Mindful listening is a key skill for coaches and other 'listening' professionals, but it's also a core workplace skill for all of us. Mindful listening helps nurture better interactions and work relationships, and speeds up the process of understanding other points of view, which leads to more effective solutions and productivity.
When we hold a conversation, whose voice do we really listen to? Those of the person we're talking to, the words we speak, or the narrative in our own head?
How fast do we jump to conclusions, make judgements or form opinions, find answers to someone else's problems, or just get bored and drift off?
"You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time." - Scott Peck
The core skill in getting this right, is selfless attention.
The 'selfless' part of this approach is critical, and may require a real change of stance on our part. Most of us react and respond quickly and automatically to things we hear, either interrupting verbally, or in our heads. As humans we're programmed to be very sensitive to what we think is bad news or a threat, and we therefore react quickly to anything that seems like a challenge to 'me' or my views. Our own emotions and reactions hold us back from focusing fully on what the other person is saying.
The 'attention' part is about being fully attentive and receptive about what is being said and how it's being said. This means tuning into with all our receptive skills; feeling how reactions are forming in the body and using our intuition, as much as logical cognition. These other ways of tuning in are to pick up cues from body language, and nuances of reading the other person's emotions, or what's not being said; or as Peter Drucker puts it:
"The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said."
Mindfulness training gives us some of the core skills we need here. In particular, learning to focus and concentrate, and listening with non-judging awareness. We also tune in to the body's wisdom, recognising the signs that are personal to each of us, such as tightening of the throat.
When we hold a mindful conversation, we give the other person as much space, time and attention as they need to communicate fully with us. Nothing we do should stop their flow of thought or speech; in fact, we should aim to develop active listening skills with the kind of feedback that encourages the other person to express themselves unreservedly, and think on their feet.
In fact the most potent tool we can employ in mindful listening is to do nothing, be patient, and wait silently. Silence seems to be awkward for many of us; yet what may feel like a gap to us, may be exactly the most creative and important moment for the other person. If they're forming an insight, time stands still. When they are ready to articulate what's been forming, they will. Our job is to give them the space for this to happen. This is not a passive role for us; by creating this space, the other person is given permission to make a creative leap in their own understanding.
This is an abridged version of an article contained within the Mindfulness Inside Out online mindfulness course.