Most of us would like to think that effective listening is within easy reach, and that it’s mostly just a matter of applying simple willpower, discipline, or good manners.
Yet it requires attention and practice to stay present and truly hear what another person is communicating. The mind tends to wander, and our internal narratives and busy thoughts fragment our attention and sap our ability to stay focused in the moment. Our emotions can also interfere with our ability to listen.
In oral communication, both listeners and speakers come to the process with psychological barriers to its effectiveness (Frisk,2010). Mindful listening, the practice of bringing full,moment to moment awareness to the speaker’s message, can help a listener notice and work through these barriers (Shafir, 2003). Health care practitioners who practice mindfulness have demonstrated greater overall empathy (Shapiro, Schwartz& Bonner,(1998).
Shafir (2008) also found that mindful listeners are able to:
1. Sustain their attention over time
2. Hear and see the whole message
3. Make the speaker feel valued and respected
4. Listen to themselves.
Mindful listening goes beyond active listening and puts the listener in a unique position to determine when psychological barriers are affecting how they process the speaker’s message.
- Take a minute or two to clear your mind before you meet with someone.
- Set an intention to listen mindfully.
- Mute your devices
- Be honest with yourself and respectful to the speaker. If you aren’t able to focus at one moment, pick another time to have the conversation.
- Ask open-ended questions to encourage dialogue.
- Let the other person share their full thoughts rather than finishing his or her sentences.
- Paraphrase back what you heard to clarify if it is what the speaker meant.
- Take a mindful breath before responding. Pausing works to your advantage.
- Be patient and don’t jump to conclusions.
- Listen with a willingness to understand the other person’s point of view