It’s a gift to you and the one talking; mindful listening is so fundamentally different from how we usually converse that we can feel it in our bodies as much as in our heads.Laurie J. Cameron
Mindful listening requires us to give up preconceived ideas, judgments, and desires in order to allow space to hear what is being said. True listening requires a deep respect and a genuine curiosity about situations as well as a willingness just to be there and share stories. Listening opens the space, it allows us to hear what needs to be done in that moment.Mirabai Bush
I bumped into a colleague in the hallway at work who was seeking me out to ask a question. We greeted each other and he asked his question, and then I began to answer him. Remember…he sought me out as a trusted source of information, so this was supposedly an important discussion for him.
Shortly after I began to answer, he took his cell phone out of his pocket and started reading and then typing something on the phone. I looked at him in shock (and maybe disappointment too?), but dismissed it thinking he’d quickly return to paying attention. Wrong. He continued to type and read on the phone.
In disbelief at this waste of my time, I stopped speaking and just looked at him. It took at least five long seconds of awkward silence for him to finally look up and say “It’s OK. I’m listening. You can keep talking.”
I responded with mildly shrouded sarcasm “No, it’s fine. I’ll wait until you’re done.”
Realizing the error of his ways, he sheepishly tucked the phone back in his pocket and proceeded to listen attentively to the rest of the answer to his question.
Has anything like that ever happened to you? Or, has a conversation that you’ve had ended with less than optimal results? I would bet the answer is yes, and if so then read on to learn how you can contribute to improving your conversations through mindful listening and at the same time help to steer them to successful outcomes.
Art and desire
Listening is part art and part desire.
It’s an art because mindful listening requires a thoughtful combination of skill, timing, and restraint so as not to derail the true messages that are being communicated. It involves reading body language and recognizing things like the nuances of facial expressions or a pause in speaking. It’s about keeping an open mind to what’s being said and responding accordingly to it in the moment. From a visual perspective, if you could see a conversation with mindful listening in the air, then I would liken it to a series of colored lines between the people speaking that all weave together into a pleasing and intricate pattern. It’s a good feeling to walk away from a conversation like that.
Mindful listening also involves desire because in order for a conversation to be successful, you have to care about what you’re saying and you need the desire to listen and understand what the other person is expressing. If you don’t care and you have no desire to listen, then the conversation is pointless and it will fail.
There are piles of books and training courses available about effective mindful listening, but honestly all you really need to easily get started is this short article “How To Give Your Full Attention” by Laurie J. Cameron over at Mindful.org. For additional easy tips on trying this, you can also check out this short article by Elaine Smookler.
Laurie speaks about some core skills and cues needed for successful listening, and I agree with her that these things are sorely lacking in many conversations that occur each day. Many people simply don’t or can’t focus enough to listen to a basic conversation in order to make it productive and successful for everyone involved.
Three key points
Three things that I would like to briefly emphasize about listening include:
1. Be honest about your skills and behavior: Some people think they’re good listeners, but they’re simply not. When trying to understand why your conversations are not going as well as expected, be honest with yourself to understand what you might be doing that hobbles them. Listen to the feedback that people give you during or after a conversation. Learn from your experiences and be honest with yourself so you can improve.
2. Pay attention to body language. I can’t stress this enough…Look at the person you’re speaking with, acknowledge what they’re saying, be present in the moment, put your phone away, be silent when they’re speaking, and don’t interrupt. Body language and overall conduct is absolutely critical to mindful listening.
3. Keep an open mind. A large percentage of the time, people go into conversations with a desired outcome in mind, and that’s understandable. That’s how we move our topics, work, and activities forward. However, it’s important to understand that taking that stance typically predetermines a lot of how the conversation will flow, and often that predisposition is not a good thing because you’re not really going to listen to the other person if you’ve already decided how the conversation will proceed. Instead of predisposition, it’s necessary to achieve balance between keeping an open mind and being flexible while still achieving purpose.
Sum it up
The benefits of mindful listening can’t be overstated. For both your personal and professional lives, this form of listening creates better communication, empathy, trust, respect, and strong bonds between people. Many aspects of society today are sorely lacking these things, so we should all do our part to improve our corner of the world through mindful listening.
I agree with Laurie that mindful listening can initially be challenging because it takes effort and it’s not the norm we’re used to. However with a little practice, the labor of doing it will soon bear fruit for you. A successful conversation is certainly better than a frustrating and pointless one, so give it a try the next time you’re speaking with someone. Truly…listen. See if you notice the great improvement that mindful listening can bring to your every day interactions at both work and home. And also see if you think the quote below is true…
The very first time you give your attention to someone, I bet you’ll notice instant softening, openness, and connection.Elaine Smookler