How often do you truly listen to people when they are speaking?
A simple mindful listening exercise can lead to revelations about how people communicate with each other. Most people have good intentions when they are attempting to listen to someone speaking to them. They want to listen. They want to understand what the other individual is trying to relate. However, thoughts in the mind get in the way. Instead of listening when being spoken to, the mind wanders off in infinite directions. These thoughts subsequently distract the listener from understanding the message being delivered. Here are a few examples of what can interfere with true listening:
- Worrying about all the things that need to be accomplished today
- Thinking about how to respond to the current conversation
- Making judgements about what the other individual is saying
- Being distracted by events occurring simultaneously in the environment around us
- Jumping to conclusions before contemplating what is being said
What are the consequences of not effectively listening?
There are a multitude of consequences that result from not listening to others when they are speaking. Here are a few of the possible consequences that come to mind:
- Lack of understanding of the other’s point of view.
- Forgetting the name of a person after they have been introduced
- Feeling anxious over how to respond to what is being said
- Loss of the ability to be empathetic
- Jumping to the wrong conclusion
- Making wrong assumptions
- Not being open to new possibilities, opinions, and alternatives
- Causing the speaker to feel unheard and not understood
- Loss of the ability to be present in the moment
What is mindful listening?
Mindful listening is the ability to listen right here and right now. Right now I am being with this person and l am listening to them. It is the ability to focus on what is being communicated. It is the awareness that there is no other place to be at this moment in time.
The best way to understand mindful listening is to directly experience mindful listening. Here is an easy exercise you can do to experience mindful listening.
Mindful Listening Exercise
- Take 30 seconds to focus on your breathing. Pay attention to the air as it passes in during inspiration and as it passes out during expiration.
- Do this with a partner. Allow the partner to talk without interruption about whatever he or she wants to relate for about 5 minutes.
- When you are the listener, just simply listen.
- Do not comment on what is being said.
- Do not answer them.
- Do not get into a conversation.
- Indicate that you are paying attention through direct eye contact
- You can use other non-verbal cues such as nodding, smiling, etc.
- Notice your own impulse to speak.
- Notice if you mind wanders.
- After the speaker is finished, the listener can tell the speaker what they just heard in order to see if the communication was understood.
- If you did this exercise with a partner, now swap roles.
Here are some questions to reflect upon after completing the exercise.
- What was it like to just listen and focus all you awareness on the person speaking?
- Were you able to remember better what the speaker communicated with active mindful listening compared to what you usually do?
- If your mind wandered off to other internal thoughts while you were trying to listen, how easy was it to refocus your awareness back to listening to the speaker?
- Were you able to listen without judging what was being communicated?
- If you were the speaker, how did it feel to have someone’s undivided attention?