The Skill of Mindful Listening
Communication in the 21st century has some unique challenges, and some basic etiquette reminders may prove useful to facilitate effective communication. One may feel invalidated, ignored, or disrespected when attempting to talk with someone and competing for attention with their phone or tablet.
Multitasking when seeking authentic and constructive communication is an obstacle, which blocks opportunities for reciprocal flow and quality interaction. Many of us deeply appreciate when someone isn’t constantly checking their phone or texting when we are sharing a meal, taking a walk, or engaging in conversation.
Mindfulness practice includes attending to the moment with awareness, with a spirit of receptivity and non-judging. Optimal engagement cannot be realized when in constant interaction with devices. Back to basics in the realm of in-person communication includes “digital detachment” and being fully present. Nonverbal communication such as facial expression and body language are part of the total communication process, and important cues and information may be missed if full attention is not engaged.
I believe that one of the main reasons that psychotherapy and coaching remain attractive to people is that they are assured of having an in-person, focused, engaged listener for a prescribed amount of time. As I continue to evolve in my career, I have come to appreciate the nuances of listening in new ways. Listening is a mind-body skill, one that engages all the senses and provides information about other people and their history, moods, states of mind, desires, challenges, intentions, needs and dreams.
Before jumping to judgment about another person’s negativity, listening may provide an inroad to understanding what motivates them, what they are afraid of, and how they may feel invisible or invalidated. When we are truly mindful we are patient and nonreactive, fully observing, accepting of what is happening, and acknowledging it.
Effective communication begins with the core skill of listening. Mindful listening includes focusing on what the other person is saying, as well as their facial expression, gestures, and the volume and tone of their voice. Awareness and observation are the first steps in refining your listening skills.
It is natural to be thinking about what you want to say next while someone else is still talking. When you notice that you are doing this, slow down, breathe, and gently redirect your thoughts back to what the speaker is saying. Listen carefully with a receptive attitude.
We have all interrupted someone when they are speaking. If you catch yourself doing this, simply apologize and enter back into listening mode.