “graveyard shift,” because they think, “Well, he can talk, he can handle that.” That’s when everybody’s blood has gone to their gut, everybody is a bit sleepy, and so forth. You have to up the energy level, knowing that you could adjust.


Yes, that’s exactly. You can adjust. But if I just went on and did the same thing every single time, sometimes it would hit the mark, sometimes it would miss the mark. It’s important to be responsive in that way. You can spot that with an audience. How many people are supporting their heads? How many people are sitting forward? How many people are smiling at the jokes? What’s the responsiveness? Any performer, speaker, actor, whoever it is on the stage in front of people, gets very good at gauging that feeling, the response coming back, and tempering the performance accordingly.

Julian, let’s say you’re on stage and people are like the way you described. They’re not engaged, or tired, they just had their lunch, it’s been already like the fourth day of the conference, and they’re tired. What do you do to tap into their listening and to have them hear you? 

I tend to use a lot of sounds in my talks. I’ve got some advantages there. I would make some pretty loud sounds to wake them up and surprise them. Surprise is always good. If you don’t have sounds that you can use, then you can do things like ask questions, or be provocative, or really make them think. You can ask a big open question, “Who wants to…?” or, “Have you ever thought about?” or make a provocative statement, “Do you know what the biggest problem in the world is right now?” and people go, “No, what is it?” You engage people’s curiosity, whatever it is.

Get them thinking, get them active, get them curious. Curiosity is the root of any good talk. If you can engage people’s curiosity by showing them a big problem, or a challenge, or something they never knew, or something that’s going to amaze them, then you are on a win. Even if it’s after lunch, you’ll have them.

Nice. Do you have any tips around cadence, the sound, and the structure? The way you speak is so pleasant and it’s really easy to listen to you. What do you do there? What’s the magic there?

I talked about it in the book, in the course, in the TED Talk. I talked about the things that I call the vocal toolbox. I think it’s really quite important to become familiar with your vocal toolbox, the tools you’ve got. Then it’s about practice. I would say to anybody who speaks in public, go get a vocal coach. Just lookup on the internet, local people to you, voice coach, drama coach, singing coach, speaking coach. Try some out, find the one you really like, and do some work.

Sound affects us physiologically, psychologically, cognitively, and behaviorally all the time. The sound around us is affecting us even though we're not conscious of it. Click To Tweet

The voices and amazing instruments, we’re all born with it and yet we don’t teach how to use it in school, even less do we teach listening by the way. We’re left trying to work out how to use this incredible thing on our own, without a manual, without anybody really giving us instruction. It’s supposed to be automatic, isn’t it? It isn’t necessary and yet you think of what the human voice can do when it’s trained, from Tibetan undertone chanting, to Pavarotti, to whatever it might be. The human voice is unbelievable, it really is. All of us have got this toolbox. 

A couple of things in the toolbox that are worth paying attention to. You mentioned prosody, which is the sing-song intonation that we use. It’s related to pitch. Pitch in itself is quite useful as well because you can indicate emotions. If I say, “Where did you leave my keys?” and then I say, “Where did you leave my keys?” There’s a different emotional impact between those two, the same pace, the same words, different impact.

Prosody is really important. It’s probably the most important thing of all in speaking. If I speak on one tone for the rest of this interview, I don’t think most people would be awake by the end of it, because it’s really robotic. That’s called monotone. That’s where we get the word monotonous, of course. It’s boring. Some people are blessed with great prosody, some cultures have more than others. Again, I don’t want to be rude about all my wonderful friends in Scandinavia, but Scandinavian prosody is very restrained. You’ll get a Scandinavian say, “Yes, they’re very excited about this.” That’s a very different thing from an Israeli.

I know. I’ve been in that area. For me, it was very interesting to hear that.

