We don’t need research or studies to tell us most people, ourselves included, could do a better job listening to others. I mean deeply listening, with openness and spacious inquisitiveness, where we’re focused fully in the moment on the other person without pushing our own agenda, voicing our opinion, or offering advice.
Many of us, even when we intentionally try to do a good job listening to others, still could work on our listening skills.
Deep Listening is a Gift to Others
While voicing our opinion or offering advice, especially when these things are asked of us, is a vital part of human communication, there are times when refraining from offering these things and simply deeply listening to someone can be powerful for both speaker and listener.
Sometimes engaging in a lot of talking, rather than forming a connection with another person, serves as as a shield to distance ourselves or hide behind. Talking can also be used as a way to maintain control of a situation to keep the unexpected, such as ours and the others’ emotions, or others’ ideas and opinions, from fully entering into the moment. And when we are constantly thinking about how we are going to respond to what someone is saying, there is a qualitative difference in how we are present in the moment.
Deeply listening to others creates an open space for their authentic thoughts and feelings to come forward and be expressed. The speaker does not have to “fight” to be fully heard, complete a thought, or navigate interruption. Being deeply heard can leave the speaker feeling validated, seen, accepted, and/or better understood. And these feelings, in turn, can be healing, nourishing, and help forge higher quality connection and awareness between speaker and listener.
Additionally, allowing others to process their thoughts and feelings without added input from you allows them to come up with their own solutions if solutions are what they are seeking, which helps them cultivate their own wisdom and resilience.
Deep Listening is a Learned Skill that Requires Practice
Contrary to what some may believe, deep listening does not come naturally to most of us. It’s a skill that needs to be learned and then practiced. Below are some basic components to deep listening that are best practiced in combination.
Read the following tips, ideas, and suggestions and then practice deep listening to someone today:
- Listening is more than just hearing – listen to discover what is being conveyed
- Resist the urge to jump in when there’s a gap in the speaker’s speech – welcome gaps and silence
- Extend open-ended invitations and cues to the speaker to share more if they wish – e.g.: “Tell me more…,” “I hear you…,” “I’m listening…”
- Don’t “data mine.” Data mining is asking questions to get answers or information from someone to meet your agenda or needs, thereby shifting the conversation to you, rather than holding space and keeping the focus on the person who is speaking
- If you find your mind wandering, use the speaker’s voice to bring you back to the present moment
A Simple Deep Listening Practice to Cultivate Your Listening Skills
Consider making deep listening a regular practice. To cultivate deep listening as a skill, a simple exercise you can try is the “dyad.” Come up with a specific question you and another person will reflect on. Then, take turns talking for 3 to 4 minutes about what authentically arises for you.
If you are the one speaking, speak from your heart. Don’t feel like you have to fill in the entire allotted time with words. As stated the tips below, silence is okay.
When it’s your turn to listen, listen to discover what the other person is telling you – some have described this kind of listening as listening to learn, rather than listening to respond. Maintain eye contact, even if the speaker looks away, but don’t respond with words, or even affirmations like “uh huh” or “I see,” though non-verbal cues you are tuned in are fine.
Deep Listening in Everyday Life
Take your deep listening practice out into the world. Practice regularly. Even if others aren’t practicing with you, you can still deeply listen to them.
If you find yourself feeling frustrated when others bend your ear and don’t afford you the same courtesy, remind yourself that good listening skills are not something the modern world cultivates, and remind yourself that your deep listening practice is something that can improve your own awareness, patience, compassion, and openness – all qualities that will serve you well in the larger game of life, and connect you more deeply to the ones you love.
Further tips and resources:
- Check out The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society’s exercise on deep listening
- Read Mindful magazine’s article on Deep Listening