listen target training

Learning to listen: lessons from baseball, TED talks and an alien life form

How well do you listen?

Sound matters. In work. In life. Sometimes we forget that. I heard a story recently that was told by a former Major League Baseball player. He talked about a manager he once played for. During practice, the manager would put players in the outfield with their backs to home plate. A batter would stand at home plate and have someone pitch the baseball to him. Baseball bats are made of wood and are roughly 30-34 inches long. The cork-filled, leather-covered ball is thrown anywhere from 80-100 miles per hour. The batter would swing the bat and hit the ball. Now here is the important part:

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Because the player in the outfield had their backs to home plate they had to train their ear to know what part of the field the ball was travelling to, based on the sound created when the baseball made contact with the bat. If you’ve ever seen a baseball game (or cricket) you know you can hear when a ball is hit solidly. But you can’t determine where it is going to travel. This manager wanted his players to hear the contact, and make a split-second decision to race to the position they believed the ball was going, without even seeing it. With practice, players knew exactly where the hit ball was going.

They had to learn to listen.

Are we “losing our listening”?

TED, the great, freely accessible online source for learning, has what I think are two of the best talks around on how to achieve excellent communication. Both are by Julian Treasure, author of an excellent book on the impact sound has on our working lives called ‘Sound Business,’ and both are well-worth watching. In one, he talks about speaking well and in the other, the one I suggest below, he talks to us about listening.

Of his five tips on how to listen better, the final one – an acronym, of course – RASA, the Sanskrit word for ‘juice’ or essence’ is exactly that when it comes to business communication: listening is important, it’s the essence of effective business communication. RASA stands for:

Receive

That is, actually pay attention to what they’re saying.

Appreciate

By making natural small noises or utterances like, “ah” or “hmm” or “okay.” You may have also heard it referred to as active listening.

Summarise

Very crucial to all sorts of business communication, from presentations to negotiations and everything in between. Here it’s critical you are authentic and summarise what you heard – NOT what you wanted to hear.

Ask

And finally, ask questions. Find out more. Learn as much as you can about a situation, a trend, a project, a risk, or an opportunity.

ALF

Learning to listen starts with recognizing all the barriers we create for ourselves. This is where ALF comes in, and no, we’re not talking about the sitcom character that chased cats. ALF means Always Listen First. Julian Treasure warns us at the beginning of his TED talk that ‘we are losing our listening.’

Don’t lose yours. Listen like a Major League player. And Always Listen First.

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