That’s different from an Israeli or any Mediterranean cultures actually, which tends to be a lot more you know.  There’s a huge amount of up and down going on. You can be sensitive to that, but also, you can work on extending your own rage. If you’re somebody who spoke relatively restrictive prosody, tends to speak in a very calm fashion like this, especially if you use a repeating cadence like this, it’s very soporific. You have people in a trance in a very short time speaking like that.

It’s really important to work on prosody. It’s root one for emotion, shows passion, engagement, interest, and most of all, it creates light and shade in what you’re doing, whether you’re one-to-one or on stage, doesn’t matter. It creates light and shade and gets rid of the monotony. It allows you to emphasize words like that. It goes hand-in-hand with pace, which is also very significant. That’s a big thing to pay attention to when you’re speaking, if you are listening. If you’re speaking with somebody who’s very slow, then if you’re rattling away like this and getting really excited, they’re probably glazing over because you’re losing them.

You’re losing the rapport.

Exactly. Rapport is very important. There are a lot of books on the subject and lots of reports about mirroring and matching, being sensitive to the other person. If it’s a slow speaking person, then I would slow down out of deference and politeness to them. That’s true also if you’re talking to somebody who’s struggling to translate in their head and they’re in a different language. Very often, I do that on stage, I have to speak to people in multiple languages, I will slow down my delivery a little bit, and make sure that I’m not using jargon or difficult words.

That’s very kind and conscious of you.

Kind and conscious are very important. Those are two great words actually. Kind and conscious, always conscious in your delivery and in the effect it’s having. This is a game, you have to get the ball over the net, to the other person. That means you need to know where they are and how they’re responding.

Let’s explore kind for a moment, because the biggest mistake I see people make, most often actually when speaking, is that it’s all about them. When you go up stage, it’s not all about you. It’s not all about me when I walk on the stage, it’s about the audience.

Hire a vocal coach to improve your speaking and communication skills. A voice coach can give you tips on how to sound better or how to be more confident in talking to others.

The world does not revolve around me, Julian?

Totally not. I’m afraid not. It’s a supermassive black hole in the middle of the galaxy past anything else. It’s really important because that falls into a trap. The trap is looking good. If you go on stage and the intention is to look good, then that is a shallow intention and it’s pretty transparent; people can spot that.

I asked this question actually to Chris Hansen, the head of TED, for the book. I interviewed him for the book. I’ve known Chris for a long time. I said, “Chris, what’s more important to you, is it content or delivery?” He said, “Well, they’re both important. If forced to choose, I would go for content every time, because if somebody is delivering earth-shattering content, but in a pretty boring way. I’ll work with them. I’ll stay and grit my teeth and get through it. Whereas, if somebody is delivering vapid nonsense, but brilliantly styled, it’s just irritating actually.” That is so true.

I mean, they’re both very important things, but if you go on stage and it’s all about you looking good, that’s not going to fly very well. It’s about the gift you’re giving to the audience, which is, where that question comes again. What’s the listening? What’s their pain? What’s their problem? How can I help them? Why am I going to engage them? What’s going to be inspiring, educational, amusing, engaging about what I’m saying? What’s my big idea? That’s why you have to get your content right for the listening. Very much it’s about the audience.

Right. Let’s go from one-to-many to one-on-one. When you meet someone new, how do you build an instant connection and how do you communicate? You touched upon it on how to communicate in a way that they will understand by building rapport, but can you take me deeper? Can you tell me more about how to build an instant rapport and how to communicate better with a stranger?

The best thing to do is ask questions. There’s a great little phrase, “Tell me more.” People love talking about themselves, generally. Most people do. If you meet somebody and you’re feeling a little bit unconfident, or uncertain, or whatever it is, ask them questions. It shows that you’re interested and you build this rapport with them, “Tell me more about that. That’s amazing, tell me more.” Then they do. Then they understand you’re listening to them and it tends to create an atmosphere of listening.

