The art of mindful listening: 8 important tips to keep in mind

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Listening seems like a natural skill that we all can do, however not everyone remains present the whole time someone is talking.

In fact, our minds tend to wander when someone else talking and many of us start to think of our response.

Our emotions can also interfere with our ability to listen. Sometimes many of us misinterpret what someone is saying because we think that they saying something hurtful or uncalled for. Thanks to evolution our mind is always looking for threats.

But when it comes to conversation, a technique called ‘mindful listening’ might be able to help you out.

It encourages us to take a step back from our preconceived notions and focus fully on what the person is saying without judging them.

According to Elizabeth Dorrance Hall Ph.D. in Psychology Today, mindful listening is about actually understanding what the other person in the conversation is trying to convey:

“Listening mindfully requires us to comprehend what the other person is actually saying. Then we need to let them know we are paying attention and thinking about what they shared. We do this by showing interest and support through maintaining eye contact, nodding, smiling, and encouraging them to express their thoughts. In a sense, we become emotionally involved in their message and it shows.”

Here are 8 tips to practice mindful listening:

1) Are you preparing your answer before they’ve finished talking?

The first bad habit you need to catch yourself doing is when you prepare your answer before they’ve finished speaking. Many of us do this naturally because we want to avoid an awkward silence.

In fact, one study conducted by Faye Doell (2003) showed that there are two different types of listening: “listening to understand” and “listening to respond”. Those who “listen to understand” have greater success in their interpersonal relationships than others.

Try to be more spontaneous and take your time when you decide to speak. Just focus on their words and what they’re actually saying without judging and when it’s your turn to speak, take your time and let the words come to you.

2) Getting distracted

This is a big one, especially when we find ourselves a little bored in the conversation. Our minds wander all the time. It’s almost natural. Instead, use mindfulness and try to focus on the present moment.

Focus on the words they are speaking and when your mind drifts, simply return your focus back to what they are saying. It’s a great mindfulness practice to consistently do every day.

“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention…. A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words. ” – Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen

3) Stop judging

When we listen to others speak, we naturally put labels and judgments on what they’re saying.

Many of us make snap judgments when we communicate with others, according to author Judith Johnson. This is a form of positional thinking – right/wrong, good/bad, desirable/undesirable.

But when we treat people like this, we are either accepting or rejecting someone or something they said.

These judgments can severely damage our conversations and the ability to develop a rapport with others.

Instead, try to catch yourself when you do so and put an end to it. Just let your mind take the words in without putting a judgment on them.

4) Don’t try to achieve anything

When we have a conversation, we tend to want a certain outcome to occur.

This can mean that everything we hear we attach to whether we are getting closer to the outcome we want for the conversation. 

The result? We’re not truly listening to what the other person is saying.

Let go of having an end result and simply “be” in the conversation. Not only will you enjoy the conversation, but you’ll probably get more out of it too.

If you implement these 4 tips in your daily conversations, you might become more likable, friendly and better able to learn from every conversation you have.

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How to practice mindful listening

Mindful listening is powerful because the most powerful way to connect with someone is through listening and you’re undivided attention.

We’ve covered 4 things you need to stop doing to practice mindful listening, so here are some things to start doing as well:

5) Focus on conversation partner’s message

Focusing on someone’s message is also a great way to shift your attention if you’re feeling self-conscious as well.

According to the great psychologist Carl Rogers, the key to good listening is to refrain from making judgments and to provide a safe environment for speakers.

By listening in a non-judgmental manner, we’re showing that we care about what they’re saying, which allows them to feel comfortable and open up.

It definitely takes practice, but here are some tips to become a better listener:

– Put yourself in the shoes of the speaker. Think about what they’re saying from their perspective.
– Avoid making assumptions or judgments.
– Pay attention to their feelings as they’re talking.
– Talk to them back in their own words (empathetic reflection).
– Look into their eyes as they’re speaking.
– Acknowledge that you’re listening by nodding or saying “uh-huh” or “yep”.
– If possible, summarize their comments if given a chance so you can better understand.
– Focus on fully taking in the message that someone is trying to get across.

7) Encourage people to talk about themselves

The main question people have when it comes to making conversation is, “what do I talk about?”

But that’s the wrong question to ask.

Instead, you should ask questions to get people to talk about themselves.

According to research, when people talk about themselves, it triggers the same sensation of pleasure in the brain as food or money. After all, we all have a bit of conversational narcissism in us.

“Self-disclosure is extra rewarding…People were even willing to forgo money in order to talk about themselves.” – Harvard neuroscientist Diana Tamir

FBI behavior expert Robin Dreeke says that the number one strategy he keeps at the forefront of his mind when he talks to anyone is non-judgmental validation.

“Seek someone else’s thoughts and opinions without judging them. People do not want to be judged in any thought or opinion that they have or in any action that they take. It doesn’t mean you agree with someone. Validation is taking the time to understand what their needs, wants, dreams and aspirations are.”

8) Be empathetic

Try to put yourself in the shoes of the speaker. People love to be seen and heard so when you empathize with them, they will feel comfortable in your presence.

When empathic listening becomes a habit, you’ll be able to better understand people’s struggles and why they do what they do.

It’s simply the ability to engage with someone on their level. It allows there to be a safe space where they can share anything without fear of being criticized.

In turn, it will make the conversation flow naturally.

With empathic listening, the conversation becomes all about the other person. You put yourself in their shoes an understand what they’re saying from their perspective.

It’s a technique regularly adopted by therapists and psychologists to help their clients. It allows the speaker to feel safe, valued and understood.

Here’s how to practice empathic listening in conversation:

1) Take the time: You need to be patient and let the reader spill their message. Don’t rush them or interrupt them.

2) Offer empathy: True empathy means listening and understanding where your conversational; partner is coming from. It means leaving your own stories and experiences at the door.

3) Use open-ended, empathic or dangling questions: Use questions that require more than a “yes” or “no” answer. This allows the speaker to go deeper into what they’re speaking about. You could ask things like, “How did you feel about that” or “What is your next step”.

Remember, the key here is to listen to them in a non-judgmental fashion, put yourself in their shoes and ask follow-up questions. You’ll get to know them better and as Stephen Covey says, you’ll give them “psychological air”.

“Empathic listening is so powerful because it gives you accurate data to work with. Instead of projecting your own autobiography and assuming thoughts, feelings, motives and interpretation, you’re dealing with the reality inside another person’s head and heart. You’re listening to understand. You’re focused on receiving the deep communication of another human soul.” – Stephen Covey


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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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