How often do you find yourself in a conversation with a friend, partner, or colleague and realize you have no idea what was just said? If you are like most people, it happens every day, and often. We live in a fast-paced world and our minds are often scattered and unruly. You might even be interested in what’s being said, but your mind wanders into the past or future, to something that is bothering you or something on your to-do list.
One of my favourite things to do when presenting workshops is a listening exercise in which people are paired up and asked to listen to their partner without comment while being fully “present” for three minutes. It is such a rare experience that most people end the exercise recognizing how little they really do listen.
Just as we now understand the importance of regular exercise for good health, we can strengthen and build our ability as listeners in order to utilize mindful listening and get the most out of our relationships.
Mindfulness – being fully present in each moment with kindness and without judgement – is a wonderful skill to practice in any situation that requires listening. The intent of mindful listening is to pay attention to the speaker without interruption, without getting defensive, and without a need to always be right or make a point.
Here are some tips for mindful listening:
- Put aside physical distractions like your cell phone, TV, computer
- Set an intention to listen mindfully
- Be honest; if you aren’t able to focus at the moment, pick another time
- Take a mindful breath…Ahhhh…before responding
- Say the word, “kindness,” 2-3 times to yourself, and feel it before speaking
- Be curious – ask open-ended questions that encourage dialogue
- Let the other person share their full thoughts before jumping in with your own
- Be patient, don’t jump to conclusions
- Notice when your mind wanders and bring your attention back to the speaker
- Notice your feelings, thoughts, and body sensations when they come up – what are they telling you?
- Pay attention to the speaker’s tone and body language – what are they really saying?
- Listen with openness and willingness to understand the other person’s point of view
The payoff? The quality of your listening supports the other person to be more present, at ease, collaborative, and genuine. Conversations can be more meaningful and productive. So, listen up! Listening is a discipline that takes time and practice. Be patient. Be curious. Experiment a little and see what happens.
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