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When you think about good communicators, you might think about charismatic salespeople, eloquent writers or creative artists. 

If you think that way, it’s hard to think you could become great at communication–you can’t copy a skill someone built over decades, right? 

But the most important listening skill is available to you right now. It’s something you can do every second of every conversation. 

If you listen well, you pay more attention to the people around you and treat them with more kindness, respect and awareness. 

And when you treat people well, your relationships improve. You could even advance your career because you understand your colleagues more. 

Want to find out how listening can transform your life? Listen now!

Show highlights include:

  • Why one of the world’s foremost business experts considers listening the most important communication skill. (1:50)
  • How technology is sabotaging your ability to pay attention, listen and concentrate (and how to reverse its harmful impact) (2:55)
  • The “Talking is King” mistake that makes you talk too much and listen too little. (5:22)
  • The toxic communication habit that makes us pay less attention to others (even if you’re listening to every word) (7:37)

Do you want to stop existing and start living your best life right now? Click here to get the first chapter of Dr. Rick’s best-selling book, Lessons From a Third Grade Dropout, for free.

Read Full Transcript

Welcome to “How You Living?” a transformative podcast featuring best-selling author, inspirational speaker and minister, Dr. Rick Rigsby—and, now, Dr. Rick.

Dr. Rigsby: Hello, friends. Thanks so much for tuning in. I want to talk to you about the most important, the most meaningful and the most significant aspect of communication. It's not our ability to construct powerful sentences or our efficacious use of vocabulary, or even our well-developed persuasive abilities. I want to discuss the single most important of all communicative dimensions. Would you be surprised to learn that it's listening? That's right, listening. [01:00.0]

According to Cicero, arguably Rome's greatest politician, listening is the most critical of all communicative arts, this spoken by a man who got paid to talk. Cicero learned the art by studying Greek philosophers, such as Socrates who developed the Socratic method of back-and-forth debate to arrive at truth, all based on listening than asking questions. In a very practical manner, good listeners have a great advantage over those who constantly talk. Doug Larson said, “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening.”

Arguably, the most successful among us have mastered listening. The Dean of corporate business training, Peter Drucker, once noted that the most important thing in communication is hearing what is not being said. In other words, you’ve got to listen. Business titan, Malcolm Forbes, added that the art of conversation lies in listening. [02:07.8]

Most communication experts believe that 50 percent of what we hear, we forget immediately. The other remaining 50 percent, we lose 38 percent over the next 24 hours. Simple math suggests we only retain about 12 percent of a message. Such a low retention rate does not combine well with an entertainment craze, shallow culture, with constant noise competing for our every attention.

Ours is a world where, seemingly every day, the art of communicating with another, the process of communication now includes digital assistance. From cell phones to earbuds, communication has become a more privatized experience, and while such technology offers many advantages, the impact on social engagement has been massive. [03:03.5]

We struggle with focus and concentration. We even have a hard time answering questions, respectful public debate, and meaningful civic discourse. The two hallmarks of an educated society have all but vanished. Is there any surprise that we don't listen well?

I've both studied the theory of communication and practiced the art of communicating for over 40 years. My opinion is that our problem with listening is twofold. First, we're not taught to listen. Very little demand is placed upon us any longer to listen. Schools don't require listening. Most of us have never taken a class in listening, and, as a result, we think we're listening just because we can hear. There's a huge difference between hearing and listening. [03:56.5]

Friends, hearing is automatic. It's passive at best. It's the process of hearing sounds. I once wrote in a publication that hearing requires no skill sets, knowledge base or special training. We hear messages while the television is on, while the shower is running, and while we're multitasking. Is there any wonder why we miss so much content?

I like this quote I once heard that goes like this. “Hearing tells you that the music is playing. Listening tells you what the song is saying.” Contrast hearing with listening. While hearing is passive, while hearing is automatic, listening is intentional. Listening is active. It's the active process of gathering stories and utilizing messages. Active listening involves thinking and filtering, and assimilating and paraphrasing, focusing, retaining, and responding. [04:56.6]

When we listen intentionally, we derive meaning from sound, and then we select what we'll focus on. This process is called filtering. Filters take us from hearing sounds to choosing what we're going to pay attention to. Filters include culture and language, values and beliefs, attitudes, expectations, even intentions.

