Selective Hearing

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Accordingly to the sound expert Julian Treasure (, we spend 60% of our communication time listening but only retain 25% of what we hear—25%!—So if you feel that you are not being heard, you are likely entirely accurate.

We live in a visually- and auditory-loaded world that claims much of our available communication capacity. A scenario many of you should be familiar with is the difference between talking to a person who is watching TV and talking to the same person in a more quiet setting. This of course poses a challenge in the open space office environment where our hearing is constantly being hijacked by the events unfolding around us.  

Content that makes it past this auditory “pollution” is then exposed to our selective filtering, which essentially means that we subconsciously only absorb what is aligned with our belief system and priorities. There was a fun little study done in the UK last year where men and women were given the same list of words to recall. On average men did better with words socially considered more male such as beer and football, and women did better with words socially considered more female such as shopping and chocolate.   

Finally, we may also decide to consciously tune out because we have no interest in absorbing what is being said. The style used by the communicator can reinforce that further as we are far more likely to tune out if we feel under attack or bored.   

To facilitate better listening we therefore rely on commitment by both the communication sender and receiver. Say we ask people to come to meetings without electronic gadgets, it will only add value if the meeting is run with a focus on keeping the audience engrossed.  

Julian Treasure sums up the responsibility of the listener in his RASA model:
  • Receive the information with focused attention
  • Appreciate and acknowledge it with gestures such as head nodding
  • Summarize key points
  • Ask questions illustration engagement

Have you been RASA listening lately?

"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." 
— George Bernard Shaw

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