LISTEN to be HEARD
Do any of these sound familiar?
You are in a conversation with a colleague. As she is speaking, you are thinking about how you can respond. When it is your turn to speak, you feel a bit disconnected as if you didn’t really hear the last parts of what she said, even though you were listening. You speak what you thought to say while she was talking.
You are in a conversation with your partner. They say something you disagree with. You start speaking, while they were still finishing their thought. They tell you you always interrupt. Conflict ensues.
You are in a conversation with a customer service representative. They just don’t seem to understand your needs, no matter how many different ways you communicate what you want from them. You ask for a supervisor and hope they will understand you better. You feel very frustrated.
As Dean Brenner, President of The Latimer Group and known expert in pervasive communication stated in Forbes magazine, “First, why is listening so important as an initial step in communication? Because it helps you understand your audience and, thus, tailor your message to their needs and concerns. By listening well — in other words, through active listening — we discover the best way to deliver the message we need our audience to hear.”
Mindful Communication Practices Work
Over the 20 years I have been practicing mindfulness, I have noticed so many things. One of the most powerful things I have learned after 2 decades of practice is related to communication. Two themes have become evident while I having a conversation:
Thinking About Your Response
The first thing I notice is how much I think about my response while listening to someone else speak. It is almost impossible to truly hear the other person I am having a conversation with because my mind is so busy working! I am making the content relative to my experience, gathering information, and assembling a response that makes me feel connected, smart, and knowledgeable, all while my partner is speaking.
Outcome Driven Communication
The second thing I have noticed is how connected to the outcome of a conversation I can be. In many communications, I have a fixed view of what I already think I know, that learning anything from whom I am listening to can be so challenging. Is listening and learning another perspective possible, with a solid, firm belief running through my mind? What if my partner in communication also has a fixed belief, that differs from mine? Two stuck objects do not make for gracious dance partners, after all!
Why Listening Skills Support Less Stress
Kathy, a stress reduction student in my meditation program has expressed the feeling of never being heard. No matter how many ways she tries to express herself, in all of her relationships, she walks away feeling frustrated. She feels like no one can understand what she needs, even when she communicates bluntly, which then leads to conflict. She is struggling in all of her relationships. She is under tremendous stress.
I have asked Kathy to practice mindful communication in the following way, as an experiment in her stress reduction journey. She has reported tremendous findings, detailed below.
1. Pick a Person
Pick a person in your life that presents some conflict in communication. DO NOT choose the most challenging person in your life to communicate with. On a scale of 1-10, choose someone who falls in at about a 5…some difficulty, sometimes, but not always.
2. Pick a Conversation
Intentionally pick a time to communicate mindfully. Pick a conversation and go for it. You do not need to tell your partner that you are experimenting, however, if you have someone in your life that will play along with you, this can be a very enlightening exercise for both of you!
3. Focus on Staying Quiet
Stay as silent as possible all throughout the conversation, no matter what the talker says. Remain engaged. Be an active listener, even if the content of communication seems like it is screaming at you to speak in detail. Do not fully engage in conversation, just this once. Remember this is an experiment. Have some fun with it.
4. Be Aware of What’s Happening With YOU Now
Get curious about what is happening inside you as you listen. Pay attention to the thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations that present while listening. Notice any body movements, any desires to speak, or to validate the speaker. Notice if your mind wanders off while listening and then tunes back in. Notice it all, and just keep listening…
It is very helpful to use breathing exercises to support listening, especially when the content of conversation evokes strong emotion. The more charged the talk, the more helpful breathing and grounding exercises can be.
Since practicing mindful communication, Kathy has reported that so much of her conversations are spent thinking about all the “stuff she should have said better, even though I am still in the communication and actually have the opportunity to try. It is like I give up, while I still have a chance.” She has reported that her own limiting beliefs about herself heavily influence how she feels after the conversation is over. “I tell myself I am not understood so often, that this is what I am walking away with, feeling misunderstood, no matter what the other person has said.”
Kathy also reported feeling nervous every time the conversation paused. “I feel rushed and excited to fill in any empty space with talk. When I allowed the communication to flow without pushing it, I did feel more relaxed, and more able to speak clearly, without nervousness.”
Questions To Investigate
What did you notice?
Was it easy or was it hard?
What supported you through pauses, possible interruptions, and strong emotion while listening?
8 Minute Meditation of Breathing & Sound
PRACTICE MINDFUL LISTENING ANYTIME
All ages and abilities welcome. Designate an amount of time, maybe 2-3 minutes to start. Set a timer and begin.
- Take a comfortable seated or standing position remaining as still as possible, some movement is okay for comfort, however, notice if movement is necessary or due to fidgety impulses. Keeping as still as possible helps minimize manufactured noise and distraction, so you can really hear the environment around you.
- Let your ears be the star of this exercise by closing your eyes. If closed eyes doesn’t feel so good, open them, and look at a fixed point down toward the floor, your hands or lap. Keep gaze soft but focused. Avoid eyes darting around.
- Listen to the sounds of the environment without commenting or speaking about what you hear…just listen.
- When you notice your thoughts taking you away to EXPLAIN a sound, return back to a new sound with your attention, again and again…every time your thoughts try to take you away.
- Notice some sounds are very close, maybe even internal, while some sounds are very far away. Just notice, and breathe through it all.
- After the time is up, allow for investigation with simple questions that are framed around sound, not the mind’s thoughts about sound. For example, a question could be “What was one sound that you heard?” NOT “What did that sound remind you of?” The “remind you of” is thought…we are staying in the actual experience of paying attention to sound to increase listening skill.