By Patrice Keitt
How many times have you been engaged in a conversation or in a meeting and realized that you have no idea what was just said because your mind was wandering? How often do you find yourself thinking of what you are going to say next while someone else is talking instead of listening to what is being said? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably “more often than I would like to admit”.
So this holiday season, how about cultivating the skill of mindful listening and giving the gift of presence to your colleagues, friends and family?
If you’re familiar with the concept of mindfulness, you understand that the ability to give your full and active attention to the task at hand is a skill that enriches whatever it is you are doing. Athletes and psychologists alike call it “being in the zone” or “flow”. It’s that state where what you are doing feels effortless, when your focus is energized and complete and time seems to stand still.
So how do you go about developing the discipline for mindful listening? One way is to train the mind through the practice of yoga. (Full disclosure, I’m a certified yoga instructor so I have a definite point of view here). In yoga, we cultivate focus by bringing awareness to the breath and use a still, focused gaze to quiet the chatter of the mind and connect to the present moment.
If a regular yoga practice is not in the cards for you, here are some simple tips to help you cultivate the skill of mindfulness in your communications with family, friends and co-workers:
- Step away from your phone. Make it a policy to put your phone away when you are talking with someone at work, having dinner with your family or friends or playing with your kids.
- Resist the urge to interrupt. Let the other person finish his/her thought. This paves the way for open, respectful and productive communication.
- Connect with the person you are talking to by looking directly at them. If your eyes are darting about, so is your mind.
- If your mind wanders while someone is talking, gently bring it back to listening. Remember, it’s natural for the mind to wander. Your job is to bring it back to the present moment, without judgment.
- Take a breath – or two or three – before responding. Create space so that you can absorb what has been said and respond thoughtfully, rather than react.
- Resist the urge to offer advice or “fix” things. Often, listening with empathy is all that is needed.
- Encourage dialogue with open-ended questions. Be genuinely curious and interested in what the other person is saying.
At home, these simple acts can help you connect on a deeper level with family members, and at work they can enhance your team building and leadership abilities.
As with any new habit, practice and repetition is key. The more you incorporate some or all of these practices into your daily life, the more you will be creating the neural pathways in your brain that will make staying focused and present easier to do. The way I see it, you have nothing to lose by practicing some or all of these strategies, and possibly much to gain, so why not give it a try?
I know it may sound trite, but the truth is, giving your open-minded attention to those you interact with is not only a practical skill, but an act of generosity and grace.
As beautifully stated by the renowned Zen master and peace activist,Thich Nhat Hanh, “the most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”
And so will we.