Archive for May, 2013

Effective Listening: How to Listen Mindfully

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Effective Listening Part Two: Mindful Listening

Communication is a two way process. No matter how good you are at getting your point across, if you can’t listen effectively to the speaker’s reply you are missing out a big part of the process.

This series of posts is about the listening part of communication, and in today’s fast-paced, distracted world, listening is a skill that is quickly being lost. It’s vitally important then to keep our listening skills in tip top condition.

In the previous post I showed that in order to really listen you need to pay attention.  This means putting phones and other devices away and stopping multi-tasking, all of which are detrimental to good listening.

So far so good, you’ve shut off your devices, turned off the TV and paused multi-tasking.  This post is about how to listen mindfully.

Mindfulness is defined as conscious awareness of our sense of being, noticing, but not getting caught up in, our thoughts and paying attention to our bodies and to the world around us.

In fact, listening can be a great stepping-stone to mindfulness, because in that moment when we become aware that we need to listen, we are effectively becoming mindful.

Take a breath…

Breathing is a big part of this awareness.

When we have found that space and awareness then we can choose how we wish to respond and remind ourselves of the keys to good listening.

… and Listen!

This means placing your focus on the speaker.

  • Look at their body language. Where are their hands placed? Are they moving? What about their feet? Are they still? Is their body oriented towards you or away from you? Do they maintain eye contact or are they looking around or focusing on something? What are their facial expressions?
  • Now listen. It may help if you watch the speaker’s mouth. Notice how they form the words. How does their voice rise and fall? Do they speak in a flow or are their words coming in fits and starts? Is their voice loud or soft?
  • But be sure to hear their words. When we are first attending to mindful listening, it’s easy to get caught up in paying attention only to the sounds that they are making. It’s important to comprehend the whole words and sentences. If you find yourself concentrating only on the sounds and not on the meanings, draw your focus back to what the speaker is saying.
  • If you find your mind wandering away or if thoughts pop up, just let them go and move your concentration back to the speaker’s words.
  • Take the focus off yourself. It’s easy to become suddenly self-conscious, especially when we start practicing mindfulness and mindful listening. Self-consciousness and mindfulness are not the same thing. Self-consciousness is a level of anxiety that is more related to how we appear from the outside, such as wondering what the speaker is thinking about us or whether they have noticed the steps we have taken so far. This self-consciousness is actually a thought process and is the opposite of mindfulness. Let the thought go and bring yourself back to listening to the speaker, rather than trying to read their mind!
  • It goes without saying, but I will say it anyway: don’t interrupt! A nod of the head to show you are listening is useful. A verbal agreement is appropriate if the speaker pauses for one. Otherwise keep your ears and your mind on listening and use your mouth only for facial expressions on breathing.
  • That means keeping your mental mouth shut too! Now is not the time to be composing your reply or thinking up a relevant anecdote that you want to share later. If one pops up, let that thought go. It will probably come back later in the conversation if it is relevant and useful so no worry about remembering or following that “thought train” now.
  • Relax! This is important because if we are agitated or tense the speaker may feel less like sharing or become distracted. Also, if we are agitated the chemical response in our own bodies will make it harder to listen (more about this later!)
  • Trust. Trust that the information will come to you, that you can be open and mindful, not just to the speaker and the information they wish to share, but also to the environment around you and your own being.

Mindful listening takes time and practice. Be kind to yourself.

Practice mindfulness daily. Try to spend some time every day concentrating on just being in the moment.  Let your thoughts pop up as they may, but don’t follow them. Let them go and carry on being mindful.  Even a minute or two spent mindfully each day can have many positive rewards across many aspects of life – not just in listening!

Recap:

  • Use your breath to find a mindful awareness
  • Look at the speaker’s body language
  • Focus on words and sentences
  • Don’t talk
  • Let your thoughts go as they arise
  • Practice mindfulness daily

Next time: Different levels and types of listening

 

Read on...

Effective Listening: How well do you listen?

