Most of us live busy, fast-paced lifestyles. At any given moment, we may be thinking about our endless to-do lists, daily stresses, and whatever is next on the agenda. Are we ever really present? Even when a dear friend or loved one is sharing with us, our minds tend to wander. Mindful listening is the practice of being fully present while listening to another.
When we give our full attention to the other, interactions are more fruitful, relationships become stronger, and we avoid miscommunication and misunderstanding. By developing this skill, we ultimately become better friends, parents, spouses, coworkers, and neighbors.
Here are three steps to learning how to listen mindfully:
First, stop what you’re doing. Resist the temptation to multitask when someone speaks to you–in your actions and your thought life. Instead, give your conversation partner your full attention. This may involve a decision to prioritize the present moment over any other task or obligation you perceive to be pressing.
Let go of any judgmental or critical thought you may have towards the person who is speaking. Likewise, let go of what you think they are about to communicate to you. Mindful listening involves starting with a “blank slate” – not preconceived ideas about the speaker. Don’t interrupt, and give the speaker time and space to communicate in their own way.
If you’re not sure that you understand what the speaker is communicating to you, then wait for an appropriate pause and ask a clarifying question. “You’re important to me and I really want to be sure I understand… Could you explain that again?” Or, “I think you said this: ________. Is that correct?” Finally, pay attention to non-verbal cues from the speaker. This is part of being mindful–paying attention to all sensory aspects of a moment or interaction.
Final Thoughts: You’re Never Too Young to Learn Mindful Listening
Finally, you’re never too young to learn mindful listening. Your children will benefit from learning mindful listening skills as early as one, two, or three years old. Try playing a “mindful listening game” by directing them to “turn on their listening ears” and asking them about different sounds they can hear. Helping them to become mindful listeners as very young children will ultimately set them up for greater success as healthy, thriving adults!