Listening is an essential part of communication. Mindful listening is absolutely essential to better communication. I mean the type of listening where you get out of your own way, stop thinking about the next thing you are going to say, or what the words mean and are instead wholly focused on what the other person is saying. You are entirely absorbed in the flow of words, pacing, tone, gestures and the things left unsaid as well. You disappear into the conversation. Some of us listen very well but few of us have truly mastered the art and skill of listening mindfully. It requires practice and patience. You know those time when someone completely “gets” what you are saying and the conversation is elevated to a new place, and something new is gained those are the time when mindful listening has been active.
Our worlds and lives are filled with well-intended, compassionate, bright and hard-working people. But poor listening habits can derail even the most educated, most committed and even most visionary individual among us. Mindful listening can make or break relationships, sponsorships, opportunities and even whole careers. We are made with two ears and one mouth; there must be a reason.
With the emphasis on being persuasive, at work, at home at your volunteer activities, to close the deal, get the grant, prescribe a treatment protocol for your patients… its easy to forget that your best strategy is listening rather than talking; especially when we listening mindfully and emphatically. Empathy is a powerful component in vibrant relationships, professional and otherwise. Empathy is a respectful understanding of an other persons experience or perspective.
We miss much when we are on the only one doing the talking. Like just what is the foundation interested in funding or why your patient may be hesitant to take on the new treatment routine. People love to talk about themselves . . . so let them. “Good listening skills will get you farther than all of your most interesting experiences and stories ever will,” writes Cecelia Cooper on associatedcontent.com.
Here are my top 9 tips for mindful listening:
- Listen for what a person is feeling, not just what they’re saying. Try to enter the speaker’s world for a few minutes. What are the unspoken, needs, desires, frustrations, ambivalence, hopes. Then give voice to what you heard. If you are right wonderful. If not, that’s fine too. It’s your interpretation not a judgment. By giving voice to what you years the conversation can go deeper, further faster.
- Pay full attention. Most interruptions can be controlled, and if they can’t, find a better place to have your conversation. That means put down the cell phone (better yet turn it off), don’t check the email, just listen.
- Affirm and Encourage the speaker with your words (“Ah, yes…” Go on,” Tell me more,” “I understand”) and deeds (facing the person directly, open posture, making appropriate eye contact, and nodding).
- Be Silent and W.A.I.T. (Why AM I Talking?) Our minds work faster than another person can speak. Stay in the moment. Do not let your mind wander, while allowing the person time to find their words to fully tell their story or explain their point of view. While not easy to just be silent (just my husband, I have been known to jump ahead once or twice in conversations) it will help you not to jump to conclusions.
- Be still, or in the immortal words of parents all over the world, ‘Stop Fidgeting!’ Being still will help you focus your attention, slow down your racing mind so you can be mindful and present. Stay in the moment of listening instead of moving on to developing your response.
- Resist the temptation to “hijack” a story and make it yours. The story is not about you one-upmanship competitions rarely lead to anything other than an one-sided win.
- And while we are resisting, avoid imagining a “quick fix.” You are being asked to listen and the point may not be finding an easy answer right away. Brainstorming solutions together might be appropriate later.
- Finally, notice how often you give unsolicited advice. As well-intentioned as we are our unasked for advice so often sounds like criticism. Your counsel may be sought–but wait to be asked or ask if you can offer it.
- Be Sincere. if you are not genuinely and authentically interested in what the speaker is saying, you will not be able to listen mindfully. Don’t fool yourself, the speaker will know too. Instead politely find away to end the conversation and find someone who can listen mindfully, that way you’ll save the relationship at hand.