One of the most common struggles we share is maintaining our mindful presence in relation to others. We want to be present for that moment of conversation and connection, but may suddenly find that our busy minds take us far away. This can happen to us when talking with our colleagues, partner, children, parents or friends. Challenging or painful conversations can become even more difficult for us when we lose focus on what is truly important in the moment.
How can we really show up for others?
Hone those effective listening skills! It can help to approach the following suggestions with a beginner’s mind of openness, curiosity and compassion. A beautiful side effect of really paying attention to others is that we begin to develop a kindness of attention to ourselves. This is a huge step in bringing us in closer alignment with our true authentic selves.
The first step in developing effective listening skills is to be aware of the barriers to effective listening, and to understand and eliminate those barriers that block effective communications.
Here are 12 commonly known blocks to listening:
1. Comparing – Comparing makes it hard to listen because you are too busy trying to compare one person with another.
2. Mind Reading – Instead of paying attention to what is said, you try to figure out what the other person is really thinking and feeling in an effort to see through to the truth.
3. Rehearsing – You do not have time to listen or pay attention to listening when you are
rehearsing what to say. Your whole attention is on the preparation and crafting of your next comment.
4. Filtering – When you filter, you listen to some things and not to others. You hear what you want to hear, and avoid what you don’t want to hear and let your mind wander.
5. Judging (prejudging) – If you prejudge someone or label someone negatively, you do not pay much attention to what he says.
6. Dreaming – You are half-listening, and something the person says suddenly triggers a chain of private associations. You are more prone to dreaming when you feel bored or anxious.
7. Identifying – You take everything a person tells you and refer it back to your own
experience. Everything you hear reminds you of something that you have felt,
done, or suffered. You launch into your story before they can finish theirs.
8. Advising – You are the great problem-solver, ready with help and suggestions. You do not have to hear more than a few sentences before you begin searching for the right advice.
9. Sparring – Your focus is on finding things to disagree with. The way to avoid sparring is to repeat back and acknowledge what you have heard. Look for one thing you might agree with.
One subtype of sparring is the put-down. You use sarcastic remarks to dismiss the other person’s point of view. A second type of sparring is discounting. You diminish the other person’s perspective and sometimes, the entire person.
10. Being Right – You will go to any lengths to avoid being wrong. You cannot listen to criticism, you cannot be corrected, and you cannot take suggestions to change.
11. Derailing – You change the subject suddenly. You derail the train of conversation when you get bored or uncomfortable with a topic.
12. Placating – You want to be nice, pleasant, and supportive. You want people to like you – so you agree with everything. You half-listen, but you are not really involved.
Give yourself a big hug
It’s difficult to learn new ways of being. A belief that I hold close to my heart is that practice is reminding ourselves to return to the present moment without judgement and self-criticism, but with self-compassion, self-kindness, and love for ourselves and others. I encourage you to be gentle and patient.
Keep practicing mindfulness of these common blocks to listening, perhaps beginning with lower stakes conversations, and working your way up to the big ones. You might think of it as hitting the weights at the gym: we begin with a light weight and patiently work our way up to the heavy weights.
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