Communications expert Julian Treasure shares the best practices of speaking, listening, and good sound for effective communication.
- The primary filters people listen through
- How to develop it a powerful voice
- The RASA framework for a more engaging conversation
Julian is a sound and communication expert. He travels the world training people to listen better and create healthier sound. He is author of the books How to be Heard and Sound Business. Julian’s five TED talks have been watched more than 40 million times. His latest, How to speak so that people want to listen, is in the top 10 TED talks of all time. Julian is regularly featured in the world’s media, including TIME Magazine, The Times, The Economist and the BBC.
Items Mentioned in this Show:
- Julian’s Book: How to be Heard
- Julian’s TED Talks: The 4 ways sound affects us; Shh! Sound health in 8 steps; 5 ways to listen better; Why architects need to use their ears; How to speak so that people want to listen
- Julian’s Website: JulianTreasure.com
- Julian’s Company: TheSoundAgency.com
- Writer: Virginia Satir
- TED Talk: Your body language may shape who you are
- Book: White Bicycles by Joe Boyd
Julian, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.
It’s a great pleasure, Pete.
Well, I got such a kick out of learning a little bit about you and your background, and you’re passionate when it comes to not just messages, but sound itself. So, could you give us a little bit of a snippet for what it was like being a drummer for The Transmitters?
Back in the heady days of the early ’80s, just post-punk in the UK, it was a wonderful scene – there were bands in every pub and bar. It was an amazing time to be young and in London, really, and I was privileged to be part of that. Made some records, did some John Peel sessions – he’s a legendary DJ over here anyway. And it was a gas, really. We were pretty spiky in those days. We used to be able to empty a club in about five minutes, so it was a lot of fun. It really was.
Now you say “spiky” and “empty a club”. There are so many ways… As an American, I can imagine a few interpretations for that word and scene. Are we talking about fights, or what’s going on?
No, not physical violence; the music was uncompromising. Just in the days after punk, music became quite difficult to listen to, some of it, and we were perpetrating some of that. So people who came to listen to another band that we were supporting, they’d be off to the bar or whatever. And we had our own fans, so it wasn’t like nobody listened. But it was a great time; I mean there were a lot of people there who were not attempting to be like anybody else, who were really making their own voices heard and being very, very true to their ideals. Some of it listenable, some of it not so much.
Okay. Well, that’s fun setup. And so then you’ve subsequently transitioned; you’re the founder of The Sound Agency. What’s this organization all about?
Yeah, well, I went through 20 years of running a publishing company and dealing with major organizations, producing magazines for companies like Lexus and Microsoft and so forth. So, I learned a great deal about communication for brands. And when I sold that, having played music all the way through that, I wanted to bring the two halves together really – the half that understood marketing and organizational communication, and the half that listened. Because if you’re playing in a group you have to listen to multiple streams at the same time. You have to be aware of what everybody is doing; otherwise you’re not a good player.
So I think musicians listen to the world in a slightly different way. And I was doing that, and really conscious that the world didn’t sound very good; I was surrounded by noise all the time. So, the first job was to ask, “Is that a business opportunity?” And it turns out, yes, it is. Good sound is good business, so we’ve been helping brands and organizations all around the world to make better sound in spaces, in their communication, in everything they do. And it has a huge effect, of course.
If you think about that in terms of another sense – smell, for example – it would be crazy to run a shop with a terrible smell in it, but there are so many retailers and institutions, hospitals, schools, places where the sound is absolutely atrocious – bad acoustics, lots of noise, inappropriate, badly chosen music through terrible quality sound systems. We suffer this almost everywhere we go, and it’s not because people are evil; it’s just they haven’t thought about it.
So, that’s been the mission of The Sound Agency all through these years. And we’ve developed a model for how sound affects human beings in four powerful ways. And along the way I realized that what’s important isn’t just the sound that organizations make; it’s the sound that we all make as individuals. So that comes down, a lot of it, to speaking and listening, which are two very underdeveloped and underappreciated skills.
We don’t teach them in school, hardly at all. It’s a scandal if a child leaves school unable to read or write, but children are leaving school every year unable to listen consciously or speak effectively. We’re just expected to pick these things up as we go along, despite the fact that speaking is much older than writing. We’ve been speaking complex language for something like 100,000 years; writing – it’s about 4,000 years ago we invented that. And yet, if you think about communicating these days, most people would reach for something and use their eyes and their fingers to do it.
