Seven Tips for Becoming a Better Listener
This week’s blog is on the subject of listening, which has been prompted by the Samaritan’s ‘Big Listen’ day last week. The wonderful UK charity Samaritans wants to encourage people to listen to people around them and to make a commitment to becoming better listeners. According to the charity, when people feel listened to, it can save lives. They’ve produced an excellent resource which can be accessed here.
How often have you had a conversation with someone, only to realise afterwards that you took in very little of what was said? Or, perhaps you got distracted at some point during the conversation and failed to ‘read between the lines’?
As children, we receive very little education on how to listen effectively, despite the fact that listening is a skill which is absolutely vital to learning. Listening is also a crucial building block to successful relationships, both work and personal. But, it can be really hard to shut out distractions such as noise, devices and our own thoughts or judgments, and it is often these distractions, that stop us truly listening to what someone is trying to communicate.
So, how can we listen more mindfully? Mindful listening involves being aware of distractions as they occur, but instead of getting swept away by them, making an active choice to refocus on the person communicating. In other words, it’s about a combination of awareness, coupled with a strong intention of wanting to listening. These distractions can be actual physical distractions, such as the pinging of our phone as emails come in, or alternatively, it might be our own thoughts, judgments, criticisms or assumptions. The trouble is, if we become focused on these things, we can’t truly focus on what’s being communicated.
So, here are seven ideas to help you with mindful listening:
1. When you enter into communication with someone, set a strong intention to listen. Most people are pretty good at noticing when they’re not being listened to, and it can be quite a disempowering or hurtful feeling. Ask yourself if this is your intention
2. Make practical changes to shut out distractions- turn your phone to silent, go somewhere quieter, shut your laptop
3. If you can’t set aside the distractions or haven’t got time to truly listen, be honest about this. Perhaps you could schedule some time at another point, or maybe there is someone else who is better placed to listen
4. Listen with only one intention- to understand. Don’t listen with the desire to put someone right or have your say, because when we do this, we are dividing our attention between what’s being said, and what our response is going to be. This divided attention may mean that we miss what is being conveyed, or the more subtler underlying meaning that lies ‘between the lines’
5. Get comfortable with silence. Allowing some spaces in the conversation can encourage the person to continue speaking, and also allows you both to have a mental pause before responding
6. Listen with a sense of open-heartedness; a quality which is fundamental to the practice of mindfulness. You don’t have to agree with what’s being said, but foster a genuine sense of warmth, kindness and compassion for the person you’re communicating with
7. Remember that a commitment to listen, isn’t a commitment to solving an issue for someone. Very often we move into problem solving or advising mode, when this isn’t actually what’s required, and the act of giving advice can often shut down communication, or take it down a different track. If you feel tempted to start giving advice, try taking some breaths before responding, and perhaps ask a question which encourages the person to consider what they might need to do next. A sensitive non-leading question such as ‘what do you think you need to do next?’ may help the speaker explore their feelings and experiences, instead of imposing your own perspective on what’s being shared
Over to you; As always, I’d love to HEAR from you? What are your tips for mindful listening, or what impact has being listened to, had on your life?