Monday, May 6th, 2013

Effective Listening Part One

Communication is a two way process. Signal sent (speaking) and signal received (being heard). But, no matter how good you are at getting your point across, if you can’t listen effectively to the speaker’s reply you are missing out a big part of the process.

This post is about the listening part of communication and in today’s fast-paced, distracted world, listening is a skill that is quickly being lost, so it’s vitally important to keep our listening skills in tip-top condition.

Paying Attention?

How often do you do the following?

–       listen to your partner talk about their day while watching TV

–       use a laptop in a lecture or meeting

–       check your phone during lunch with a friend

–       think about what you’re going to say next while a friend is talking about a problem

We can probably all answer yes to doing some or all of these. Just as when your attention had drifted in school, you had to admit that you “hadn’t actually heard the question”.  Now, just as then, this lack of focus is having a big effect on our communication. In fact it’s probably worse than when you were at school. Where it was once inappropriate to use a phone in a restaurant or send texts during a meeting, it is now considered the norm. Why was it considered inappropriate once? Because doing anything other than listening to the speaker meant you weren’t paying attention. Nowadays when we are all multi-tasking all the time, it’s no longer considered inappropriate. But that doesn’t mean we are actually paying attention, does it?

The solution seems simple enough if a little old school – put down the gadget, switching off the TV and pay attention. Of course that’s easier said than done. Our fiddling hands and information addictions have built up over time and have grown into habits that are hard to shift. The next distraction after putting the gadgets down is that we are thinking about how much we miss them and need to check them. So we still aren’t present in the moment and giving our attention to the speaker.

Beat the fidgeting hands and restless mind addiction!

Giving up any bad habit that we still need to do in moderation is often so much harder than giving up one that we can just stop. And that’s pretty hard! We can’t necessarily stop using a cellphone or tablet. We still need to work on laptops. Just not all the time.  The best way to beat fiddling hands and information addiction is to start putting the gadgets out of reach (and out of view!)  just to let your hands rest for a few minutes every day. What better time than during a meeting when you can’t go scrabbling through your briefcase or run back to your office to get your device? How about leaving your phone behind on date night? Or not taking your tablet on a plane? Or maybe go cold turkey and leave behind your phone when you go on vacation? The point is that we force ourselves to have some conscious time when we are doing nothing with our hands so we can start to reset the physical need to fiddle. Likewise you will begin to train your mind away from information addiction and the need to know what your Facebook friends ate for breakfast.

Putting down the gadgets for even a few minutes a day will start the process.

Multi-tasking and the restless mind

Another problem is that our minds are used to multi-tasking. Sure you can listen to a friend and type an email to your boss at the same time, but are you really doing a good job of communicating with either person? Maybe not.  It’s possible you’re not giving either task the attention it deserves.

Much has been written about multi-tasking, that equally lauded and loathed skill of the last decade of the 20th century. Does doing several things at once have a positive effect on our work or not? Is it efficient? Effective? Is it not really multi-tasking anyway (serial tasking switching instead)? Is good for us? Bad for us?

One thing is for sure – multi-tasking is habit-forming. For those of us who want to wean ourselves back to attending to just one thing at once, it can be a tough habit to break.

On the plus side, achieving better communication can be a great motivator for breaking the multi-tasking habit. What better reward than that feeling after you’ve had a really good conversation?

Listening to others can be a great stepping-stone to mindfulness.

Take a breath, put down the gadgets, and listen.

If you find your mind wandering away or if thoughts pop up, just let them go and move your concentration back to the speaker’s words. It may even help if you watch the speaker’s mouth. Notice how they form the words.

Practice mindfulness. Spend some time every day concentrating on being in the moment.  Let your thoughts pop up as they may, but don’t follow them. Let them go. Even just a minute or two spent mindfully each day can have positive rewards.

Recap:

  • To really listen to people you need to pay attention.  All your attention.
  • Put the toys away!
  • Stop multi-tasking!
  • Paying attention is only the first step. The next step is practicing it. Daily.

You’ll find that you quickly notice a massive improvement in communication.

The better we can listen, the better we can respond.

Next time – HOW to listen

 

Read on...
%d bloggers like this: