“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” – Epictetus
In today’s high-speed world, and particularly in the working world, people can become restless and frustrated while others are talking. We give very little attention to learning to listen, learning to really hear another person or situation. Listening is much more than just a passive process of receiving information – it is active. When we choose to listen actively, we seek to fully understand what it is that the other person is thinking and feeling. Sometimes even the best of intentions to actively listen are sabotaged when we use blocks to listening:
- Mind reading: Assuming that we already know what it is that the other person thinks or feels.
- Rehearsing: Planning in our minds what we want to say next, missing what is being said in the moment.
- Filtering: Listening only to that which we believe to be important or relevant to us personally, missing the full context or what is important to the other person.
- Advising: Jumping to give suggestions or “solutions” rather than simply listening and understanding.
- Sparring: Invalidating the other person by being argumentative or debating – looking to fight or compete in some way rather than listen.
- Being right: Ignoring or resisting any evidence that we are wrong and should change – being defensive.
- Derailing: Immediately changing the subject when something feels threatening or upsetting – “shutting down” what is being said.
Mindfulness comes from a more whole hearted attention to what someone is saying. We all have our conversational patterns, but seeing these tendencies is a way to learn about yourself from the inside out, and in turn, to know how to be truly present for someone else. With self-awareness, you can begin to listen with greater care — not only to words, but also to the emotion and meaning that the speaker is expressing.
Try these mindful listening techniques:
- Hear between the words. When you’re in conversation, set your mind to being present, receptive, and ready to listen with compassion. Bring yourself into the moment by taking some intentional breaths and ask yourself: What is this person communicating beyond the words they use? What is your sense of what they are feeling?
- Use nonverbal cues to indicate you’re listening. When the other person is speaking, just listen. Let go of any agenda or points you want to make and try to be there quietly, but mentally active and alert. Use nonverbal signals like nodding to let the person know you’re tuned in.
- Notice when your mind has wandered away from the conversation. When you realise that your mind has drifted, let go of the thoughts and return your attention to what the person is saying.
- Scan your body language. Tuning in to your own body can give you valuable information about your direct experience when listening. Is there tightness, uneasiness, or maybe lightness and joy?
Do you practice active listening or do you have particular listening blocks? See if you can become aware of situations that come up when you find yourself having difficulty being truly present and listening.
You can read Denise’s HSSCU articles below:
- ‘Introduction to Mindfulness’ here
- ‘How Mindfulness Can Help Us Through Challenging Times’ here
- ‘How Can I Best Take Care of Myself’ here
- ‘Meditate While You Walk’ here
- ‘Reconnect With Your Body’ here
- ‘Be Present for Christmas’ here
- ‘Becoming Aware of Your Thoughts’ here
*Please note that Health Services Staffs Credit Union is not an expert on mindfulness techniques and that all above advice is from Denise Coleman, qualified mindfulness teacher and HSSCU scholarship recipient. Any views above are not made on behalf of HSSCU.
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