We hear hundreds of things during our day. Radios, televisions, iPods, our bosses; it can all start to blend together into a din unless we focus ourselves on truly listening. One of the greatest gifts you can give people is your attention. When a person feels that you are focused on what they’re saying, they’ll feel more appreciated. This is a great affect whether you’re mindfully listening to your significant other or your employees.
How do we listen mindfully? The idea is very simple—give your full moment-to-moment attention to another person with a nonjudgmental mind, and every time your attention wanders away, just gently bring it back.
There are two forms of practice for mindful listening: formal and informal (no, that doesn’t involve listening in a ball gown versus listening in pajamas).
When we do formal practice in class, the most common feedback is people really appreciate being listened to. We often do the formal exercise at the beginning of our Search Inside Yourself course in which most participants start out not knowing each other. We frequently hear people telling us right after this exercise, “I got to know this person for six minutes, and we are already friends. Yet there are people who have been sitting in the next cubicle for months, and I don’t even know them.”
This is the power of attention. Just giving each other the gift of total attention for six minutes is enough to create a friendship.
To practice mindful listening, decide you are going to be a better listener this week. Don’t tell anyone, just decide that you are going to work on that. To practice, deliberate choose a meeting where you are going to do this.
At the meeting, spend your time focusing on the other person or people at the meeting. Let their ideas and words be the focus of your attention. Your mind may drift to the agenda, to what you are doing next, just choose to refocus on what is happening in the room.
An easy way to do this, is to focus on your body. Feel your body for 20 to 30 seconds right before the meeting starts. Then you can return to feeling your body if you start following thoughts that lead you away from the person talking. If you want to ensure you are an expert listener, spend a minute focusing on your breathe before the meeting . Just breathe and relax. This isn’t avoidance, it is training yourself to be fully engaged with the people who matter most-the ones right in front of you.
To practice mindful listening informally, just attempt these practices when you’re conversing in your daily life. When a friend or loved one is speaking to you, give this person the gift of your full attention and the gift of airtime. Remind yourself that because this person is so valuable to you, he or she is entitled to all your attention and all the space and time needed to express himself or herself.
If you find your attention wandering away, just very gently bring it back to the speaker, as if he or she is the focus of your attention.
Once you get the hang of mindful listening you’ll be amazed how much your business and personal relationships improve. Everyone likes to feel heard and we seek out those who we feel give us that opportunity.
Our attention is the most valuable gift we can give to others. When we give our full attention to somebody, for that moment, the only thing in the world that we care about is that person, nothing else matters because nothing else is strong within our field of consciousness.
What can possibly be a more valuable gift than that?
Devote one conversation to deeply listening, notice how it changes your meeting. (Don’t tell anyone about your experiment until afterward).