Did you know that despite what we may think, the typical untrained person absorbs only around 25% of what others communicate to them? Mastering mindfulness means training ourselves to be more effective communicators.
Effective communication is crucial in all areas of life, whether it's personal or professional. Unfortunately, people often listen to respond instead of to understand. But what if there was a way to improve communication and strengthen relationships?
Mindful listening is a practice that helps people listen with intention, focus, and empathy.
I'm Hearing You, but not Really Listening
It was a chilly morning in the park, and my friend and I decided to meet for a walk.
As we strolled through the gardens, we engaged in a conversation about the usual things like work, family, and the new store in town that just opened. But as the conversation went on, I began to notice that Alice wasn't her usual self. She seemed distracted and lost in her thoughts, and her words were terse and unfocused.
In those moments, I realized that this was the perfect moment to practice my mindful listening skills. So, I slowed down my walking to her pace, took a deep breath, and focused my attention solely on Alice.
Mindful Communication goes Both Ways
Mindful communication involves training oneself to be a more active listener, while also thinking about what we say to others before we say it. There are many reasons why mindful speaking and listening are effective in tandem, but let's look at why we communicate with others in the first place.
Why We Speak
Why We Listen
We should all be pros at communicating, right?
Given all the verbal communication that we involve ourselves with, you would think mindful communication would be on everyone's self-improvement list, yet the majority of us aren't even aware of how well we perform in either arena.
Have you experienced fluid communication where everyone is perfectly engaged, where you feel as though you could talk to them the whole day and not get tired?
When you experience this ease in communication it feels like they truly get you, but you fully understand their words, tone, and body language cues. You may even feel like you are connected with them on a deeper, somewhat cosmic level even.
As rare as these moments are, they show us the full capabilities of mindful communication.
So, how can we communicate with each other more mindfully?
LISTEN with Your EARS & Be a More Mindful Listener
We can become more mindful listeners by being aware of our environment, and discarding distractions. Just as we speak more mindfully by setting an intention to observe and adapt how we say things to our audience, we can begin listening more mindfully by listening with our ears.
Use the following acronyms to listen more mindfully:
Open your eyes wider when the speaker says something particularly interesting and nod your head throughout their speech.
Use non-verbal and light verbal cues to acknowledge your engagement in the conversation. This includes hand gestures and 1-word interrupters like "Right," "Ok," or "mm-hmmm"
STAY ON TARGET
When responding, reference the topic the previous speaker focused on before switching to a different topic that is somewhat related.
TEST YOUR UNDERSTANDING
Repeat back a summary of what the speaker said to you concisely, to show that you understand what they meant to say.
EVALUATE THE MESSAGE
Ask the speaker if your understanding of what they said actually represents their intended meaning.
NEUTRALIZE YOUR FEELINGS
Remove your emotional factor from the conversation and use this time to simply understand what the other is saying.
When you listen intently, following the acronym above, the speaker will feel that they are heard and that their meaning was properly conveyed. This form of active listening is a great way to de-escalate an emotionally turbulent situation.
Before engaging in the conversation further, use your ears to ensure you are always listening actively.
May brief, but frequent eye contact as the person speaks. Avoid looking down or away from them. Too much eye contact, however, may come across as aggressive.
Ask open-ended questions and show them that you are present and aware of what they are saying with non-verbal and verbal cues.
Reflect on Their Feelings
When there is a pause to indicate they are waiting for your acknowledgement, say something like "It sounds like you're feeling..." or "That must've felt..."
Once you've conveyed that you understand their meaning, step back to an active-listening role and repeat these steps.
To listen mindfully means to be aware of what others are saying and to seek understanding of what they mean by it. It involves observing and reacting in real-time to non-verbal cues with kindness and compassion.
We are all aware how communication is critical in allowing us to express ourselves, build relationships, and exchange ideas. Still, communicating effectively can be challenging, especially when we are not fully present in the moment.
What is Mindful Listening?
The mindful listening definition is a form of active listening that requires complete presence and attention to the speaker. This means focusing on the words, tone, and body language of the speaker without distractions or judgments.
With practice, mindful listening can lead to better communication, stronger relationships, and a greater sense of empathy and understanding.
The Benefits of Mindful Listening
The continued practice of mindful listening can help improve communication, strengthen relationships, reduce the stress we feel, and increase our empathy toward others, to name a few.
Improved Communication: Mindful listening leads to a deeper understanding of the speaker and more effective sessions of communication.
Strengthened Relationships: By showing the speaker that their thoughts and feelings matter, mindful listening can strengthen and deepen relationships.
Reduced Stress and Improved Mental Health: Mindful listening de-escalates tense situations which can reduce stress and improve mental health.
Increased Empathy and Understanding: By understanding the perspectives and feelings of others, mindful listening leads to greater empathy and understanding.
But these are just a few examples of how listening mindfully can improve our lives.
A 2014 study of hospital staff and their ability to communicate accurate information suggests that even the people we trust the most with our health struggle with active listening. Not doing so present unintentional harm to patients.
It is essential that we improve our active listening skills especially in work environments where lives are on the line.
10 Techniques for Improving Mindful Listening
- Be Present in the Moment: Put away distractions and give the speaker your full attention.