Now, the second reason we don't listen well is because of misplaced value. In our society, we have become convinced that talking is king. We value words. Words advance citizenry. Words talk us in and out of wars. Words push campaigns, either forward backwards. Words push us from one generation to the next. Perhaps now might be a good time to listen to that famous biblical passage found in the book of James where we're admonished to be quick to listen and slow to speak. [05:59.5]

Friends, there are so many benefits to effective listening. Brian McGill once said that listening to what another has to say is one of the most sincere forms of respect there is. As a former television reporter, I can tell you another benefit of listening. Most of my exclusives—those are stories that I got before my competition—they didn't come as a result of me being a savvy journalist. Oh, no. Almost without exception my scoops came from being at the right place at the right time and listening to what was being said. We should really learn to listen well because opportunity knocks very softly.

But talking always gets top billing, especially in a noisy society. No wonder American novelist Ernest Hemingway wrote, when people talk, we should listen completely, because most people never listen. Every day, I fight the temptation to talk when I should be listening. I have to remind myself that listening values others. [07:08.5]

Listening shows tremendous respect. Listening offers pearls of wisdom to those who will be patient and wait for them, and can open unseen doors of opportunity. If I don't remind myself of conscious listening, I will fall into that hideous trap of persistently interrupting people.

Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, observed that most people do not listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply. Friends, to listen more effectively requires both thought and action, and it requires shifting our mindset to value listening, to view listening as a value proposition with benefits. [08:00.0]

We’ll think more. There will be more introspection on our part. We may be able to speak and not be so emotive. We might not offer such reactionary or incendiary comments. We'll evaluate what we hear more. We may discover responses are more measured, more thoughtful. I've heard it said that the intelligent talk, but the wise listen.

Remember this. Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. Remember the words of Covey. Most of us don't listen to understand. We listen to reply. The critical question becomes, how do we become better listeners? There are so many lists out there as to what to do and what not to do, and there are a lot of good tips, some good advice. I've read them. Seemingly, I've read them all. I've even taught them in classes. I've used them personally, and yet I still struggle with listening. [09:06.8]

I've been helped greatly by a man named Julian Treasure, a brilliant communication and listening expert. He gave a TED Talk in 2011 that I would highly recommend. The name again, Julian Treasure, common spelling.
Treasure argues that “we're losing our listening,” which “is our access to understanding.” Conscious listening creates understanding. He said, in our noisy society, it's hard “to pay attention to the quiet, the subtle, the understated.” Treasure adds, “A world where we don't listen to each other” is “very scary.” [09:47.8]

During his TED Talk, he offered several tools to improve conscious listening. I use one in particular and it is really helping me. What is it? Silence. I begin with three minutes of silence each day. That was Julian's suggestion. Just begin with three minutes of silence every day. According to Treasure, silence will help reset our ears, encourage us to listen again. If you can't achieve absolute silence, go for quiet.

I remember reading about King David during a particularly intense time in his life. In Psalm 62, the king commanded his soul to be silent, to wait in silence before the Lord. Now, I am by no means where I want to be, but with patience and discipline and consistency, I seek to be silent every single day and I'm learning to listen consciously. [10:51.9]

Friends, I'm amazed by the capacity of the brain. I find it astounding what we can do when we set our minds to doing it, and so I close this podcast with the simple words of Julian Treasure who said, “I live to listen … every human being must listen consciously in order to live fully.” Why not commit to listening consciously and enjoying life to the fullest? Let's begin today with three minutes of silence.

Friends, that's going to do it for this episode. Until we meet again, this is Dr. Rick, asking the most important question I can ask, how ya livin’?

Are you ready to make an impact in your world right now? Do you want to stop existing and start living your best life right now? Dr. Rick wants to give you the first chapter of his bestselling book, “Lessons from a Third Grade Dropout”, absolutely free. Just go to www.RickRigsby.com/FreeGift to get the print or audiobook right now.

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