Right, absolutely. So, this is sparking all sorts of ideas, so I want to dig a little bit into some of the “Hows”, some of the keys to the effective speaking and listening. And it seems like you’ve got some genuine credentials, some authority here – your TED Talks have been seen over 40 million times. What are some of the keys that have made those compelling, shareable, powerful talks for folks?
Well, there’s a lot of factors involved is speaking powerfully, which is I guess what we’re talking about here, as opposed to the listening, although I would like to come back to that, Pete, if you’re okay, ’cause the thesis of the book I’ve just written is that speaking and listening are circular. It’s a circular relationship; it’s not a straight line from speaking to listening. So the way I speak affects the way you listen, and the way you listen affects the way I speak, and that is a dynamic which is going on all the time in human conversation. And in addition, all of that happens inside of a context, which very often is like a noisy coffee bar or a street with noisy traffic or things which are mitigating against what we trying to do – creating noise, which obscures the signal.
So, there’s a lot of things involved. First of all, get the context right. You wouldn’t want to propose marriage in a noisy Starbucks, probably, and you wouldn’t want to ask for a pay raise on a street corner next to a guy who’s drilling. So, you think about the context. And very often we go unconscious about this and we do… I mean those examples are extreme, but we do have conversations in inappropriate situations, where perhaps we don’t have the privacy we need or perhaps there is noise which is interrupting and getting in the way of our very important communication. So getting the context right is really important.
And then understanding the dynamic of speaking and listening. So let’s talk about speaking first then. It’s what you say, and it’s the way that you say it. And probably the most common question I’ve been asked in all my seminars over the years is, “How do I organize my content so it’s effective and pithy and not rambling and well-organized in my mind, so I actually speak what I’m trying to get across?” Well, that becomes a habit, if you think about content and you ask certain little questions before you start speaking, like, “So what?” for the other person. It’s a question that editors ask journalists all the time when they’re training them: “So what, so what, so what?”
One of the cardinal sins of journalism is what’s called “burying the lead”, the lead being the whole story. You’re supposed to be able to understand the whole story from the first paragraph, and if you have to read seven or eight paragraphs in order to understand what’s going on, that’s burying the lead. And if you think about the way that most people use email, and I’m sure people listening to this will identify emails they’ve read that are like this, and they might just even be emails they’ve sent. Very often we have to read right down to the bottom of the email to find out what the person wants. It’s all like background, background, background, “Here’s the story, here’s the stuff, and what I want is this.” So much easier if you put at the top of the communication, “I’m looking for this, here’s why.” Then somebody knows what we are asking of them. So, “So what?” is a very important question to ask, in terms of design content.
And of course if there’s a big speech coming up and if you’re going to be talking to a group of people and it’s slightly more formal, then you can design your content and think about the flow of it – maybe say what you’re going to say, say it, and then say what you said. That’s a good old-fashioned way of getting your point across. And I think my fourth TED Talk, which was about designing spaces for the ears, I did exactly that. I said, “It’s time to start designing with our ears”, explained why, and then finished by saying, “It’s time to start designing with our ears.” So, the whole thing is summarized in the first sentence, pretty much.
And then one really important aspect of speaking, which most people don’t think of because they don’t think of this dynamic between speaking and listening, is this: You always speak into a listening. You always speak into a listening. And that listening is different every time. Why? Because we all listen in different ways. Your listening is as individual as your fingerprints, your irises, your voice print. Because of all the things that have happened to you through your life you listen through filters. And if you understand that in every conversation you’re speaking into a listening and you ask yourself, “What’s the listening?”, then you can tailor your speaking to be that much more effective.
It’s one of the most common communication errors to assume that everybody listens like I do, and speak the same way in all situations. Sometimes you’ll hit the bull’s eye; sometimes you’ll miss the entire target, because the person is listening in a very different way. They’re listening for something or they’re listening with an emotion going or have an intention that you haven’t twigged, or they’ve got some values or beliefs that are really getting in the way of them listening to you. Maybe you’re young and they think nobody young’s got anything to say, or whatever it might be. If you can get into the habit of asking, “What’s the listening? What’s the listening?” just all the time, it becomes intuitive. Don’t ask me how it works, but it really does. It becomes intuitive and you will hit the bull’s eye that many more times, because you’ll be actually aiming at the right target.
