Mindful Listening: The Greatest Gift

Have you ever found yourself sitting in a meeting at work; or talking to a friend or partner and realize you have no idea what was just said? We’ve all been there. In a world of constant distraction, it’s amazing that we ever hear each other say anything at all. Our attention is often bifurcated or trifurcated between what is in front of us and what’s next or some other thought. If we’re not distracted by our thoughts, there is always our cell phones, tablets, or a multitude of other things that divert our attention. We are often NOT really, truly, deeply listening to those we are with. As a result, relationships often feel devoid of depth and connection.

When I ask my clients what is a characteristic of a leader that they really respected and loved working for, the number one answer I get is. “They really listened to me.” It’s so simple, yet listening isn’t always a common practice for leaders. The good news is that we can train our mind to be present and to be better listeners. And there is no greater gift we can offer to our partner, children, friends, or co-workers, than to really listen to them.
Mindfulness—the act of being fully present in each moment with kindness and without judgment—is a skill to practice when you are in any situation that requires listening. In any conversation, you can use the person that’s speaking as your “object of mindfulness.” Pay full attention to what he or she is saying. When your mind wanders away from what is being said, notice that and without judgment bring yourself back to the words of the person speaking.
Here are some tips if you want to practice mindful listening. They probably seem kind of obvious, but you’d be amazed how seldom we follow them:
  • Put aside your physical distractions (e.g. cell phone, computer, tv remote, etc.)
  • Ask open-ended questions to encourage dialogue. Be curious.
  • Let the other person share their full thoughts rather than finishing his or her sentences.
  • Try not to think of what you’re going to say next.
  • 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.
  • Notice when your mind wanders and direct your attention back to the speaker.
  • Listen to your intuition by noticing your feelings, thoughts, and body sensations as they arise.
  • Pay attention to the clues beyond the words (e.g. speaker’s tone and body language)
  • Listen with a willingness to understand the other person’s point of view.
  • Set an intention to listen mindfully.

With practice these tips can become habit and becoming a better listening is one of the most important qualities one can develop as a leader. Watch how people respond to you once start implementing these practices. I’ll bet you’ll be pleased to see they people respond to you.

We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.
― E.E. Cummings


Daniel Stover, M.A.

[email protected]

Founder & CEO of Ensight Partners