There’s a great exercise that I gave in the TED Talk about listening actually, which is something I really believe in, it’s one of seven exercises. I cover them in the book, in the course, it’s called RASA, which is a Sanskrit word for juice. In this context, it’s an acronym, it stands for Receive, Appreciate, Summarize, Ask. It’s a very good formula for building rapport and generating good conversations.

The receive means paying attention to the person, which means actually looking at them, pointing at them. If you’re face-to-face with them, leaning forward, maybe a little bit looking interested. It’s amazing how little full listening we do in life now.

Scott Peck said, “You cannot truly listen to another human being and do anything else at the same time.” I agree with that, yet we do it all the time, don’t we? I am listening, no, you’re sending a text, that’s not listening, that’s sending a text and all the little tiny bits of listening on top. We do this partial listening, a bit of listening so often.

I do recommend that everybody listening to this, how about when you finish listening to this, the next person you talk to, especially if you go home and it’s your partner or your family, pay them 100% attention. It might be the first time you’ve done it for a long time. Give them total attention, do nothing else and they’ll probably respond by saying, “What are you doing?” because they haven’t seen you do this for a long time. It’s rare that we do this. I reckon there were billions of people on this planet who’ve never had the experience of being fully, properly listened to like that. That’s the R, receive.

The A, that’s appreciate. Little noises like, “Hmm,” “Oh,” “Really?” and if you’re face-to-face, little facial movements, raised eyebrows, smiles bobs of the head, they were in gestures, all that type of thing, accept, accept, accept. That helps, that boils the conversation.

The human voice is an instrument we all play. It's the most powerful sound in the world. It's can start a war or say 'I love you.' Click To Tweet

Then the S is summarize, which is really powerful. It closes doors in the corridor of the conversation. You lock things down. “What I’ve understood you to say is this, did I get you?” and they go, “Yeah, that’s right.” “Okay, so we can move on.” Or if you’re in a meeting, “So, what we’ve all agreed is this, now we can move on to that.” If you don’t have a “so” post in a meeting, it can be a very long meeting. We’ve all had those meetings where you take minutes and waste hours. That’s what goes on in many meetings because you don’t have those people summarizing.

Of course, the A is ask. I’ve already said asking questions right from the start is a wonderful way of breaking the ice and establishing a common ground by listening. By the way, I think it’s important in many situations to form a little contract to listening. For example, you walk up to somebody and instead of panning straight in, you say, “Do you have five minutes to listen to me?” So they say, “Yes.” You then have five minutes. They’ve given you a five-minute contract and they’re going to listen to you.

Whereas so often, we’ll just walk up to somebody say, “Hey, did you know what this type than the other?” And you don’t know what’s going on with that person, they may have just had bad news, they may be in the middle of thinking about something, they may be in the middle of another conversation even. Interrupting is becoming an epidemic. It’s polite and it gives you a contract that you can then rely on to a degree that you got that amount of time at least to be listened to. These are some tips for building from the off.

Right and it’s just from my life experience and the person that I am, those tips seem like a very simple formula, but it’s so deep and it’s so effective, everything that you described right now.

I am going through a really great lesson in receiving because I have a four-month-old baby and I am consciously trying to do my best to be present with him and not be on my phone or on any screen when I’m near him. We’ll have eye contact for five minutes and he knows when I’m really present and he will give me this humongous smile. It’s the cutest thing, so cute. I think I’m getting better at being present just because of him, he’s like my little teacher, my little mentor.

Totally, I think children take a long time to grow because we need to be taught unconditional love and generosity and altruism and all those things which are not natural to human beings necessarily, but you can’t do anything else with a child or at least, if you do you’re very unfortunate as a parent. I totally agree.

In my country, the Victorians used to have a hideous adage which is, “Children should be seen and not heard.” That is in no way to bring children up. You’re teaching them that they’re not important. Paying people attention is a great compliment, it’s a gift. To me, one of the greatest gifts you give to the people that you love is your attention.