- Remember to Breathe: Remember to breath. Sometimes, you need to speed up your breath and practice a technique called Breath of Fire to get oxygen to your brain to focus, or slow down your breathing so you can be in the present moment.
- Face the speaker and have appropriate eye contact: Eye contact is key to forming meaningful connections with someone while in face-to-face conversation. to avoid overbearing intensity, try breaking eye contact from time to time and shifting your gaze between their eyes and mouth every five seconds or so.
- Listen Without Judgment: Avoid forming opinions and judgments while listening. Keeping an open mind and heart to while some one is speaking will allow the induvial to feel more welcome to share what is really on their mind. Fighting your emotions can be difficult, but it's key to taking in someone else's words. If you find yourself emotionally invested into a story, make sure you are giving them the attention they deserve and not jumping ahead of their thoughts assuming what is going to be said next. Recognize the emotion you are feeling, accept it, breathe into it and continue listening.
- Pause before you Speak: When out of context interruption happens it can be frustrating for the other party. It may give the impression that you think you are better or what you have to say is better than the experience being shared. If you are naturally a quick thinking or speaker, count 3-5 seconds in your mind after the speaker ended their last sentence. A pause or a few moments of silence is healthy. Sometimes, depending on what you said, can side track a conversation about you and your life. If this happens, drive the conversation back to, "So, you were telling about...".
- Pay Attention to Nonverbal Cues: Listen to the words and the nonverbal cues of the speaker, such as tone, body language, and facial expressions. Notice if the person is smiling, are their arms crossed defensively, or rubbing their eyes showing signs of being tired or upset. If you are on the phone, recognize if the tone of voice sound upbeat, or subdued.
- Check Your Posture: Just as it is important to pay attention to the speakers posture. Show that you are interested by gazing up instead of down, or nodding your head. For example: Crossing arms or legs can make it seem like the conversation is wrapping up soon. Posture speaks volumes too. You can lean slightly forward when sitting, rest one hand on your head, or tilt your head for an open look which shows genuine engagement.
- Determine what the speaker wants from the conversation: This is something you can ask in the beginning of a conversation if you know a deep conversation is coming up, or you can ask at the end of a story or experience shared by the speaker. Determine if the speaker is looking for advice, a solution, just wanting some one to listen, wanting to vent, sharing excitement. When considering this, think of how when you communicate with others and have either felt let down, frustrated or annoyed by a conversation because some one gave you advice when you really just wanted to vent about what happened during your day.
- Ask Relevant Questions: Clarifying questions can deepen your understanding of what the speaker is saying. If you feel confused engage at an appropriate time when the speaker pauses asking the speaker to clarify, or reference back to the part where you need more understand. For example, "Can you help me understand more when you say...", or "When you talk about .... Does it mean...".
- Repeat Back What You Heard: Active listening involves repeating back what the speaker has said to show understanding. It can feel awkward when you first start doing this, but it helps your mind to engage in the conversation because you are being active. It also allows the speaker to know that you are listening, you care and what they have to say matters. If you feel uneasy or unsure how to do this, you can start a sentence with, "If I am understand right, you are saying..." or "What you're saying is...". This is an in active speaking encounter that happens every day. Consider what a barista does at your favorite coffee shop.
Using Mindful Listening in Action
As Alice spoke, I made sure my phone was not in my hand and I listened intently to what she was saying. I took notice to her facial expressions trying to determine what Alice was trying to receive from the conversation.
As I continued to listen, I soon realized realized that Alice was not looking for advice or a solution to her problems. Instead, she just needed someone to listen to her and to validate her feelings. She wanted to vent and let go of her frustrations without being judged or criticized.
I soon understood the importance of this insight and made sure to keep her mind from getting distracted with other thoughts.
I continued to listen carefully to Alice, giving her my full attention, and responded thoughtfully to her words validating what I was hearing by re-affirming her emotions. I didn't interrupt or offer solutions but simply acknowledged Alice's feelings and empathized with her.
After our walk, Alice thanked me for being there for her and for listening so attentively. She said that she felt much better after venting her thoughts and that she appreciated having someone to confide in.
I understood that by determining what someone is trying to receive from the conversation early on, it could give them the support they needed and prevent my mind from getting distracted with other intruding thoughts, judgments, or worries.
In the end, the art of mindful listening is not only about hearing the words but also about understanding the emotions behind them and what is being said putting my own ego aside. It was about being present, showing empathy, and offering support without judgment.
What is the difference between mindful and active listening?
Active listening involves repeating back what the speaker has said, whereas mindful listening involves being present and paying attention to both the words and nonverbal cues of the speaker.
Is mindful listening only for personal relationships?
No, mindful listening can benefit both personal and professional relationships.
Can anyone practice mindful listening?
Yes, mindful listening is a skill that can be developed with practice, regardless of age or background.
How long does it take to see the benefits of mindful listening?
The benefits of mindful listening can be seen quickly, with some individuals reporting improvements in relationships and communication skills after just a few weeks of practice. However, like any new skill, the more you practice, the more you will see the benefits over time.
Mindful listening is a valuable skill that can transform your relationships and communication skills in both your personal and professional life. We learned to listen with our ears and 10 tips to being a better active and mindful listener.
By being present, listening without judgment, paying attention to nonverbal cues, and asking questions, you can become a better listener and foster deeper connections with those around you. Give mindful listening a try and see the benefits for yourself.