Attention - it’s one of the hardest mental skills to master, yet one of the greatest gifts you can give another person. When you can give someone your full and undivided attention, you’re allowing yourself to really listen and in turn, for them to feel heard and supported.
Thursday the 9th of September is R U OK? Day. But before you go and ask someone the question, ask yourself this - are you ready to truly listen to the answer?
What is mindful listening?
Mindful listening involves being present and listening to understand rather than to respond. That means removing distractions, allowing the other person to speak uninterrupted and giving their words as much attention as you can muster.
It sounds simple, but how many of us have fallen into the trap of getting lost in distracting thoughts when in a conversation, only to become conscious of it and realise you have no idea what the other person has just said?
We’re all guilty of this to some degree. Remember, it’s not your fault - our minds are constantly parsing information and calculating our next move. What we can do is get better at noticing this behaviour in ourselves, and relieving ourselves of those thoughts when they are occupying attention better spent in the moment.
Give mindful listening a try
If you’d like to improve your listening skills, try this Deep Listening activity with another person. This is a great exercise for relationship building, so think about trying it with a trusted friend, partner or a colleague next time you catch up.
Let them speak for two full minutes. It can be about anything, but some good prompts to get them talking could include:
- What’s something you’re doing at the moment you’re really enjoying?
- What is something you’d like to learn more about?
- What are your goals at the moment?
This is the tricky bit. While they are talking, you can practice deep listening by:
- Putting away all distractions and actively listening.
- This means not interrupting or speaking...at all!
- You can however offer a non-verbal show of understanding, such as a nod or a smile.
- If you get distracted by a thought, acknowledge it, but let your focus return back to the person speaking. Let their words ground you in the present moment.
Once you have completed the exercise, try swapping roles and then discussing how it felt to be on either side of the listening. How did it feel to listen without interrupting? What was it like to be listened to in this way? Did it change the way you spoke, or what you spoke about?
Giving someone else the floor to speak freely can be difficult, but also really rewarding to both the speaker and the listener when done well.
Once you feel like you’re ready to listen, try asking someone the question - R U OK? - and give them the space and attention they require to really feel like they can give you a full and honest answer, and will be truly heard.
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