It’s so fragmented now, we got Facebook, Twitter and all these things wanting attention, this fear of missing out, “Oh my goodness, somebody might be tagging me or tweeting about me or something.” Attention gets fragmented, it’s being drawn all the time. Resist all that. Please do resist all that and give your attention to the people around you. That’s so much more valuable.

Yeah, just because I’m doing these exercises with him or this type of parenting that I choose to do with him of being more present, when guests come they look at him and they’re like, “Oh, wow, he’s so present.” He really looks into my eyes, because they can learn at such a young age. They understand it.

I think that if the parent doesn’t give this type of attention to the baby or treats the baby like children are to be seen, but not heard or something like that, not treating the child as a human being, as a soulful being, then it will hinder the child’s development and his communication in the world. I think that because we are bringing up children in such a social media-saturated society and in all those gadgets and screens and computers, we tend to fall into this trap of raising this new generation that doesn’t really know how to listen and is even worse than us.

I agree and that’s really the reason for most of the work I’ve done, all of the TED Talks, it makes me very happy, the TED Talk has been seen by I think 100 million people in total. That’s a lot of people. I’m hoping that’s a lot of pebbles chucked into a pond. I hope there are ripples going through with people actually understanding the importance of listening.

Spark your audience’s curiosity at the start to get them hooked on your speech, but make sure you give them answers or solutions so that they get a valuable takeaway from your talk.

Never have we needed listening more than we do now. We have the politics of shouting going on in the world. We have polarizations going on. We caricature people. When you dehumanize people like that, that is a slippery slope. When everybody I disagree with is evil or bad or wrong, we’ve lost our curiosity.

I think it was Barack Obama who said that, “I’d like to listen to people, especially when I disagree with them,” he said and that is rare. The people are actually interested to the point of saying, “Well, I don’t agree with you. I’m curious to know how you could believe that or how you got to that point of view.” And maybe even get to the stage to say, “Okay, I can see you’ve got a good reason to believe that. I don’t agree with it, but I can understand.

Listening is a doorway understanding and understanding is the access to civil society, to democracy, to the world we really care about, where we can live next door to be we disagree with. Not go around and attack them, kill them, whatever it is that happens in places where if you disagree with somebody that’s what you do. There’s too much of that in the world already, so let’s not go down that slippery slope.

Right. I want to go back to that formula, the RASA formula. First, you receive and you are in an intention of being present with the person and then you appreciate and you go into gratitude, and then gratitude has been shown to rewire our neurology and actually make us better human beings, smarter, happier, more productive, which I really love.

I love that and then I love that you give that gift to the person in front of you because we don’t do that. We take everybody for granted. When we have the intention to be appreciated, then you really see the light in the people, you really connect with them on a different soulful level.

Absolutely. I think that’s what listening does, it connects people more than anything else and it’s such an easy thing to do. It’s different from hearings, it’s very important to understand that. When we listen, we do two things, we select certain things to pay attention to and that’s the challenge number one in the modern world and then we make to mean something,

It’s two stages, it’s a mental process, you hear everything. Hearing is like your heart beating in its natural proclivity, it’s an ability. Listening is a skill, it’s a skill that we can work on. You can get better at it. Some of the exercises that I proposed in that talk and in the book are aimed at helping people to improve conscious listening skills.

When you come down to it, actually you’ve used the word several times, this is so much about presence, consciousness, awareness, mindfulness. It’s very much about being here now with the person and listening to the person.

Ears are made not for hearing but for listening. Listening is an active skill, whereas hearing is passive. Click To Tweet

Listening is a form of meditation to me because if you’re listening, and not preparing your next brilliant dialogue or monologue, that’s not listening, that sort of faux listening. I call that speech writing. If you’re listening to somebody, your head needs to be really empty, just as you are if you’re meditating, get rid of the thoughts.

You can listen in lots of different ways and it may be that from time to time you’re in what I would call a critical listening position, where you’re assessing and testing and analyzing and validating or invalidating somebody’s ideas, that’s fine, that works, in an academic situation perhaps. Not so good if you’re in a conversation with your family. We tend to get stuck in these listening positions, so it’s good to be aware.