And I’m so intrigued, when you say, “Into a listening” – that just sort of sparks in my head, I’m thinking what would be some of the key categories of types of listening or the key maybe sort of sub-principles you mention, in terms of there maybe a bias, there may be a particular emotion, there may be a goal – “What I really want is this.” And so, could you maybe lay out some of those powerful questions that start to really paint a picture of what is the listening that I’m about to speak into?
Well, so we can swap about going from speaking to listening, which is absolutely right actually, Pete, because they are so intertwined. We all listen through filters, so my definition of listening is making meaning from sound. You hear everything, you select certain things to pay attention to, and then you make them mean something. So that’s what listening is. It’s a mental process, it’s not physical. Hearing is entirely different; listening is a skill and it’s a skill that can be practiced.
Now, the filters that you listen through come from your culture – the culture you’re born into, the language you speak, your values, attitudes and beliefs that you create along the way, initially from parents and then teaches, role models, friends, anybody else that you care to respect enough to say, “I want to be like that.” And then in any given situation you have maybe expectations. I always say expectation is the mother of resentment, because if we go in with a great set of expectations and we get disappointed, it’s very difficult to go on listening.
And then intentions – we may go into a conversation with the intention of achieving something, and that’s another incredibly important thing to be aware of when you’re asking what is the listening. Ask yourself, “What are the intentions of the people I’m speaking to? What do they want out of this conversation? I know what I want. What do I want for me? What do they want for them, and of course, what do I want for them?” So what is the set of intentions? There’s always those three sets of intentions in a conversation, and they color listening as well.
And then there might be emotions in play too. You may have noticed it gets quite hard to listen when you’re really upset. But to put it around the other way, if somebody is really upset, the best way of calming them down is to listen really carefully. Not speak, but just listen: “I hear you, I hear you.” And you will find that they calm down. I think listening and upset are kind of inversely related most of the time.
So those are some of the filters, and we all have different ones. So for example – you asked me to give some examples – if I speak to an older audience, I’m careful to use cultural references they may recognize. I might talk about The Beatles or a cultural reference that’s rooted some years ago, some decades ago, as opposed to anything that’s more modern. I did make a mistake the other way around: I did a talk to 400 students in Istanbul a couple of years ago and used a sound, which was The Beatles – a complete wall of blank faces, absolutely no recognition whatsoever.
So, age can be involved here, in terms of the filters. People’s political attitudes, and I think what we’ve seen both here in the UK and in the US in the last year or two shows how people are dangerously short of the ability to listen to each other when they get polarized and bigoted and extreme in their views. And it’s very easy – if you don’t listen to somebody, you won’t understand them. You can caricature them, you can dismiss their views, you can make them into a paper tiger. Listening consciously always creates understanding, which is why I always say I think politicians should go off and instead of having talks it would be much better if they went off and had listens instead.
So, those are some examples of ways in which listening can be very different – politics, religion, age, social background, any kind of strong attitudes like that, intentions very much in any conversation. I don’t know if anybody listening to this is selling for a living, for example, but if you do you’ll know how difficult it is to sell to somebody who is just not in the market, not thinking that way at all. You have to do a huge amount of pre-setting and conversation to open their mind to the fact that they may have a problem that you’ve got a solution for. Whereas if somebody’s seeking something actively, that’s a totally different listening, in which you couldn’t have a sales conversation. So, those kinds of things, those kinds of listenings can make all the difference in the world, and if you don’t spot the listening and you speak inappropriately, it just won’t work very well.
Well, I really dig and sort of am entering into what you’re saying there, with regard to the loop of the speaking and the listening and the sort of reinforcing and going around the cycle. And I want to go a little bit deeper on one of the intentions or desires you mentioned some folks have with their listening, and I think it’s a pretty common one, and that is, “I hope this isn’t boring”, if they’re going into a meeting or if they’re at a conference as the speaker. And so, I’d love to get your pro tips on if that is a common context folks are going into, what are some appropriate ways to modify your communication? I mean I don’t think you want to be a stand-up comedian or a clown, but there are certain things that make communications more interesting and engaging and fun, and less so interesting, engaging and fun, and I’d love to get your take on some of those.
Definitely. Well, first – content. And in the book I interviewed Chris Anderson, the curator of TED, and asked him the old chestnut, “Which is more important – content or delivery?” And given the choice, Chris would go for content every time. Somebody who’s got something really important to say, even if they deliver it in a tedious or unprofessional or rambling way, is going to have a better effect than somebody who is a brilliant presenter and just vapid, empty, saying nothing of substance at all. There’s a kind of frustration when you see somebody who’s really good at presenting, and they finish and you go, “What was that about? It was fun, but have we moved anywhere?”
