How often do you feel really listened to? How often do you really listen to others? Be honest.
We know we are in the presence of a good listener when we get that sweet, affirming feeling of really being heard. But sadly, it occurs all too rarely. We cannot force others to listen, but we can improve our own listening, and perhaps inspire others by doing so.
What is “good listening”?
Good listening means mindful listening. Like mindfulness itself, listening takes a combination of intention and attention. The intention part is having a genuine interest in the other person – their experiences, views, feelings, and needs. The attention part is being able to stay present, open, and unbiased as we receive the other’s words, even when they do not line up with our own ideas or desires.
Paradoxically, being good at listening to others requires the ability to listen to ourselves. If we cannot recognize our own beliefs and opinions, needs and fears, we will not have enough inner space to really hear anyone else. The foundation for mindful listening is self-awareness.
Here are some tips to be a good listener to yourself, so you can be a good listener for others.
- Check inside: “How am I feeling just now? Is there anything getting in the way of being present for the other person? Am I rehearsing what I want to say, rather than really listening?” If something is in the way, decide if it needs to be addressed first or can wait till later.
- Feel your own sense of presence, extend it to the other person with the intention to listen fully and openly, with interest, empathy, and mindfulness.
- Silently note your own reactions as they arise – thoughts, feelings, judgments, memories. Then return your full attention to the speaker.
- Reflect back what you are hearing, using the speaker’s own words when possible, paraphrasing or summarizing the main point. Help the other person feel heard.
- Use friendly, open-ended questions to clarify your understanding and probe for more. Affirm before you differ. Acknowledge the other person’s point of view (acknowledging is not necessarily agreeing) before introducing your own ideas, feelings, or requests.