It’s almost like left-brain listening compared to right-brain listening.

That would be a good listening position to work on actually, left-brain versus right-brain. The right-brain is much freer and emotional. The left-brain is much more rational and analytical. You can make up as many listening positions as you like. It’s a great exercise because it shows you their different places to listen to.

I can change my listening just as I can be sensitive to somebody else’s listening. I can change my listening position perhaps from critical to empathic and then what I’m here for is to feel your feelings, going to your island and really leave you feeling understood, not just heard but understood. That’s a different form of listening, from a critical assessment. That’s completely different.

There are many listening positions that we can adopt, listening from fear, listening from faith, listening from selfishness, listening from compassion and curiosity. There are lots of places to listen from and that’s a great exercise to try.

One of my favorite things that you talked about in your RASA formula is to summarize, because I know the impact of that. Sometimes, I do Imago dialogue with my husband and it’s all about listening and at the end, there is the summary because then people want to feel gotten, people want to know that you get them. When you summarize and you repeat their words back to them, they really feel listened to and when someone feels listened to, it can very easily diffuse a very powerful conflict or painful conflict.

Definitely, absolutely. I’m a big fan of Imago. I think it was actually Harville Hendrix who said about the other big habit that people have, which is being right, it’s all about looking good.

I love being right.

Being right’s even stronger, but Harville Hendrix said, “You can either be right or be in a relationship.”

But I’m always right and I’m still in a relationship, in a good way.

I’m sure you have some interesting conversations. Now, I’m a big fan of Imago, I think that they’ve done great work and along with other systems like the parent effectiveness training system. These are all similar directions of clear language, NLP. There’s lots of good stuff in there as well.

Clear language, where you’re clearly express yourself and be aware when you’re manipulative or when you’re starting to go into generalizations, assumptions, mind-reading, and blame, which are all very destructive in a relationship. I’m a big fan of clean language, which is quite difficult. It’s a good exercise to attempt to do some time using just clean language. That is to say questions that aren’t steering when you haven’t got an agenda.

The clean question is, “What did you have for breakfast?” but there are so many other ways, “Did you have the eggs or the fruit for breakfast?” or “Did you have cereal for breakfast?” That’s not a clean language, that steering people in certain ways and this accusation or blame or persuasion and something behind them. That’s a very interesting form of speaking, which I think can be very helpful.

There are certain words to avoid, I think, and maximizes are definitely, generally not very useful. Now, that’s a generalization and that’s again something possibly to avoid, but the words like “never,” “always,” and “You never listen to me. You always leave your socks on the floor.” “Really? Always? Never? I don’t think so.” They’re generally not true that and they’re inflamers of arguments. They’re certainly not going to calm an argument down, are they? “You never listen to me,” is the most common complaint in a relationship, is it not? Yes, those words are to be avoided.

Another one I would suggest people think about cutting out, I cut it out in my vocabulary years ago is the word “should.”

The trouble with listening is that so much of what we hear is noise, surrounding us all the time. Click To Tweet

Tony Robbins said, “Don’t should all over yourself.”

There you go. I never heard him say that, that’s a good one. I can’t think of a single useful situation for that word to be deployed. If you use it about somebody else, it’s judgmental and blaming. “You should lose weight. You should go to the gym. You should be doing much better than you are.” If you use it about yourself, you’re blaming yourself. You’re flagellating yourself, “I should have lost weight. I should have gotten that job,” but you’re not.

The positive way of spinning that around is to say, “I’m going to. I will. I will address this. I’ve learned something,” there was an experience. You either say thank you for something good, you say sorry if you did something wrong, and then make it right. “Here is what I’m going to do differently next time. Here’s what I’m putting in place to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Excuses are one of the seven deadly sins of speaking that I talked about in that TED Talk about speaking. Some people are blame-throwing at somebody. It’s never their fault.

