Mindful listening helps you to form deeper and more meaningful connections with your friends, partner, family and colleagues.
By seeing things from the other person's perspective, you will better understand your partner, friends, parents, children, siblings and all other people you interact with. They will be likely to find safety and comfort when hanging out with you, which will also make you feel appreciated.
At work, by being able to fully understand what the other person is saying, your career is likely to take off and you are likely to be more appreciated by your boss, clients and colleagues.
How many times have you caught your mind wandering off somewhere else than the conversation you're having? How often do you think of what you are going to say next, or how you will respond to what's being said, before the other person even finishes their sentence? How often do you react from your emotions, saying something that, once you've calmed down, you regret saying? These are all examples of NOT mindful listening.
What is mindful listening?
Mindful listening means giving your full, moment-to-moment attention to the other person in order to fully understand what they are saying. It is observing what's being said in a non-judgemental way and noticing your own interpretations that come up while the other person speaks (1).
How to listen mindfully?
In his research on mindful listening for project managers, Charlie Scott highlighted three main building blocks of mindful listening (1):
1. Be present
By listening mindfully, you are entirely being IN the conversation and listening to the speaker, without having your thoughts wander off, or judging what the other person is saying in any way.
Put your phone on flight mode, step away from your computer, turn the music volume down, pause what you're watching, or eliminate anything else that can interfere with your attention to the other person.
Focus on fully listening to the speaker without any distractions.
Sometimes it is difficult to be fully present in the conversation if you had been busy or stressed right before. Before engaging in the conversation, try to take a few mindful moments to just reset your mind.
The grounding your attention by focusing on your breathing (2). Feel every inhale and exhale for a few moments.
You can also draw your attention inwards by doing a quick (or as long as you need) body scan (2).
Check out my post on 5 ways to be mindful for more ideas on how to ground yourself through mindfulness.
2. Cultivate empathy
Empathy means seeing the other person's perspective from their point of view. Through understanding the other person's point of view, you are likely to make them feel valued and respected (1).
We all tend to see things from our own perspectives and understand situations based on our experiences, thoughts and memories.
Having an awareness of this tendency is important in order to be able to understand that the other person's perspective may greatly differ from ours (1).
You can see their point of view by attempting to fully understand how they feel. Just like watching a movie, try to immerse yourself in the other person's "character" and how they are feeling. Try to understand how they are thinking, and their reasoning behind it.
Everyone wants their opinion to be heard and contribution to be acknowledged. By validating the other person's opinion and acknowledging their input, you can make them feel respected.
It doesn't necessarily mean that you have to agree with them. It is enough to show that you understand the other person's perspective.
You can even try to think of a similar situation that you have been in and tell the person about it from your perspective.
Showing your full understanding toward them will deepen your connection and make your relationship more meaningful. It will make the other person trust you more and open up to you.
3. Listen to your own cues
As we listen to other people speak, we tend to filter their message through our own experiences, feelings, thoughts and memories (1). Our brain is also great at automatically filtering out things that have had less importance throughout our lives and only focusing on "important" things that the other person says (2).
We also tend to bring our mood into the conversation. Most often, we are not aware of this happening.
For example, we may have been feeling stressed or anxious before the phone rings. As we pick up the phone, we still have that feeling within us and, suddenly, we get irritated by everything the other person says even though they aren't saying anything mean to us.
By bringing our awareness to this inner filter and how we interpret things based on our experiences or feelings, we become more mindful towards ourselves.
This naturally changes our perspective, making us better at objectively understanding what the other person is saying, instead of taking it all personally.
In this case, we can take a moment to calm ourselves down before picking up the phone or even call back when we feel more grounded.
This way, we will notice our feelings and recognize our possibly wrong interpretations of what the other person is saying before we react. We will therefore be less likely to take out our bad feelings or experience on the other person.
Being aware that this filter exists is enough. Instead of changing it, or trying to eliminate it, it is more effective to mindfully work around it (1).
We should also avoid interrupting, advising or correcting the other person as these things can interfere with fully understanding what the other person is saying and instead bring our own habituated cues for interpretation (3).
What are the benefits of mindful listening?
By practicing mindful listening, you will become better at retaining your attention, understanding the whole message, making the other person feel respected and valued, as well as understanding your own interpretations and cues that make you process the message in certain ways.
Through empathic listening and fully comprehending the message, project managers, can become better at understanding and managing their team. General skills within negotiation, mediation and facilitation improve highly with mindful listening (1). This all truly enhances professional relations and overall career opportunities.
Through understanding what the other person is saying and seeing things from their perspective, you can strongly enhance the romantic connection between you and your partner.
For example, if you are having an argument of where to go on holiday and both are having totally different opinions, instead of coming up with a compromise that neither of you will be happy about, mindful listening can help you to come up with a third option that both of you will enjoy.
Of course, your friendships and relationships with your family members will also improve significantly as you develop mindful listening skills. By being fully in the conversation, you will make your friends/family feel well appreciated, which will overall enhance your connection with them.
They will be more likely to also return the favor to you, by also limiting distractions and fully listening to you when you speak. Your connection will become more meaningful and you will be able to talk about more important things on a deeper level without feeling judged.
Mindful listening will also help you to form a better relationship with your children. By interacting with them in a non-judgemental way, you will better understand things from their perspective. This will make them feel safe to come to you for comfort and open up to you.
In summary, mindful listening consists of these three elements:
Being present and fully focused on the conversation
Understanding the other person's perspective
Being aware of the underlying feelings and habits that may interact with the way you interpret what the other person is saying
Mindful listening is a great tool to enhance all types of relationships in your life. It can excel your career and help you form a deeper connection with your partner, family and friends.
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Laura | MSc in Medical Science, Creator of The Greater Mindfulness
1. Scott, C. (2019). Get Out of Your Own Head: Mindful Listening for Project Managers. SANS Institute. Available at: https://www.sans.org/reading-room/whitepapers/leadership/head-mindful-listening-project-managers-33563
2. McManus, T., Holtzman, Y., Lazarus, H., Anderberg, J. and Ucok, O. (2006). Transparency, communication and mindfulness. Journal of Management Development, Vol. 25 No. 10, pp. 1024-1028. https://doi.org/10.1108/02621710610708676
Stay tuned for more science-backed evidence and tips on mindfulness that I will post in this blog .ealthy Relationships. Del Mar, CA: PuddleDancer Press.