Have you ever been chatting with a friend and realised they were not really not paying full attention to you? Perhaps their eyes were darting off away from yours, or they were fiddling with their mobile phone. Likewise, maybe you’ve been in conversation with someone, nodding and smiling, but in your head you were thinking about what you were going to make for dinner that night? If these scenarios sound familiar, then you could benefit from practising mindful listening.
There are so many distractions in everyday life that many of us feel that it’s increasingly hard to pay attention to what others are saying. Indeed, researchers have found that the human attention span is decreasing, and many people find it hard to concentrate on a conversation without their minds wandering off. If you’re struggling with this, it may be time to consider what can be done to sharpen your mindful listening skills.
Mindful listening is a way of applying the principles of mindfulness to personal interactions. These principles include:
Give your full attention when listening mindfully shutterstock/fizkes
One of the ultimate goals of mindful listening is training our brain to mute thoughts that compete for our attention when we’re in conversation and to truly hear the message behind the words. Having a better awareness of the present and a judgmental attitude can help us become better listeners. That is the essence of mindful listening.
To develop this skill, most of us will need to train our brains to focus on what the person in front of us is saying. Here are six steps to help you on your way and improve your communication skills.
The first step is to become more aware of the patterns that make our minds wander, so don’t expect to become a pro at mindful listening right from the start. When in conversation, remind yourself of your intention to give the other person your undivided attention, or pick a few conversations every day where you can commit to do that.
We’re all different, so there might be different things that cause distraction, but common ones are mobile phones, being hungry, or feeling tired. If you can’t remove the things that distract you, it’s perfectly OK to reschedule the conversation and explain that you’d rather meet when you can give the other person your full, undivided attention.
Many of us are used to get into conversations without thinking about the real purpose of them. We also tend to “race the other person” to come up with a reply, when, in fact, thinking about what we’re going to say is one of the main things that stops us from listening mindfully.
“Having a better awareness of the present and a judgmental attitude can help us become better listeners. That is the essence of mindful listening.”
Instead, why not try listening for the sake of listening? Once you start practising mindful listening, you may find that you have nothing to say right away, or maybe the only thing you can do is acknowledge what you’ve heard and empathise with the other person. Don’t stress about it, and remember that the purpose is to listen and be in the present.
If you find yourself interjecting with your own opinion, apologize and allow the person to return to what they were saying. Try to be conscious to not interrupt people. Likewise, providing space for the speaker to pause mid-conversation is also important, as they may simply be collecting their thoughts together before making another point. Don’t jump in mid-flow.
Use eye and body contact to show whoever you're talking with that you are really paying attention. Maintain eye contact, and nod and smile, encouraging them to express themselves fully. Showing you are listening in this way demonstrates that you are emotionally involved in the communication.
Smiling shows you are listening mindfully shutterstock/Aleksandra Suzi
These are a major interference with our ability to communicate and understand other people. Because our mind often wanders off while the other person is still talking, we may not get the full picture (or the full meaning), which can lead to miscommunication and incorrect assumptions. Make a conscious effort to listen until they’ve finished talking and then double check you’ve understood correctly, or repeat their message back in your own words.
Mindful listening has great personal and interpersonal benefits. By making a genuine effort to listen without judging, we can learn more about ourselves and become aware of our prejudices or areas where we could improve the quality of our communication. Over time and with practice, this kind of self-awareness will make us better listeners and better communicators.
“If you find yourself interjecting with your own opinion, apologize and allow the person to return to what they were saying.”
Because of the effort required to re-train our brain to listen mindfully, you may notice that you’re also able to concentrate better in other aspects of your everyday life. For example, you may become more productive at work or get more benefits from your meditation practice.
As for the interpersonal benefits, clearly one of the greatest advantages of mindful listening is being able to nurture better relationships with others and to make every interaction richer.
And because mindful listening is a rare quality, people will notice it and appreciate it, and may be more inclined to share things with you or to seek your company. Listening mindfully can help us create more genuine connections as we enter every conversation with the purpose to listen and understand the other person.
Mindful listening is an exercise in empathy and self-awareness that can improve the quality and depth of our relationships with others. Practising it will take re-training our brain to focus in the present and in the meaning of what’s being said, and although it may be difficult at first, the results are well worth it. This skill can make us better listeners, more self aware, more focused, and able to build richer interpersonal relationships and a more fulfilling life. ●
Main image: shutterstock/Shchus
A social sciences graduate with a keen interest in languages, communication, and personal development strategies. Dee loves exercising, being out in nature, and discovering warm and sunny places where she can escape the winter.
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