Our world is filled with communication and distraction. We have become a culture of 6-second videos and 1-minute sound bytes. We are being trained to react to the newest, loudest, catchiest thing. As a result one of our most valuable relational skills is suffering. Listening is a skill that takes time to master. And once mastered, needs to be done repeatedly in the present mind.
Listening itself is a practice of mindfulness; Being present in the moment. Engaging with the conversation and focusing your mind on only that. Mindful conversations are more fulfilling, productive, and less often misinterpreted. Mindful listening is a practice that takes effort. Start improving your listening skills by using the following practices:
Put Down the Distraction
Turn off your ringer, take out your earbuds, set your phone "face-down", close your laptop, and turn off the TV. If it flashes, bings, makes noise, or has a screen it should be out of your line of sight. In order to maintain an engaged conversation, distractions need to be diminished or eliminated if possible.
Let the Thought Pass
Mindful listening is the act of engaging mentally in your current conversation. Do not focus on your next task, the embarrassing thing you said to your boss, or any other thoughts you may be having. Thoughts are like wild creatures, at first random and erratic but with time and training they become calm and manageable. The key is to not focus on the distracting thought as it enters your mind. Acknowledge it, let it pass, and re-engage in the act of listening. The more focus you give a thought, the louder it becomes. With time you will be better able to control your thought direction.
Make Eye Contact
While most of us think of our communication as being conversation, research has shown that up to 93% of communication is non-verbal. This means your posture, facial expressions, and what you emote can be saying more than any words. In order to get the full message you must be looking for it. Making sure not only your ears, but your eyes are engaged will help you receive a clearer message.
Listen to the Message
Our words are only a vehicle to relay an idea, thought, feeling, or emotion. Behind the words can lie a message larger than anyone can say. By engaging in the conversation mindfully with your thoughts, eyes, and ears you are more likely to hear not only the words but the message. You can confirm the message is clear by repeating back what you heard. This will re-affirm not only your understanding but the delivery of the intended message.
Be an Active Listener
Listening is not just the act of hearing. It is the act of understanding. Active listening means giving feedback and asking for clarification. If you agree with what they are saying you can affirm them with a simple smile, head nod, or by saying"Yes", "Agreed", or "Exactly!". Likewise, if you are not on the same page you should ask for clarification. Wait for a natural pause in the conversation and let them know you need more communication. By engaging you will gain better understanding and communication.