How do you deal with those blame throwers? How do you deal with those people that have no empathy? How do you deal with those people that never say sorry?

Be compassionate. There’s a good reason they’re like that. I think it was Ram Dass who once said that’s the kind of tree they are. If you get that attitude towards people, you can’t change people necessarily. It’s not a very good idea to go into any long-term relationship with the idea of, “Well, with a bit of work, that person will become the person I want them to be.”

No, you can’t.

You can’t. That’s the kind of trees they are. If you’ve got somebody who’s doing that, to the degree that it hurts you, move away. And to the degree it doesn’t actually hurt you, it’s just irritating, try to generate compassion because compassion is always where to come from. There’s a good reason that they’re like that. It’s in the past. It’s something that’s happened to them, it’s the way they were brought up, or they’ve learned that this is the way to be, it’s their defense mechanism.

If you know them well enough, you could have a conversation about it. “I’ve noticed that this is something that you do. Would you like to talk about it?” Sometimes people will open up. That’s not always good access. You can get people being very defensive and angry if they’re challenged on something like that, but that’s all I can really say. This is not about changing other people, it’s about working on ourselves. The best way to influence people around is to show a great example, it’s to be it and do it.

So many people are, “Do what I say, not what I do.”

Which is not very effective, is it?

Not effective. You touched upon it a little bit before, but I want to go deeper into that topic of how we can use words to diffuse conflict.

Conflict is not something I’m very fond of and the answer I would say always is, I think there’s an inverse relationship between listening and upset. Both ways actually, I mean the more upset I am, the harder I am going to find it to listen. I’m going to give you an example of this.

I was driving a while back and I had to avoid an obstacle in the road. I moved out to somebody who was trying to overtake me and he nearly had an accident as a result. We got to a traffic light and he pulled up next to me and got out of his car and he was absolutely furious. He walked around, so I wound my window down an inch or two and he started shouting at me.

He started shouting, “Do you realize you… ” I did some reflexive listening, what I would call active listening. That’s just repeating what the person says and you can even put in the Imago thing, “Did I get you?” at the end of it. I said, “Okay, I hear that when I did this, you nearly did that. Is that what happened?” “Yes.”

As I kept doing that and repeating, his voice got lower, the steam stopped coming out of his ears, he calmed down to the point where after about 4-5 rounds of this he said, “Look, I’m sorry I got angry, but I was really scared. I nearly had an accident.” I said, “Would you like to know my part of this?” and he said, “Yes.” I explained that this thing happened in front of me, I’d have to swerve around it. There was nothing I could do. We ended up saying, “Okay, sorry about that. Thanks very much,” a very cordial goodbye, apologized to each other and went on our way. Listening was the key to it.

Right. It’s almost like listening Aikido. I studied Aikido and MMA. With Aikido, you use the other person’s force to manipulate them. The word manipulation is not necessarily for bad. You manipulate them to understand that it’s okay, and they are heard.

Totally. By saying, “Look, I can see you’re really upset, you’re really angry and I can understand that, because you nearly had an accident, that must have been awful, go on. Tell me more about it.” And then immediately, you’ve got a different connection, haven’t you? You’ve got a thing that you’re both experiencing and you’re both looking at, rather than if I get defensive and I go into excuses like, “It wasn’t my fault,” I start to defend vigorously, the argument is going to escalate.

Again, the access really is curiosity. There are four Cs of good listening that I talked about in the book in the course. The first is consciousness which is being a way you’re actually doing something and being aware of how I do this is going to have an effect. Immediately there, I was choosing a listening position of active listening of just simply parroting back what he’d said so that he felt heard because I know that works in conflict.

The second C is compassionate. Being compassionate is really seeking to understand the other person’s point of view and having that feeling in the back of your mind, “There’s a reason and I could totally understand why this guy was angry. It was totally justified.”

