There’s a big difference between hearing and listening.
On the surface, it might seem that for both, we’re taking in what someone is saying to us, but the key difference is paying attention. Effective listening is vital for effective communication. Good listeners make great first impressions, with people more likely to characterise them as attentive, friendly, understanding and responsive, according to a study in the International Journal of Listening.
It also makes good business sense to hone your listening skills. Ralph G. Nichols and Leonard A. Stevens explain how the benefits of improved listening skills can include reduced paperwork and better communication. In fact, in Japan, a study found that employees whose managers used active listening in conversations with them reported lower levels of job stress.
But, with busy lives and so many preoccupations, how can we start listening more intentionally? The secret lies in mindful listening techniques.
What is mindful listening?
In mindful meditation, we minimise distractions and increase our focus on the present moment. Mindful listening is much the same, whereby we focus on being present in the conversation to build deeper connections with the person we’re talking to.
It’s similar to active listening, which looks at reducing distractions and truly listening in order to take in information better and ensure we can make valuable contributions to the discussion.
Mindful listening techniques
In our day-to-day lives, we spend 70% of our time communicating, of which the majority (45%) is spent listening, which shows just how necessary this skill is. Here are three ways you can mindfully listen to your colleagues in your next meeting.
1. Build focus and awareness
One of the key ideas of mindfulness is about being present in the moment. Simple visual signals like making eye contact and nodding not only let someone know that you’re actively listening to them, but it can help to focus your attention on what they’re saying. Be mindful of their expressions and gestures for a deeper understanding of your interaction. For example, if someone’s body language doesn’t match up with what they’re saying, it could be a clue that there’s more to it.
This can be more difficult as we communicate through different digital channels. If you’re in a virtual meeting, it can be tempting to have the meeting open on one screen and answer emails on another at the same time. However, multitasking can get in the way of our interactions, so resist the temptation to do anything else on your screen while someone is talking, so that you can give your undivided attention
2. Choose your language carefully
We can show that we have been listening through the responses that we use in conversations. Techniques like paraphrasing or mirroring let someone know we have taken in and understood what they have said. It makes sure that your response is directly tailored to what they previously said, rather than completely changing the topic to what you want to say.
There’s also a lot that is said in silence, too. Pausing momentarily before replying not only shows you are taking the time to engage with their point, but it also gives you a few seconds to process the discussion and execute your response.
We all know that people love to talk about themselves, which is why asking questions can be a great way to get a conversation off the ground. Be mindful of the kinds of questions you are asking.
How do we know which is the right question to ask? It’s natural to be thinking about the next thing you want to say whilst someone is talking, but this can mean you miss vital cues or pieces of information, as you’re preoccupied with your own thoughts. If you find yourself doing this, take a moment to slow down, take a breath and refocus on listening.
Ready to improve your listening skills?
Learn how to optimise your interactions with work colleagues through your enhanced mindful listening skills with our course Mindful listening at work. You’ll also see positive results in your life outside of work too!