Mindful Listening

Written By:
Polly Taggart, Mary Kay Consultant
(MAFE member since 2010)

Life has a way of cluttering our mind.  It can be difficult to wade through that clutter to be mindful of those around us. Mindful listening is a way to bring better understanding of our world.  The art of listening is a communication skill we have not been taught.  Mindful listening is focusing on the individual speaking and hearing what they say without judging the person or the information, listening without interrupting or criticism. “Do not listen with the intent to reply, but with the intent to understand.” (anonymous) Often when I am asked to write or speak on a topic, I usually choose one that I need to work on myself.  When it comes to practicing good listening skills, I need lots of work. Here are some thoughts I have garnered over the years.

Listening is a communication skill that can always be improved on with practice.  This skill is needed in talking one-on-one, in conversations, listening to a speaker, or listening to yourself.  It may involve your boss, coworker, friend, acquaintance, something in the media, or yourself.  Epictetus said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”  It does take practice to get ourselves out of the way when it comes to understanding ideas and the frame of reference of others.  “It’s a rare person who wants to hear what he doesn’t want to hear.”  Dick Cavett

Make listening a priority.  It builds relationships, increases knowledge and is generally helps you and others. “I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say will teach me anything.  So, if I am going to learn, I must do it by listening.”  Larry King

Give your undivided attention. Use head nods and eye contact to show that you are listening. It takes concentration and discipline to focus on an individual speaker.  Give respect and appreciation to any presenter. By truly understanding why speakers feels the way they do, puts you in their frame of reference.  Empathy can be developed when you truly listen.  You do not have to agree.  

Ask questions instead of making statements.  Ask your question then be quiet.  The questions can bring out more information, even bring out new ideas.  It may add depth and value between the communicators.  There are many examples in the literature on listening that demonstrate an interaction using questions can lead the speakers to solving their own issues just by sharing and responding to them.  Do not give advice.  Do not interrupt self-discovery by not listening.  Sometimes people just need to be heard and express their feelings.

Check for understanding.  Be sure your get the meaning of the topic and have a feeling for where the speaker is coming from.  You can rephrase their information or ask clarifying questions.  The speaker’s belief system can be unknown to you and needs to be understood. Pause before you respond and think about that response, take a breath.  Be sure response shows you are interested in what they have said and do not judge.

Get rid of distractions. Turn off devices and keep note taking to a minimum. (For future reference if you are the speaker provide outline so listeners can listen.) 

Interested people attract appreciation.  Be interested in others.  Mary Kay Ash always said, “imagine an invisible sign around each person’s neck that says, “Make me feel important”.  Trying to talk to someone who is distracted from the discussion is demeaning. “Listening is an act of love.  When you listen to people, you are communicating non-verbally that they are important to you.”  Jim George   That appreciation can increase your value to listeners.  For yourself, “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know.  But if you listen, you may learn something new.”   Dalai Lama