Of course, the ideal is to have both things going on at the same time, but I always say, “What’s the big idea?” I mean if you’re talking to somebody and you’re accurate in their listening and you understand what they’re about, then you need to have an idea that you’re putting across to them – something that’s going to educate, inspire, inform, entertain – giving them something. It’s a gift. It’s a gift we’re giving when we speak to somebody.
Incidentally, it’s a huge gift also to give listening to somebody. I mean there are billions of people on this planet who’ve never had the experience of being properly listened to, which is doing nothing other than listening. Most of us indulge in kind of partial listening, where we’re doing something else at the same time and giving a bit of our attention.
So, speaking in that way, speaking with a “What’s the big idea?”, being clear about it: “So what?”, then you’ve got a good chance of engaging people. And then we’re into really the “How you say it” side, and I talk about in my TED Talk, and then in the book I extend this enormously – I talk about the vocal toolbox. And I give a lot of tips also for presenting, speaking on stage, presenting formally, how to stand – all sorts of things. And maybe we should open the vocal toolbox – we can do that if you’d like to go through a few of the things there. And these are things that do stop people from being boring; they enhance interest. So, should I mention the tools?
Yes, please, let’s do that.
Okay. Well, let’s start somewhere that’s kind of unusual, that people may not necessarily associate with the power of their speaking, and that is stance, posture, gestures. It’s very possible to stand in a way which immediately robs you of power, like feet turned in or making yourself smaller in any way. Really, a good practice is to practice standing upright. I always imagine roots coming from my feet, so that I don’t move around unnecessarily. Feet roughly shoulder-width apart, slightly narrower for females. Everything stacked vertically above everything else, and imagine there’s a string in the top of your head and you’re dangling from it. So your shoulders are nice and loose and down, everything is vertically aligned.
Now what that means is two things: First of all, you look poised and confident. I’m not saying lock anything up; you can feel flexible, but you look poised and confident in that pose. Second thing – your throat is in optimal position. With your throat vertical, your vocal chords are neither stretched nor compressed. If you put your head right forward on your shoulders, your voice sounds like this, and if you scrunch, your voice sounds like this. It’s a very important thing to have your head vertical, and incidentally we tend not to do that very often. When we’re on the phone sitting at the desk, we lean forward and the voice goes a bit like this, and that’s not the best way to speak on the phone, of course. So, always try to be vertical.
Stance is one thing, gestures – another. I see people making some quite negative gestures when speaking – either they’re kind of irrelevant and distracting gestures, and gestures need to be conscious all the time, or they undermine what the speaker’s trying to say. There’s one in particular I would advise people not to use in interviews or any other situation in work, which is the open-handed gesture. I’ve seen politicians do this, and many people do it unconsciously, including I’ve seen some TED Speakers do this – give a whole talk with their hands palm up in front of them, waving them to emphasize points.
Now if you put your two hands palm up in front of you, what you’re actually saying is, “I have no weapons, I’m not going to harm you, please don’t hurt me.” It’s a begging gesture, and it’s not a powerful gesture. It’s called “the placater” in Virginia Satir’s very interesting work about family modes and modes of communicating. And it is not a strong gesture to use. Many politicians… If you want to waive your hands in front of you, emphasizing points, turn the thumbs vertical, so the hands are vertical. That’s a neutral gesture, and you see a lot of politicians speaking that way, with their hands vertical. It’s meaningless, but it just creates a bit of emphasis.
So gestures can be powerfully for us; big gestures are strong. Again, watch some great speakers and see how they gesticulate. But anything that’s making you look smaller, it’s the opposite of what Professor Amy Cuddy talks about in her TED Talk, which is the second most watched TED talk of all time, which is power poses. Anything that makes you bigger is a power pose, releases testosterone and it makes you feel stronger and more confident. If you’re making yourself smaller, it’s the opposite and you’re releasing hormones which do exactly the opposite, that make you feel less confident.
