Category Archives: Mindful Communication

To Listen and Be Heard – Mindfulness in Communication

Communication should be easy, right?  I say something and you listen.  You say something and I listen.  However, communication in which each person feels heard and acknowledged is actually quite rare.

“Every good
conversation
starts with
good listening.”

In the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Program I taught this week, we did an exercise in which one person talks and one person listens for 2-3 minutes. People commented how different this was from their normal conversation.  Many had not ever experienced listening or being listened in this way and decided it would probably really help if they did.  Good communication starts with good listening.

Reflect on your recent communications.  How did they feel?  Did you feel acknowledged, appreciated, and accepted? Do you think the other person did?  If not, then there might be a number of things going on.  Too often we are so busy thinking about how something will impact us, how it relates to our experience, and what we will say when we have a chance, that we don’t really hear the other person.

Another big barrier to communication is we are all VERY BUSY and don’t take the time to really be present for another person.  Today, like most days, I felt very rushed by everything I needed to do for work.  I ran home to meet the Culligan man so he could carry salt downstairs for my water softener.  Instead of being impatient and in my “I’m busy” mode, I decided to be simply present for this other human being who was showing up in my life.  Because I took just a few more seconds to be open, I had the most wonderful interaction.  I found out my Culligan man is a musician on the side and is working on a song for veterans that might be part of a larger project to help veterans.  He found out I was a health psychologist and I gave him tips on how to get running back into his life and perhaps eat a little better.  It didn’t take much longer than if I’d tried to rush him along (maybe a minute or two).  The gift of connection was priceless and impacted how I felt the rest of my day.

Here are some tips for improving your communication skills.

  1. Be present and listen more during the first three or four minutes of any conversation.  This will completely change your relationships with others.
  2. Paraphrase what you heard the other person say so that you’re sure you understood her.  We often only hear our version of what the person said.
  3. In difficult communications, connect with the sensations of your body (feel your feet on the floor and feel your breath) as a way of staying open to what the other person.  Difficult communications often bring up fear in us and staying with the breath and the body can help ground you.
  4. Before giving someone your advice, ask if it is wanted.  We love to help but sometimes people just want to be heard. Generally having a sounding board will help someone tap into to their own internal wisdom about what to do.

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Epictetus

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“What did you say?” — The Practice of Mindful Listening

iStock_000006304060XSmallHow often have you found yourself in a conversation at lunch or dinner; sitting in a meeting at work; or talking to a friend or partner and realize you have no idea what was just said?  If you are anything like the average person, it happens every day (probably more times than you are willing to admit).  You might even be interested in what’s being said but your mind has carried you off on one of its wanderings–into the past or future, to something that’s bothering you, or to your to-do list.

Our minds are often scattered and unruly, which is why the practice of mindfulness can be so important in meaningful, attentive conversation.  You have to be present in order to listen and take in what is being said.  You also have to be listening without your own agenda and without being busy formulating what you will say next. 

Try this simple Mindful Listening Practice:  Mindfulness—the act of being fully present in each moment with kindness and without judgment—is a wonderful skill to practice when you are in any situation that requires listening.  In any conversation, you can use the person that’s speaking as your “object of mindfulness.”  Pay full attention to what he or she is saying.  When your mind wanders away from what is being said, immediately and without judgment bring yourself back to the words of the person speaking.  Repeat those instructions as many times as necessary.  You will eventually strengthen your mental musculature to stay more focused and aware.  

There are valuable personal rewards for practicing mindful listening.  Being listened to is so much like being loved that most people don’t know the difference.  (For the life of me I can’t find the person’s name that said this. My apologies).  I had a wife of someone whom I had taught mindful listening to years ago come up to me at a local restaurant.  She introduced herself and told me that the mindful listening exercise her husband had learned in my class had saved their marriage.  Try it for yourself and see what happens.  I have a potentially difficult conversation coming up tonight and I have determined to listen to everything the other person wants to say before I say anything.  When you give someone the opportunity to get everything out of their system, they are much more willing to listen to what you have to say.

There are valuable business rewards for practicing mindful listening.  Your colleagues will be more collaborative because everybody’s opinions get heard.  It will take less time to complete your work because you have listened to what needs to be done.  If you are anyone’s boss, listening to your employees will make them feel  appreciated.  When employees feel appreciated, research indicates they are happier and more productive at work.  When I saw clients in individual therapy, I was constantly practicing mindful listening.  I mean, really, there is nothing worse than having your therapist ask you, “what did you say?” 

Try the mindful listening practice for one day and come back and comment about what you discovered.   I would love to hear what you learned. 

The promise of listening:

We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that something deep inside us is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch.  Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.               ~e.e. cummings       

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