The core of a good conversation is mindful listening. When you listen well people feel heard, they feel understood. As a mindful listener, you want to connect with others on even the unspoken levels.
Mindful listening contains an invitation
When you engage in conversation, you seek to know another person better, to learn who they are and what they want. They want the same from you. Conversation is an exchange, not a dialogue. A conversation is a conscious exchange in which you listen to what is said as well as what is unsaid, and thoughtfully responding to it.
Mindful listening moves you both forward
I measure a meaningful conversation by what I learn in the exchange. We find common interests. We share our ideas on the topic. We both articulate our feelings and concerns. We learn from each other. The conversation stays current and relevant. We speak of our expectations, discovery and objectives.
Mindful listening is complete attention
How often do you find yourself busily thinking up how you will respond long before the other person has finished speaking? You aren’t listening you are reacting. Can you stay on topic? Sometimes a phrase in the other person’s conversation triggers a response in me that I have to filter, because it is off topic, it will not move the conversation forward so I refrain from sharing it. Listen attentively and filter what you choose to add to the conversation.
Mindful listening is balanced and respectful
Conversation is not just about you. It is about a flow of exchange that honors the needs of the participants. I was excited about achieving a goal that I shared with a group of friends: “I’ve just gone an entire year without missing a single day of Qi Gong.” A person in the group immediately jumped in with, “My daughter has an exercise room in her basement.” She changed the topic so thoroughly and so rapidly, that no one had a response for me. I would have liked someone to realize that I was happy about my achievement and add a comment that acknowledged my success. I know two people who quickly move a conversation back toward themselves, regardless of the topic. I don’t know whether it is because they identify with a situation being discussed or if they are insecure and need to talk about their own lives to show that they are equal. Changing the topic to talk about you every time can be a real conversation stopper. A story is not an exchange unless it is used as an example of a point. I’m not drawn to reminiscing; I want to know what you are doing now, in this moment, to change your life. Make certain what you add to the conversation is relevant to the flow of conversation, acknowledges the needs of the participants and keeps the topic moving forward
Mindful listening is inquisitive
I love to learn and talking to intelligent, thoughtful, self-aware people is always a meaningful experience. I once found myself sitting next to a doctor engaged in research. Within minutes, we found the common ground of food as the foundation of health. He was doing research on the health benefits of broccoli and I’m a vegan. I was learning a lot. The conversation was not very far along when another person joined us and started talking football to the doctor. That change of topic effectively shut me out of the conversation. When you join a conversation, listen before you leap. Be aware of the existing group dynamics.
Mindful listening leads to thoughtful interaction
It is easy to give advice but the truth is people seldom ask for it. That doesn’t mean you can’t insert some questions designed to help the other person expand their options. “Have you looked into…?” “Does the concept of ___ fit in with your situation?” No one is going to do “it” the way you did or do. Listen for the underlying motivation of a situation and see where that takes the conversation. Sometimes attentive listening is the true gift you have to give.
Mindful listening results in an exchange
If the underlying purpose of a conversation is the exchange of ideas, then there must be interaction. It cannot be one person drawing a line in the sand with their particular viewpoint. A conversation is a thoughtful exploration, an exchange of ideas, observations and beliefs to see what you can learn from each other. Consider each viewpoint. No one is right. No one is wrong. And no one needs to change her mind. You have come together to exchange ideas and learn from each other. Understanding an opposing viewpoint is a healthy way to learn. The best solution is usually a compromise. Look for your common ground.
Mindful listening contains silence
There are moments of silence in a good conversation. It may be a pause to consider what has been said. It may be the moment you take to filter your response to make certain it moves the conversation forward. It’s very exciting to find yourself in a pause where your mind is sorting, filtering and absorbing what was just said. Those moments of contemplation are hugely satisfying.
Mindful listening is perceptive
Use your intuition to tune into what lies beneath a person’s words. Do not jump to conclusions. Deepen the conversation to uncover what beliefs and assumptions lay beneath an observation or a position. Ask questions. Listen carefully. Take time to formulate your response.
A mindful listener monitors her body language
Notice your stance. Is it aggressive? Relaxed? Competitive? Contemplative? I had a woman come up to ask me a question and her body language was so aggressive that it felt threatening. She was learning forward, in my face with her hands on her hips. Her purpose was to ask me a question, to resolve a situation. I was not receptive to the conversation at all. Monitor your body language. Don’t get in their space. Don’t withdraw by leaning back. Don’t cross your arms. Take conscious breaths as you listen and relax you body so you are more receptive to the exchange. 80% of what you understand in a conversation is read through the body not the words.
As a mindful listener simply “be”
You don’t need to come up with wise comments. You don’t need to entertain. Pay attention. Listen. Be fully, totally present in the exchange. Engage the other person in an exchange. Then you will absorb the gift present in every conversation.