So posture – very important. Second – breathing – so important. The voice is just breath, so breath is the fuel for the voice. And most of us breathe like a bird, just to the top of our lungs. I don’t know when it is that people listening to this… Just reflect – when’s the last time you took a huge, deep breath? Really opening your chest, moving your ribs. It’s such an important thing to do, and I always say as walking on stage I have a little acronym – BESS. And the “B” stands “Breathe”. It’s also a great antidote to nerves. If you get a little bit like this when you walk on stage, you’re a little bit frightened like this, a deep breath will settle that stuff down and give you much more solidity in your voice.
Incidentally, the “ESS” of BESS stands for “Expand your awareness to taking the whole room, get your stance right, and smile”, which is always a nice thing to do before you start talking. So that’s whether you’re walking into a room and presenting or even walking up to an individual to have a conversation – breathe, expand, stand well and smile. And that’s going to set you up very well.
And then the voice itself – many people don’t know that we have different registers for the voice, and really I’ll just mention a couple. Falsetto – you really wouldn’t use this to try and speak in power. It’s not a very useful one, so it’s like Monty Python: “He’s a very naughty boy.” It’s a comic register, really. The modal register is the one that we use pretty much most of the time, which encompasses head, throat and chest. And you can go right up into your head like this, you can speak from your nose – it’s a little bit less powerful. You can speak from your throat, which can sound quite constricted, although this is where most people speak from most of the time. Or you can go right down into your chest and resonate from there, and I expect you can hear the difference when I do that.
So, professionals train in using their diaphragm and resonating in their chest to give them extra power. And incidentally, we vote for politicians with deeper voices, all other things being equal, because we associate depth with power and importance – you know, an elephant is more important than a mouse. Anything that’s deep we think is big and substantial. So, deep voices tend to be more authoritative than higher or squeaky voices. And if you have a high voice, listening to this, you can get that affected by going to a vocal coach and working on your diaphragm, your projection, your resonance in your chest. Many people just unconsciously are up here all the time, and it’s a little bit lighter and perhaps not quite so effective as being down here.
And so now, one way to make that transition is to see a vocal coach. Are there other exercises or things one could do on your own, in terms of getting that? You said the word “resonance” – I’m imagining you could even just put your hand on the area and sort of feel how much vibrations flow in there.
That’s the way to do it, exactly. And I’m guessing, Pete, you’ve probably done some vocal training in your life; you have a wonderful deep voice.
Aw, shucks. It’s the morning here in the U.S.
Well, yes, putting your hand on your throat or next to your nose, you can feel the vibrations. And really, of course your voice always comes from your vocal chords, and there’s a lot of debate amongst people as to whether you’re actually moving anything. Nevertheless, I think becoming conscious of this and consciously speaking from those places is very possible to do by moving your hand, by placing your hand on your chest and just trying to resonate in that place. Practice. Just practice at home and it will work.
Vocal coaches are all over the world as well; Google either a singing coach or a drama coach or a speaking coach in your area. Try a few out, have a trial session, and you’ll click with one, whichever one has got the chemistry that works with you, and then do a series of sessions with them. And probably, as with me when I did this – I still do it from time to time – they have you doing all sorts of uncomfortable things, like squirming on the floor pretending to be foreign, using your highest, your lowest voice. They will test and challenge you a little bit, and my goodness, what a difference it makes to your mastery of this amazing instrument that we all play. So, register – very important.
Pace as well. A lot of people get into the habit of being very unvarying in their delivery, and that’s a big issue. You need to have light and shade, you need to have contours – contours in pace, where perhaps sometimes you get really fast and really excited and it’s all energetic, and, “That’s marvelous!”; and other times when you slow right down to make a point. And people will pay attention when you do these things. So again, if you feel you have a listening which is bored or tired or anything like that, these variations are critical in getting your point across, and indeed, communicating your emotional state. Sorry, go on.
Oh yes. So, I want to hear – you mentioned variations in your register, and then in your pace. I also want to get your take on variations in volume. Is that appropriate and what’s the effect?
Yeah, absolutely it is. All of the three things that you can vary – pace, pitch and volume – are extremely important. Pitch alone, whether you go out of different register or stay in the same register… If I say, “Where did you leave my keys?”, that’s kind of neutral. If I say, “Where did I leave my keys?”, immediately I’m more upset about it. So, pace can vary, pitch can vary, volume absolutely can vary, or you can whisper something to get it across in a deep and precise way. So yes, simply varying for the sake of varying, is not a bad practice. I mean not so it detracts from your content, but being conscious not to be going on in the same way with the same cadences, the same pace, the same pitch all the time. One of the things I love doing is playing with space, with silence.
