Only Human | Podcast Review | November 23, 2015 | By

Only Human: “Listen Up! Bootcamp”

I realized, somewhat pathetically, that these days, taking 3 minutes of silence is literally something I have to be told to do.

In case you didn’t catch my last review of the show, I was unconvinced of the newly introduced format. The changes in podcast structure were pretty drastic – instead of a single 30-minute episode, subscribers received a daily email with a ‘listening’ challenge and a mini-podcast. Each day emphasized a different aspect of listening, complete with a challenge to improve your listening skills.

I’m happy to report that I’m surprisingly impressed with the first week.

For this week’s review, I intend to talk about my personal biggest takeaways. There are many to choose from, so I’d like to encourage you to have a listen yourself.

Based on my (albeit limited) knowledge of topics related to hearing, this week’s speakers, discussions, and challenges were sure to have covered the entire gamut. From listening to a current cast member of Hamilton (I can’t even express how badly I want to see this Broadway play) discuss the importance of body language in articulating thoughts, to talking to YouTube sensation Franchesca Ramsey about ‘going offline’ to engage in more face-to-face conversations, this week’s podcast was absolutely stacked with experts on various components of listening. And, as trite as it sounds, it really broadens your perspective on the pervasive nature of hearing people, responding to people, and the value of listening.

I will forego summarizing too much of each daily challenge because I’d be robbing you of the experience of coming up with your own takeaways from the lessons and build-up, but I figured there’s no real harm in sharing the big ideas that will definitely stick with me.

In no particular order, here are some main messages:

  1. When you understand someone else’s body language, you understand their intentions for you;
  2. Other people’s responses actually really do impact the way that you, in turn, will respond unless you’re quite disciplined;
  3. Brains can process 400 words per minute, but we can only speak at a rate of 125 words per minute, meaning that our brain automatically tries to fill its unused power by constantly searching for other things to pay attention to;
  4. There is no trick to having a great memory. People don’t remember, not because ‘they have a bad memory,’ but because it’s simply a topic they don’t care about.

All of these lessons were great. I enjoyed learning that a suspicion was confirmed with Lesson #1; the presentation of Lesson #2 by host Mary Harris really was hilarious and engaging; and Lesson #4 was, surprisingly, very profound and led me to question the things I care about in my daily life.

My favorite episode, however, did not result in one of the lessons mentioned above. We heard from Ken Feinberg, a man who distributes crisis money to victims as a career. He essentially has to sit down with victims of crises (think: 9/11, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech shootings), hear their stories, and decide how much of the funding he can allocate to them. What an unbelievable job.

Ken discusses the importance of training our innate ‘human condition’ to critically analyze situations, create opinions, and then voice them. Practicing discipline on our need to constantly share our thoughts is what truly makes you a good listener. His interview ended with describing the lack of appropriate emphasis on the value of solitude. Of silence. Of having the necessary quiet to sort out life’s dilemmas. The challenge of that day, therefore, was to sit in silence for 3 minutes. And – I cannot tell you how excited this made me – a 3 minutes of silence segment was included in the podcast.

I have a lot of thoughts about this particular segment (it is the ‘human condition,’ after all), but I think the most important (or, at least, shocking) was how genuinely excited I was to have had 3 minutes of silence ‘booked’ into my day. I think I spent at least 2 of those precious 3 minutes praising the good people of Only Human who included it in the podcast. I realized, somewhat pathetically, that these days, taking 3 minutes of silence is literally something I have to be told to do. As in, I have to schedule 3 minutes of silence into my planner.

And that got me thinking. Why is it that finding 3 minutes of solitude can be difficult?

I realized (from a tiny bit of personal experience mixed with a lot of conversations with older friends and colleagues) that some people might find it difficult to spend time alone because of guilt. “My boss needs this document, I can’t afford to take a minute for myself.” “I need to play with my children, I can’t have ‘alone time.’” “I could be doing other things in this time.” My excitement came from being told that I had to have 3 minutes of silence, guilt-free.

I could end with a banal thought about the importance of valuing ‘alone time,’ but I think it would be much more productive for you to listen to the podcast with the designated 3 minutes of silence (Day 3) and come up with your own conclusions.

About the Author

Annie Ungrady is a writer at Audiologue, where she writes a weekly column called Podcast Perusal with her impressions of classic podcast and radio episodesYou can email her at

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