Mindful Listening To Improve Relationships

Although it may sometimes seem like an easy feat, having a conversation can be an immense amount of work for your brain! The many distractions in the world make it even more difficult. This article explores what mindful listening is, how the skill strengthens relationships as well as tips and guided meditations to practice it.
Chief Editor Insight Timer Blog
mindful listening
Chief Editor Insight Timer Blog

Do you ever find yourself in a conversation not knowing what to say next, because you can’t remember what’s been said before? You’re nodding as someone’s lips move, but your mind has already wandered off. There’s a way to prevent this—through the practice of mindful listening. Here we’ll explore the science behind mindful listening, what it entails, and how you can practice it, so that it may furnish and enhance your relationships.

What Is Mindful Listening?

There are so many distractions in the world—from your smartphone vibrating every other minute, to thoughts about that upcoming meeting at work. The mind may find it difficult to let go of these distractions when they arise. This becomes increasingly problematic when we are having one-on-one conversations with others; if the mind wanders off-topic, and you no longer focus on what the other is saying, then you may seem disinterested.

Of course, this might not be the case! But the other person can intuitively tell if you’re not devoting yourself to the conversation—conversational cues such as body language and the way you respond are telltale signs that your mind is elsewhere.

To understand what mindful listening is, we must first understand what it means to be mindful. Mindfulness, by definition, refers to being as present as possible and devoting your attentional resources to the present moment. That means to not become distracted by internal chatter of the mind and remain grounded in the present moment.

Following on from this, mindful listening is

the process of focussing your attention on what is being said, and listening with an attitude of openness and curiosity.

The Art Of Having A Conversation

Although it may sometimes seem like an easy feat, having a conversation can be an immense amount of work for your brain!

  1. Firstly, we need to direct our attention towards the content of what the other is saying. This process is called orienting our attention, which allows us to focus on the sounds made. These can then be processed into words and sentences, in order to allow us to understand what’s being said.
  2. Secondly, we need to exert our executive control. This is a complex cognitive process that allows us to hold conversational information in our head, whilst simultaneously figuring out the best way to respond; not just through what we’re going to say, but also by nodding and keeping your body language open to let the other know we’re listening.
  3. Finally, we have to maintain this level of focused attention, so we don’t miss out on anything important being said.

A distracting thought, however, can disrupt this whole process.

Sometimes, during a conversation a thought may appear from nowhere—“I still need to finish making that presentation for work”. You can so easily become attached to a thought like this as it evokes such a primal emotional response—you’re immediately concerned about the future. Suddenly, your mind is racing and your attentional resources have been hijacked. You’ve completely lost track of what’s being said in the conversation and are just nodding away mindlessly.

Mindful listening is thus the maintenance of this attention to the conversation. This allows you to listen to everything that the other is saying in a non-judgemental, open and curious manner.

Read more: The benefits of practicing mindfulness already unfold with the first mindful breath and keep on growing with your practice. Discover the gifts of breathing mindfully.

How Does Mindful Listening Help Our Relationships?

As we’ve established, when you’re not fully focussed on the conversation, you’re giving off readable signals that your mind is elsewhere. A lack of expressiveness and eye contact coupled with closed body language are some telling signs that you’re lost in your own thoughts. Again, this can make the other person feel underappreciated if you’re not attending to what they’re saying.

Mindful listening should be at the heart of any relationship, be it with a friend, a partner, a parent or a child; it can help us profoundly deepen the relationships that we have in a quite few ways.

1. Really Listening Is A Powerful Tool

If you haven’t employed mindful listening, then key parts of the conversation could slip through the attentional cracks. Someone might mention a personal issue that they want help to solve, but if your mind is elsewhere you won’t be able to respond to it, as you haven’t processed it in the first place!

Alternatively, by using mindful listening, the conversation can go deeper. This helps you to develop a better connection with the other, and will often leave both of you feeling more satisfied with the conversations you have.

2. People Appreciate The Fact That You Are Listening

When someone knows that they are truly being listened to—when you let the conversation breathe or respond appropriately—then that can go a long way in developing a strong foundation for the relationship. People really do appreciate being listened to and often will want to have these kinds of conversations again. This can lead to more positive interactions and a strengthening of the bond that the two of you have.

3. Your Relationship Will Be More Satisfying

Faye Doell showed that there are two types of listeners—people that listen to respond and people that listen to understand.

When you listen to respond, you’re always trying to think about what you’re going to say next. This can lead to interruptions and sometimes conversation domination. But people that listen to understand employ their mindful listening skills so that they could accept what the other is saying and try to empathize with their perspective.

Foell found that people that “listened to understand” were more satisfied with their interpersonal relationships. Mindful listening can not only make the other feel good, but can also help you feel more satisfied with the connections you develop with others!

Now we know why mindful listening is so important in fostering deeper connections with the people in your life. But can we develop this ability?

Read more: Fleur Chambers also lists mindful listening as an important trait for parents. Discover her concept of the four C’s to cultivate family resilience.

How To Practice Mindful Listening

The answer is unequivocally yes. Like any mindfulness-based practice, you can cultivate this trait through patience and joyous effort.

Much like any meditation, mindful listening is about coming back to the object at hand. But rather than returning to the breath, we return to the conversation. So, here are three steps to help you develop your mindful listening skills.

  1. Focus Your Attention: Being mindful starts with attentiveness. When mindfully listening, be sure to focus on what the other person says and non-verbal cues such as their body language.
  2. Remain Aware: Another central aspect in mindfulness-based practices is a strong foundation of awareness. So, when the mind (inevitably) wanders off, just take note. You can then gently re-direct your attention towards the other person.
  3. Paraphrase: Paraphrasing what the other person has said, as a response, helps to do two things. Firstly, it gives you more time to process what the other has said, leading you to develop a listening to understand approach. Secondly, it lets the other person know that you’re attention is with them—that you are really listening.

At first, this may feel a bit forced, or unnatural, which is normal! So don’t worry. Like everything, practice makes perfect. Over time, you can employ these steps to be able to mindfully listen in a more empathetic and understanding manner, to furnish the relationships you have and cultivate deeper and more meaningful connections.

We’ve selected a few guided meditations for cultivating a listening awareness to improve relationships:

  1. A Listening, Receptive Awareness Tara Brach 23:50
  2. Mindful Listening Meditation Manoj Dias 5:16
  3. Listening With Awareness Silas Day 13:42
  4. Listening As A Humility Practice Amy Pattee Colvin 6:53
  5. Cultivating Conscious Communication davidji 20:08
  6. Responding versus Reacting Alicia Davis 7:22

Build up your present moment awareness with guided mindfulness meditation. Browse thousands of free practices in our library.

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