How 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