There it is.
Yeah, there it is. Now, look, this is a podcast and people are listening to this, and radio people have an absolute terror of what they call “dead air”, because they think people are going to be banging their instrument, “What’s going on? Have I gone off air? Is it broken?” Changing the channel, whatever happens. Well, if you are standing in front of somebody, they know that you haven’t disappeared, and you can stop for the longest time on a stage or in a conversation, and people will stay with you. A lot of people have a terror of being silent, and they will gabble and fill it up with “Ums” and “Uhs” and “You know’s” and all sorts of little noises.
Well, it’s not necessary. We can be poised, we can take our time, and of course the spaces between the words are the things that make everything make sense. Silence is the context for all sound. Without silence music is meaningless, conversation is meaningless, so let’s use it as part of our palette, and make sure that everything that we say is constructed to the max. I’m not talking about being artificial or planning every word. I’m talking about being conscious and using these tools wherever it feels appropriate.
And certainly being conscious enough not to be monotonous – I mean that is the way in which you’ll get people bored. And one big aspect of monotony, of course, is lack of prosody, which is probably my favorite part of the vocal toolbox. It’s the up and down of speech, which comes from, if you believe the scientists, it probably comes from ancient Motherese – mothers going, “Awwww” to their little babies. And Steven Mithen, the anthropologist, believes we started with the proto hum before there was language at all. We communicated just with “Hmm”, “Hmm?”, “Hmm!”, and these kinds of noises.
So you can say a lot with tone alone, and it’s really important to do that because if you speak in a complete monotone the whole time, then it does become rather robotic and boring and you’re losing a huge amount of the emotional impact. You know what I mean? Monotone means “one tone”, monotonous is “speaking in one tone”. So, if you have a voice which is naturally not terrifically vibrant and doesn’t exercise prosody very much – again, I would work on that. I think this is possibly the most important part, actually. I would sit at home practicing exaggerated prosody, really getting the voice up and down enormously, and extending the range. Again, it’s like building muscles. If you work in the gym you’re stronger to do everything, and if you practice these exercises, then you become more effective in your speaking all the time.
I should say also prosody is cultural, and one needs to be sensitive to that. I go to Scandinavia fairly often, and in Scandinavia, and particularly Finland, where they’re very taciturn people generally: “Yes, no, we are very excited about this. This is an extremely good idea.” I’ve done talks in Finland, where I’ve finished the talk and there’s a kind of mild ripple of applause, and I’ve thought, “Oh, I bombed, I’ve tanked, what’s happened?” And then somebody comes up to me afterwards and says, “That was the best talk we have had for several years.”
And that’s the way they are, so you have to adjust. And I know that there are CEOs of Scandinavian companies who had to be trained in prosody in order not sound like that to the rest of the world, because they sound like they’re not engaged a little bit. On the other hand, if you go to Italy, everything is up and down, “Fantastic!” The prosody is completely different. So it’s also quite important to be sensitive to your local prosody, and not be over the top.
Nevertheless, I think you’re getting that all the way through these things I’m talking about – the key word over and over again, is “conscious”. It’s being conscious of what you’re doing. Speaking is a skill, listening is a skill. These are things that we do; these are activities, and if we are unconscious about them, we’re going to be a tenth as effective as if we are being conscious about them and enjoying… It’s like enjoying a meal – if you’re sitting in front of a TV wolfing it down, you taste nothing, it’s gone and you think, “What was that?” Whereas if you sit at a table and savor the mouthfuls, then you have a totally different experience. Same thing with speaking and listening.
Well, Julian, that is a nice summary point. Tell me – is there anything else you want to mention from your upcoming book How to be Heard, or any other wisdom that you really want to make sure to get out there, before we shift gears and talk about a few of your favorite things?
I think if we’re talking about being effective at work, there’s just one acronym from the book. It’s in the TED Talk as well, but the book goes into it in more detail. And that is RASA, which is the Sanskrit word for “juice”, and it’s a very good acronym to remember in conversation with other people.
They “R” is “Receive”. And the “R” means paying attention to the other person with everything you’ve got – looking at them, which is actually getting quite rare. People are listening while they’re texting, while they’re writing, while they’re doing something else, while they’re not looking up. And we’ve all had that experience of feeling, “This person is just not listening to me, because they’re not looking.” If you lean forward towards the person slightly, especially if you’re sitting down, the body language is very important. So paying attention with everything you’ve got.
