“Listening is the most generous gift you can give to another human being. And many people have never had that experience.” -Julian Treasure

Julian Treasure is one of the world’s foremost authorities on listening and sound. He has 5 popular TED talks, 2 books, and multiple other resources online aimed at helping us understand how sound affects us. In an interview on National Public Radio, he said, “we spend roughly 60% of our communication time listening, but we’re not very good at it.”

But Treasure and those of us at Ethos3 think it’s a skill we can improve. To that end, we’ve compiled some of his most salient research, ideas, and interviews. We want to give you what we consider to be 3 creative ways to get better at listening: input/output balance, RASA, and visual listening.

Input/Output Balance

Treasure’s input/output theory points to the fact that much of the way we communicate today is aimed at output. We are broadcasting our ideas, thoughts, and opinions out into the world via small messages like posts and tweets on social media. But these messages are generally one-way communication. We aren’t as accustomed to and open to input as we once were.

It’s unrealistic to think we’ll suddenly stop using social media to communicate. But we can be aware of how it affects all of our communication. First, we can leverage social media to engage in conversation rather than use it as a one-way, personal broadcasting tool. This can start by simply asking questions instead of just making statements. Second, we can make sure the input/output imbalance doesn’t enter into other communication situations, like conversation. That means allowing for input from others in conversations instead of taking more than our fair share of the talk time.


Another one of Treasure’s helpful theories for forming better listening habits comes from the acronym RASA. “RASA stands for

  • Receive, which means pay attention to the person,
  • Appreciate – making little noises like hm, oh, OK,
  • Summarize – (the word “so” is very important in communication), and
  • Ask – ask questions afterwards.”

When you can enter into a communication setting ready to receive, appreciate, summarize, and ask, it breaks the cycle of your own agenda. RASA helps to remind us that listening is an active process. One in which we have to commit energy and attention and intentionality to actually accomplish it. Gerry Chandler, an expert mediator reminds us, “If time is money, then time spent on conversation is an investment.” When we engage in RASA listening, we are actively investing in the communication process.

Visual Listening

Visual listening is actually a theory that comes from Sherie Griffiths, an author and broadcaster. Griffiths is visually impaired, so she has had to rely on listening alone to build a full picture of the communication setting. In an interview with Treasure, she breaks down her principle of visual listening. She says, “This type of listening can help us in scenarios where we can’t see the person with whom we are communicating . . . More and more, we’re in situations where we’re doing business with increasing numbers of people that we never meet. Now, we can learn skills that enable people to speak on the phone to someone and build up a picture.”

In order to engage in visual listening, we should focus on the emotion and the subtleties of the human voice. Listen to things like pitch, rate, rhythm, breathing patterns, and more. Then try to picture the person who is talking. Attach the voice to a human image. As Treasure reminds us, “Lots and lots of our communication is not what we say. It’s how we say it.”

Input/output balance, RASA, and visual listening are creative techniques we can use to improve our underdeveloped, but critically needed, listening skills. When we are committed to becoming better communicators, and not just better presenters, everyone wins.

Ethos3 is a presentation design agency that uses the best of theory and practice to help people just like you master the art of presenting. Ready to get started?


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