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The Practice of Mindful Listening

August 25th, 2017


How often do we have a conversation with others and five minutes later not remember details of that interaction? Or maybe your spouse or coworkers ask you a question or to complete a task and we are so distracted that we forget what was asked of us. Many times in these interactions we are already formulating our response or reacting to emotions before the other person has completed their sentence. In these instances, not only do we miss out on information and connections, the person who had asked you a question or requested action feels disrespected and unheard. Mindful listening is the practice of being fully present and aware in your interactions with others. The goal of mindful listening is to silence your inner thoughts, biases and judgments so you can hear the whole message, allowing the other person to feel understood.


In her 2000 book, "The Zen of Listening", Rebecca Shafir states that mindful listening-- in addition to building connections with others -- has a number of additional benefits, including:

  • Helping you retain information.
  • Allowing you to pause before you speak. That moment of pause allows you to respond, not react, to the other person giving you time to consider the effect of your words.
  • The potential to pay attention for longer.
  • Boost your self-esteem.

Shafir and Charlie Scott, a writer who focuses on the benefits of mindful listening in the workplace, also suggest that mindful listening can potentially have physical and psychological benefits, including a decrease in blood pressure, improvement in overall wellbeing and reduction in anxiety.


Some way to cultivate Mindful Listening include:

  1. Reduce distractions. Our brain is constantly bombarded with distractions, with the biggest culprit being technology. To be fully present with someone, try putting away your cell phone or computer and focus your attention solely on that person.
  2. Practice meditation. Researchers have found that by meditating 5-10 minutes a day for 8 weeks, we are able to change the neuroplasticity in the brain, allowing us to tap in the part of the brain in which we are able to assess a situation and respond in a more productive way. Meditation also helps us to redirect our attention to the present moment when our mind begins to wander or strays to the future or the past during interactions with others.
  3. Express empathy. When you are able to suspend judgment and be empathetic others to another’s opinions by acknowledging and validating their views – not necessarily agreeing with them – you are allowing that person to “feel felt” and understood.


As a goal to yourself and to foster your mindful listening skills, set aside five minutes a day to be present and aware of the sounds going on around you….maybe you hear the clock ticking, or an airplane overhead, or the birds off into the distance. As you continue to practice mindful listening, you can begin to expand that skill to other personal interactions, and my guess is that you will experience more rich and fulfilling connections.


Erin Swinson, LPC, LMHCA Therapist Clarity Clinic

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