The third C is committed, not just to say, “I am going to listen. I’m going to do something. I’m going to pay attention to this person,” put everything else down and actually be there.

The fourth C which is possibly the most important one is curious, a ferocious curiosity that’s a great place to come from in listening. “I might learn something here. I might find out what’s behind this. What is going on with this person?” Being curious I suppose to judgmental and dismissing them and validating them. Everybody’s got a reason for the way they behave. “What’s the reason for this?”

Those four Cs make it a whole lot easier when you’re in a conflict situation, to listen in an appropriate way.

Nice. We talked about communication between one-to-many, one-on-one. What about a one-to-self? How can we communicate with ourselves better?

Well, that’s very interesting. I talked about three kinds of listening. There is outer listening to sound, there is created listening which is when I’m talking about you speak into a listening. There’s a listening that is there. Partly I create it by the way I speak or anything people know about me in advance. Partly, they bring their listening, and there’s this thing that we create between us called created listening. That’s a lot to do with reputation and the way you behave towards people. If you’re late every time, then the listening to you is you’re a late person. People will start telling you the meeting is 10 minutes earlier, for example.

Then the third listening is inner listening. I’ll just give you one really important and potentially transformational realization about inner listening. We all have this little voice in our head, for a lot of people, it’s not very positive. They can be negative self-talk going on. “Don’t you dare go on that dance floor. Don’t put your hand up. Don’t get involved. Just stay out of it.” That kind of talk comes from possibly a pain in the past. Now, the important thing to realize is that you are not that voice. You’re not that voice. If you’re not the voice, who are you? You’re the one who’s listening to the voice.

That changes everything because you can start to realize that inner voice, it may be a part of you, it may be something that was damaged, or an experience in the past that’s trying to keep you safe, but you are the one listening which makes you able to tousle its head and say, “Go on your way. Thanks for the advice. I’m going to disregard you and get on with this anyway. I’m going to have a dance.”

Right, as they say, when you look at your thoughts and they are dark, just imagine them like clouds on a sunny day. They can pass. When those thoughts come, you just say, “Thank you for sharing,” and you move on.

Exactly. That’s the way to treat it, but I think a lot of people identify with that voice. They think, “That’s me and I can’t go against myself, that’s my natural way to be,” and it’s not. It’s probably a fragment of a personality that’s speaking or it’s a pain from the past that won’t necessarily repeat again. That voice stops a lot of people from doing a lot of stuff and it’s great to realize you can ignore it. You can kick it out like a king on the throne with a joker, just send it packing.

Right. That’s like Byron Katie‘s work when you ask yourself, “Is that true? Do I know 100% that this is true? And what would life be like if I didn’t have this thought in my mind?” When thoughts like that happen and I am conscious enough to question them, to me it’s a very helpful tool. It comes from the place of the witness like you say.

And ask the questions, “Is it true?” is a really important one. “Is it helpful?” is another important one. And “Is it kind?” which is often not the case. I’m a beacon of kindness, that’s one gratitude.

You sound like it. Thank you so much, Julian. This was such a wonderful conversation, a very pleasant conversation, and very enlightening. Before we say goodbye, unfortunately, I can speak to you for hours. Two questions. One is, what are your three top tips to living a stellar life, and the second one is, where can people find you, get your book, listen to your TED Talks, get your new course, and all that good stuff?

Well, the three top tips I would say for living a stellar life. First and it won’t be surprising, listen. Get good at it. Take it seriously. It’s a skill, work at it. It’s not something that’s natural. Not everybody is good at it, but Ernest Hemingway said, “I like to listen. I’ve learned a great deal by listening carefully. Most people never listen,” and in that case, I think the ‘never’ is justified. It’s a big advantage in life to be a good listener. Get good at it and it will really affect your outcomes.

The second thing I would say is to really get in the habit of this. One thing people take after this conversation is asking that question, “What’s the listening I’m speaking into?” It’s such a powerful thing to do even if you’re asking yourself that question, but asking it about one-to-one, one-to-many, one-to-thousand, it doesn’t matter. Asking that question is so powerful.

