Research has shown that relationships are perhaps the most important factor of life satisfaction. All major theories of psychological well-being include positive relationships as a core element. However, we are often the least mindful with the people who matter the most to us.
It’s incredibly easy to become complacent in our relationships. When we first meet someone, there can be a lot of new information to take in and we are usually carefully paying attention. But the longer and better we know a person, the more familiar and comfortable we become with them. This can mean we find ourselves more easily distracted in conversation, and aren’t fully present in our interactions with our most important relationships. Practicing mindful listening is a great way to become more present in your interactions, and to show the people in your life that they matter to you.
Mindful listening is giving your full attention to someone, and being interested in what they are saying. Not only is it an important life skill, it is essential in maintaining a positive relationship with a significant other.
When in conversation with someone, your mind can get distracted by thoughts of other things - sometimes focussed on how you’re going to respond, or simply thinking about a task that you need to get done. These distractions can mean we fail to understand what is being said to us, or miss what is being said to us completely.
Consider the awareness you bring to meditation - you can bring this same awareness to your interactions with others! Try to see them as if for the first time. Notice the subtle cues going on in the conversation. Their body language. Their tone of voice. Really listen to what they’re saying. The greatest gift we can give to people is our full attention.
We can train our ability to better hold our attention by developing mindful listening skills. Try the following exercise.
- Next time you’re in conversation with someone, let them do most of the talking.
- Notice how often your mind wanders away onto something else. Thoughts might show up such as “what will I have for lunch?” or “I forgot to [something]”.
- Each time you notice your mind wander, refocus your attention on what the person in front of you is saying. Let their words anchor your mind in the present moment.
- Notice what happens. Do they feel more heard? Do you understand more fully what they are sharing?
- Try to take this mindful awareness into more of your interactions. Listening mindfully can make those around you feel valued and shows that you are interested in what they have to say.
Ready to start listening mindfully?
Practice listening just as you practice meditation: focus... lose focus... and refocus.
If you’d like some additional support in improving your listening skills, check out our Mindful Listening meditation in our ‘Relationships’ program!