The “A” is “Appreciate”, and those are the little noises, like “Um”, “Oh, “Ah”, “Really?”, which as I always say I forget to do a lot on the phone. Some people say, “Are you still there?”, and I’m listening intently. And that doesn’t work so well on radio, so you’re being very good at not making those noises all the time. Nevertheless, in conversation it’s much more natural to make them. And they’re the little sounds that kind of oil conversation, they make it flow more easily and show that you’re still present and listening.
The “S” is “Summarize”. It’s the word “So”, which I actually want to form a society for the preservation of, because particularly in your country, but it’s now very common over here as well, in the UK – the word has been rather de-based: “What do you do for a living?” “So, I write websites.” I don’t see the logical sequence there. “So” means “that, then this”. It’s a summarizing word, and it’s not a word to start every sentence with, which unfortunately is happening more and more these days. If you have a “So” person in a meeting, it can be a very effective meeting. “So, we’ve all agreed this. Now we can put to the side and get on with that.” If you don’t have a “So” person in the meeting, it can be a very long meeting, going round and round and round in circles, giving rise to that wonderful phrase, “Meetings are where you take minutes and waste hours.”
So then the “A” of RASA is “Ask”. Just asking questions all the way through and at the end to show that you were paying attention and engaged. RASA, a lot of people have told me over the years that that’s been very powerful for them in improving their communication skills.
Oh, perfect. Thank you. Well now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?
I love the quote from Aristotle, which people have probably come across, but I think it’s so true. He said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” And habit-forming with these good things is so important, so that’s why I’ve stuffed the book full of little exercises people can do and just practice over and over again until they become ingrained and their communication gets that much more powerful.
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite book?
I would have to say my favorite book at the moment is a book called White Bicycles, which is by Joe Boyd, the famous producer of the 1960s. And it’s all about making music in the 1960s and listening in the precise and careful way that he does. So, that’s in the last couple of years the book I’ve enjoyed the absolute most, and I’m re-reading it at the moment.
And how about a favorite tool?
I would have to say my favorite tool is my MacBook Pro, which I’ve been traveling with for many years. I barely leave home without it because my entire life is in there, and certainly I use it for my talks, I use it to think. My memory is not the best all the time, so I’ve got wonderful memory tools in there. Yeah, I would be pretty lost without that particular piece of kit.
Alright. And how about a favorite habit?
Drinking water on rising is an important one for me. I think that’s a really good way to start the day off and to lubricate my throat, which is an important tool for me. And drinking water through the day actually is a habit that I believe gives me great health and helps me to be that much more effective.
Certainly. And is there a particular nugget you share that tends to really resonate and get folks sort of saying again and again, “That thing you said there was really transformational”?
Yes, I think when I speak about the way sound affects human beings – it affects our body, it affects our feelings, it affects our thinking, and it affects our behavior in very profound ways – it’s transformative because most people don’t think about sound very much at all. And when they start to realize that, and we have this conversation over and over again with organizations as well as with individuals, it’s like, “It’s so obvious, but I never thought of it. I never thought of the fact that sound is making me ill or making me less effective at work, or irritating me or upsetting me.”
And these things all go on all the time. So really, my mission in the world, my vision is to have a world which listens consciously, and the mission is to get everybody listening, so that we can take responsibility for the sound that we make and for the sound that we consume. And that would be a very different world, I think.
And Julian, tell me – if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?
I have a website, which is simply JulianTreasure.com, and on there you can learn about the talks I do, my book, or my books, actually. There’s also the company’s website – The Sound Agency is the company, so that’s TheSoundAgency.com. And the book itself has a website also, if people are interested in the book, which is coming out I think November 7. And the book’s website is HowToBeHeardBook.com.
Alright. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?
Yeah – listen. Listen. It’s a skill, it’s a dying skill, and great listeners are the most effective people at work. They’re better leaders, they’re better team members, and they’re more effective in every aspect of working. So pay attention, listen carefully, and you will find an enormous difference in your effectiveness, well-being and happiness.
Alright. Julian, thank you so much for taking this time. This is such good stuff; I’m going to be chewing on it for a while, I’m sure. And I just wish you lots of luck in all your speaking and the book and being heard, and just making the difference you make!
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been a joy and I hope it’s going to be of service to everybody listening. So, my best wishes to all of you!