Listening certainly seems easy enough. From the buzz of a refrigerator, to the whoosh of a car, to the squeak of a chair, we are surrounded by noises from dusk until dawn. One could argue that we are constantly listening, but the question is if we truly are.
There is a difference between hearing and listening. Consider how it feels when you’re talking to a friend, for example. We are all guilty of having a “conversation” with someone where we don’t fully take in what they are saying. We may hear the timbre of their voice, notice their unique intonation, and even understand the gist of what they are communicating, but are we always actively listening?
Many times, during conversation, our mind will be somewhere else. We neglect to fully process what is being communicated. We may be waiting for a pause in our friend’s sentence so that we can appropriately interject with what we have been planning to say. Or we may be distracted by something going on in the distance, or thoughts about the past or future that are running through our head.
We spend a great deal of our time hearing the world around us, but actively listening requires more intentional effort. In order to genuinely listen to what is being said to us – rather than just hearing it – we need to fully place our undivided attention on the other person. This is where mindfulness comes into play.
Mindful, active listening allows us to be fully present and soak in all that our partner is communicating.
Mindful listening means so much more than taking in all the information you can. It is a tool that can strengthen relationships, lead to deeper understanding of those around you, and bolster your general ability to be fully present in your life.
While active listening requires more effort and care, you can practice it daily. Treat every conversation as an opportunity to strengthen your mindfulness and engage in active listening by using the steps listed below.
“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” – M. Scott Peck
At the start of a conversation, take a moment to fully prepare yourself to receive the information that is about to be communicated to you. Take a breath and fully connect to the present moment. Turn your phone ringer off (and put the screen side down so that your attention isn’t pulled by notifications), put down anything you are holding that can distract you, and bring your full attention to your partner. Connect with your partner through eye contact.
As the conversation is underway, try to avoid thinking of what you’ll say next as they are speaking. Genuinely listen to what they are saying, and then determine what needs to be said when they are finished.
Is something your partner said unclear to you? Then ask questions! Active listening doesn’t mean staying completely silent as your partner talks. It means getting the complete story from your partner, and asking for clarification if necessary.
Phrases like “I’m hearing that you’ve…” or “I understand that this made you feel…” can help you show your partner that you’ve been actively listening and engaged in what they’ve been telling you. It will make them feel heard and understood, and will help you strengthen your active listening skills, as well as your relationship!
Implement these steps in your conversations over the next few weeks and observe how they affect you. While they may seem simple, you’ll be surprised by just how much more you’ll hear when talking to someone else. Active listening requires effort, despite it seeming quite simple. Once you start practicing it, you’ll realize the difference that it can make.
You can also learn active listening with our Monthly Intentions Program.
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