The Art and Practice of Mindful Listening

07/12/2013 Mind-Body Health Career and Success Personal Growth Relationships

Listening seems like a natural skill, yet it requires attention and practice to stay present and truly hear what another person is communicating.  The mind tends to wander, and our internal narratives and busy thoughts fragment our attention and sap our ability to stay focused in the moment. Our emotions can also interfere with our ability to listen. For instance, the other day my son was telling me about his plans to backpack through India for three months. He spoke about his intention to immerse himself in a new culture before embarking upon the next steps in his professional life. But somehow my mind heard him say something totally different – that he wants to put off getting a job for as long as possible. But as my motherly instinct kicked into play, our conversation veered into a tense exchange about responsibility. My emotions were heightened and I started to lose my positive energy. I realized that the conscious act of listening involves being aware of my inner emotional landscape. In this case, the tightening I felt in my chest, decreasing eye contact and physical gestures (a hug would have been nice). Why all the friction? I think it was because my son is leaving home (again!), my thoughts were racing with how to handle the transition. The result was that I did not truly hear him.

Listening Requires Focus

Too often, when someone is talking, we are just waiting for them to finish their thought so we can add in our opinion. As a result, we may miss the core message. By bringing awareness to the way we listen, we are able to stay open to the speaker’s perspective and recognize judgments as they arise. The intent of listening mindfully is to pay attention to the speaker without interruption, without getting defensive, and without a need to always be right or make a point. To get the whole picture, we need to engage all of our senses and concentrate on the personal gestures and the messages that are being communicated.

Summer marks a welcomed change of pace. It offers opportunities to listen mindfully and redefine how we engage with the people around us. There is much to be learned from our children and teens as they leave the school routines behind. We can embrace their new-found freedom, choose to place value on their perspectives, listen to their wisdom and enjoy their company. In turn we navigate past old roadblocks, establish new listening habits and create memorable connections to cherish.

Playlist for Summer Listening

  • Put aside your physical distractions (e.g. cell phone, computer, tv remote, etc.)
  • Be honest with yourself. If you aren’t able to focus at one moment, pick another time to have the conversation.
  • Ask open-ended questions to encourage dialogue.
  • Let the other person share their full thoughts rather than finishing his or her sentences.
  • Paraphrase back what you heard to clarify if it is what the speaker meant.
  • Take a mindful breath before responding. Pausing works to your advantage.
  • Be patient and don’t jump to conclusions.
  • Notice when your mind wanders and direct your attention back to the speaker.
  • Listen to your intuition by noticing your feelings, thoughts, and body sensations as they arise.
  • Pay attention to the clues beyond the words (e.g. speaker’s tone and body language)
  • Listen with a willingness to understand the other person’s point of view
  • Set an intention to listen mindfully.



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About the Author
Theo Koffler
Theo Koffler is the founder and executive director of Mindfulness Without Borders, a non-profit organization that focuses on advancing Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) and mindfulness in educational, healthcare, and corporate settings. Mindfulness Without Borders believes that brought to scale, its programs can nurture a broad range of human competencies—intellectual and emotional—which prepare individuals to thrive and collaborate. Advocating for SEL and education reform, Ms. Koffler has served on several boards and advisory committees including the Hawn Foundation, Inner Kids, and the Garrison Institute, where she co-authored the first-ever mapping report on Contemplation and Education in K-12...Read more