5 Ways to Listen Well

Listening well is an art, but it can also improved with practice. In the business world one of the most important qualities for people in any supervisory or management position is to listen well. Mindfulness meditation can increase your focus and attention and will contribute to deepening your capacity to listen to others. So here are 5 ways you can begin improving your own listening skills.

1. Don't interrupt When someone else is speaking, do not interrupt them. When you interrupt someone, it makes it harder for them to complete their thoughts. It degrades the quality of the conversation and makes it much less likely that the other person will be able to say clearly what they had wanted to say. People will be grateful and appreciative when you allow them to speak without interrupting them.

I once was volunteering at a meditation center and I was working together with a Native American woman. During a conversation with her, she asked me to stop interrupting her. She said she was a slow talker and it took her time to develop her thoughts. When I interrupted her, she said she could not complete her train of thought. This was a big lesson for me. Since then I have always tried to practice not interrupting others.

2. Let Go of Your Agenda Letting go of your own agenda can improve your listening right away, because you don't need to rehearse what you're going to say, as the other person is speaking. When you let go of your attachment to the outcome it improves your presence and listening  immeasurably because it invites you to enter into the process of having a more complete conversation with someone. It is helpful in this regard to approach the conversation with another as an opportunity to learn something new, rather than winning or losing an argument.

3. Listen to the Whole Person Listening well, is much more than simply listening to the literal words the speaker is saying. It also involves eye contact, body language and what isn't said. Practice listening for what the person is feeling and needing as they are talking. This will help you hear more clearly what the person is meaning by the words they are using.

4. Don't Multi-task while another is speaking to you When you are listening to someone, give them your full attention. If you are trying to do something else, as the other person is speaking such as checking your emails or texting to someone, not only are you not listening well, but chances are you are making it very difficult for the other person to speak clearly too.

This happened to me not so long ago. Someone was visiting the Zen Center and asking me about meditation and as I was replying they were texting on their cell phone. I was surprised that I had a hard time finishing a sentence or completing my thoughts.

So the quality of your attention and listening actually helps others speak and communicate what they want to say more clearly.  In the practice of council circle that we do here at the Zen Life & Meditation Center, we speak and listen from the heart in such a way that we promote this kind of deep listening to each other.

5. Let the Person Know Your are Listening The only time you should interrupt another person, is to ask for clarification so that you can better understand what they are trying to say. It might sound like this: "Excuse me,  you just said a lot, and I'm not sure I got it all. Could I repeat what I heard you say to see if I heard you?" This kind of request for clarification is very powerful because it does two things. It keeps you honest because to re-state what you heard them say, you have to really be listening to them. And two, it indicates to the other person, you really are listening to them.

So listening is indeed a kind of art, but it's also a skill we can improve and it's application in your life will enhance and enrich your relationships immeasurably.

Robert Althouse