The third thing I would say if you want to live a truly stellar life is get some voice coaching. It is incredible to me. I speak to audiences around the world all the time. Even though the instance of professional speakers, and I say, “Okay, how many of you use your voice all the time and do presentations?” Quite often there are managers, which is three-quarters of the audience, will put their hand up, they speak regularly in front of people. “Okay, keep your hands up if you’ve had vocal training of any kind,” two people, three people at most. It astounds me that we don’t take this seriously.

This is an incredible thing in your throat that you can learn to use beautifully with a bit of help. You wouldn’t expect to become a great piano player by picking it up yourself. Some people can, some people are naturally talented, but not to all of us, and it can’t do any harm to get a bit of training there. Those are the three things I would suggest.

Great, and where can people find you?

Well, my website is juliantreasure.com. That’s easy. Anybody who goes there, they just pop the email address in and we’ll send you a set of five simple listening exercises, little videos I’ve made absolutely free of charge which will help you to listen better. That’s an easy thing to do. The book is How to be Heard, if you want to go a bit deeper. It’s an award-winning book. It won two awards as the best audiobook of the year, last year it won the business book of the year.

I’m not surprised.

Thank you. Well, I read it here in the audience, it’s a lot of fun, and I’m just deeply honored that I won those awards. If you want to go deeper still, if you’re a professional speaker and it’s really important to you, then there’s the course which is called How to Speak So That People Want to Listen, building off my 12-minute TED Talk, but this course is 7½  hours. It’s everything I know about speaking and listening in one big course. Nine chapters, right up to public speaking, stagecraft tips on it, and so forth. Lots of exercises to download and that I think is on a special offer for the time being at www.speaklistenbe.com. That’s where to find it.

Beautiful. Thank you so much, Julian.

Thank you indeed. It’s been a great pleasure, Orion.

Thank you and thank you, listeners. Remember, get good at listening, ask what is the listening I’m speaking to, get voice coaching, and live a stellar life. This is Orion, until next time.

Your Checklist of Actions to Take

{✓} Be a good listener. Listen with sympathy to the person you’re communicating with and make them feel heard rather than judged. 
{✓} Become more familiar with other people’s cultures and upbringings so you can communicate more effectively with them. In some countries, people naturally speak softly, while others are more expressive and loud.
{✓} Pay attention to people’s body language, facial expressions, and microexpressions when talking to them. This will help you determine if they’re interested in what you’re saying.
{✓} Shake things up in repetitive talks such as speaking engagements, classes or mastermind groups. Keep your students/subscribers’ interested by bringing something fresh to the table. 
{✓} Observe your voice’s tonality when you speak. The same sentence can mean differently just by the tone you use when saying it. 
{✓} Hire a vocal coach to improve your speaking and communication skills. A voice coach can give you tips on how to sound better or how to be more confident in talking to others.
{✓} Spark your audience’s curiosity at the start to get them hooked on your speech, but make sure you give them answers or solutions so that they get a valuable takeaway from your talk.
{✓} Maintain eye contact and try to be empathetic, whether on stage speaking to hundreds of people or one-on-one.
{✓} Use the art of storytelling to connect and engage with your audience. People listen better when they can completely relate to what you’re saying.
{✓} Grab a copy of Julian Treasure’s book, How to be Heard: Secrets for Powerful Speaking and Listening.

Links and Resources

About Julian Treasure

Julian Treasure is author of the books Sound Business and How To Be Heard. He is a highly-rated international public speaker on business sound and personal communication skills – particularly conscious listening and powerful speaking. His five TED talks have been viewed over 80 million times, and his latest is in the top 10 TED talks of all time.

Julian’s company, The Sound Agency, works with major brands worldwide proving that good sound is good business and pioneering the use of generative soundscapes instead of mindless music in spaces like airports, shopping malls, and offices.

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