In order to become expert at communicating, you must ask yourself a very important question: Do you listen to understand or do you listen to respond? These are two completely different purposes that one must become consciously aware of about oneself.
Listening to understand focuses on the message the person with whom you are speaking is trying to make – without judgment. You consciously attempt to comprehend everything they are saying, asking follow up questions where points are unclear to you, all in an effort to truly understand them. Simply, you are present for what they are trying to communicate.
When you listen to respond – you hear bits and pieces of what someone is telling you while simultaneously forming your response – what you want to tell them or how you want to correct them. Listening to respond takes away your attention from the speaker – because you are so busy formulating a response for when they stop talking. This hinders your ability to understand what someone needs to communicate.
Mindful listening is not as easy as most people think – like most skills, it takes practice. Dr. Elizabeth Dorrance Hall is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Utah State University and director of the Family Communication and Relationships Lab, as well as author of Conscious Communication. She explains that “Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention and being open to the present moment…mindful listening then is about being fully present when interacting with others rather than thinking about your to-do list while your colleague is sharing about her weekend.”
We are all sometimes guilty of our thoughts wandering while others are speaking to us; however, it is up to us to make sure we rein in our thoughts so this doesn’t happen often. The ways to best make sure you are listening – and communicating to the other person that you are listening – is through non-verbal and verbal skills.
Mindful Listening Strategies:
- Maintaining eye contact
- Matching body language
- Matching tone
- Encouraging to express thoughts.
- Follow up questions
If you practice these skills every time you have a conversation, you might begin to notice an improvement in your communication skills – since listening and talking are equal parts of communication. Ideally, friends, children, colleagues, and family will notice that you are more present with them and they will appreciate it.
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