Have you ever been told you’re not a good listener or left a conversation wondering what the other person even said?
If so, you’re not alone. Most people have trouble being fully present in a conversation and often don’t know how to be a better listener.
If you want to know how to listen more intentionally, there’s no better time to learn than now. Mindful listening is a skill that anyone can learn and you’ll find tips for practicing mindful listening in this post.
What Is Mindful Listening?
Mindful listening is being present in a conversation and listening to the other person intentionally, without distractions or interruptions. It's also about listening without judgment or criticism and seeking to understand the other person.
Instead of just hearing what someone is saying you're actively taking in and understanding information.
It's a communication skill that doesn't usually come naturally to people, especially in today's fast-paced world where most people have trouble slowing down and being present. But since it's the cornerstone of effective communication and how connections are formed, it's worth practicing and getting good at.
Why You Should Be a More Mindful Listener
There are so many reasons to practice mindful listening, from improving your relationships, strengthening your memory, and even being better at your job.
When you're able to listen mindfully you connect with other people and prevent potential miscommunication that can further lead to conflict, whether that's in your personal relationships or at work.
Think about the last argument you had with your partner, the power struggle with your child, or miscommunication with your boss. Could mindful listening have changed those situations or prevented them? Chances are the answer is yes.
Being a good listener also encourages others to intentionally listen to you, too. When you listen attentively to others, they'll likely want to return the favor and be a listening ear for you when you need one.
Mindful listening also increases your attention span over time, which is something most people can benefit from in their busy lives and especially for those who find it hard to concentrate on anything, even outside of conversations.
Effective listening is a skill that is needed in nearly every aspect of life and is worth practicing, even though it doesn't feel easy at first. Eventually you'll be a great listener without even trying.
How to Practice Mindful Listening
There are lots of ways you can strengthen your listening skills, both directly in a conversation and throughout your daily life with mindful activities. Try some of the following tips to be a better listener.
1. Set the Intention
Like most things you commit to, you must first set the intention. This reminds you to pay attention from the start and helps to solidify this new skill.
At the start of a conversation, simply tell yourself “I am listening” or your own version of that.
2. Remove Physical Distractions
You can’t always be distraction-free but simply putting away your cell phone, turning off your TV, and lowering the volume of your radio can help you be more present in the conversation.
Your brain can only focus on one thing at a time and doesn't know what's important unless you tell it what is by removing what isn't.
3. Take a Deep Breath
If you’re experiencing anxiety or having trouble being present, try taking in a deep breath, hold it for a couple of seconds, and then slowly release it.
Deep breathing helps calm nerves and pulls your focus back to the present moment, both of which are important for mindful listening.
4. Ask Questions
Asking questions is another helpful way to practice being a mindful listener because you will bring your full attention to the conversation while also showing the other person you care about what they're saying.
Ask them to expound on what they said or ask an open-ended question to show them you want to know more.
5. Engage Your Senses
Next time you're in a conversation, try to take note of your surroundings to anchor yourself in the present moment and gives your brain a reason to pay closer attention.
What do you smell? What do you see? What do you feel?
Engaging your other senses as you actively listen helps you remember the conversation by making other connections within your brain.
6. Repeat Back What Was Said
This shows the speaker that you were present in the conversation while also helping your brain make better sense of what was said, which will increase your memory of the conversation.
You can rephrase what the other person said, which will also help you understand it even more and give them confidence that you do understand what they're talking about.
7. Make Some Noise
Nobody wants to talk to a completely still,, quite person. It's awkward when the listener does nothing but stare and it's hard to know if they're paying attention unless they're nodding along or making some noise.
Saying something like “mmm-hmm” while nodding your head and not staying completely quiet while the other person is talking shows you are paying attention and helps your brain focus on the present conversation.
8. Get Comfortable
This is essentially another way to minimize distractions since being uncomfortable can be one of the biggest distractions of all.
For example, making sure your sweater isn’t making you too hot, your posture is good, and you’re in a nice chair can all be things that will make you feel comfortable so you can focus on the speaker and not the fact that you wish you could just sit down.
9. Keep An Open Mind
Come to the conversation with a mind that’s ready to learn. Remind yourself that you are open to learning something new and that you are curious.
Coming to a conversation with a closed mind and believing there’s nothing there for you to learn or take away is a sure way to not listen attentively.
If you believe you already know what's being said or that it's not applicable to you, your brain will instantly tune it out. Being your complete focus to the conversation by asking yourself what you're hoping to learn before the speaker even begins talking.
10. Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Imagining yourself in their story and creating pictures in your mind of what the speaker is talking about makes your mind engage more and helps you to understand what the speaker is saying.
Then later you can rehearse the story and ask yourself how you think you would’ve handled the situation or done things differently.
11. Pay Attention to Non-Verbal Cues
As you listen to what the other person is saying, take note of their non-verbal cues and body language.
How does their tone of voice change throughout the conversation? Do they talk with their hands? Paying attention to things like this helps you remain focused on the speaker without totally trailing off in your thoughts.
12. Don’t Interrupt
This seems obvious but most people don’t realize how much they really do interrupt the other person when in a conversation.
The key to mindful listening is being completely attentive to the other person and allowing them to speak. When you refuse to interrupt, you’re showing your care about what they have to say and want to hear more instead of just getting your own word in.
13. Practice Mindfulness In Other Ways
You can only build a skill by practicing it on a consistent basis, and one way to have stronger listening skills is to be mindful in other ways throughout your day.
There are endless ways to do this but some easy ideas are mindful walking, meditation, and journaling. These simple mindful activities will help you become a more present person over time and increase your concentration, which are key traits to mindful listening.
14. Summarize Everything, All The Time
Summarizing what was said is a way to internalize the information you heard or read. It's also a skill that most people aren't born knowing how to do well.
So to make sure you master the mindful listening skill of summarizing, simply start summarizing everything. That email you read this morning? Summarize it. That thing your partner was trying to explain to you? Yep, you guessed it...summarize it.
15. Improve Your Focus Over Time
Becoming a mindful listener isn't something that just happens over night.
Listening skills are like a muscle and need to be exercised regularly and in different ways.
You can strengthen your focus and concentration over time, which will help you be a better listener as time goes on. This post gives you some ideas for improving focus in really simple ways that still make a big difference.
Now that you have some tips for practicing mindful listening, which one will you use first? You don't need to implement all of them right away, but over time they can all help you build effective listening skills.