Have you ever been chatting with a friend and realised they were not really not giving you their full attention? Perhaps their eyes were darting off away from yours, or they were fiddling with their mobile phone while pretending to listen?
Likewise, maybe you’ve been in conversation with someone, nodding and smiling, but in your head you were actually planning what you were going to make for dinner that night? If these scenarios sound familiar, then you could definitely benefit from practising what's known as mindful listening or deep listening.
You see, 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 actually decreasing, and many people find it hard to concentrate on a conversation without their minds wandering to other matters. So, if you’re struggling with this, it may be time to consider what can be done to sharpen your mindful listening skills.
Mindful or 'deep' listening is a way of applying the principles of mindfulness to personal interactions. These principles include:
One of the ultimate goals of mindful listening is training our brain to mute thoughts that compete for our attention while we’re in conversation. This is so we can truly hear the message behind someone's words. Having a better awareness of the present and a non-judgmental attitude can help us become better listeners. Indeed, this is the essence of mindful listening.
Give your full attention to listening mindfully shutterstock/fizkes
To develop the skill of mindful listening, 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 on the path to developing your mindful listening skills is to become more aware of the patterns that make our minds wander. Don’t expect to become a pro at deep 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 doing that.
We’re all different, so there will be different things that cause distractions for you, but common causes are mobile phones and notifications, being hungry or feeling tired. Start by putting your mobile phone away and ignoring it – don't be tempted to get it out and start scrolling and only answer a call if it's essential.
However, if you really can’t ignore the things that distract you, it’s better 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 getting into conversations without thinking about the real purpose of them. We also tend to hurry the other person to come up with a reply when we're chatting with them rather than allowing space to consider a response. However, taking the time to reflect and consider what we’re going to say is one of the main components of mindful listening.
“Having a better awareness of the present and a judgmental attitude can help us become better listeners. That is the essence of mindful listening.”
So, why not try listening for the sake of listening? Once you start to practise mindful listening, you may find that you have nothing to say in response to someone right away. Or maybe the only thing you can do is acknowledge what you’ve heard and empathize with the other person. Don’t stress about not responding to a friend 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 more conscious about not interrupting people. Likewise, providing space for the speaker to pause mid-conversation is also important: they may simply be collecting their thoughts together before making another point. Don’t jump in mid-flow. Mindful listening means making sure the person you are chatting with has the chance to express themselves fully.
Mindful listening is not only about using your ears. Indeed, use your eyes and other body language to show whoever you're talking with that you are really paying attention. So, maintain eye contact at all times and nod and smile, encouraging them to express themselves fully. Showing that you are listening deeply in this way demonstrates that you are emotionally involved in the communication.
Eye contact and smiling is a sign of mindful listening shutterstock/Aleksandra Suzi
Assumptions 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 someone has finished talking. 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 practise, this kind of self-awareness will make us better listeners and better communicators.
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.
“Mindful listening is not only about using your ears. Use your eyes and other body language to show whoever that you are really paying attention.”
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 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.
Deep 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. Mindful listening can make us more self-aware, more focused, and able to build richer interpersonal relationships and a more fulfilling life. ●
Main image: shutterstock/Shchus
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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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