How often have you been speaking yet all the while suspecting that the person you are speaking to is not really listening? How often have you found yourself not really listening to what the other person is saying? Our minds wander naturally, and our lack of concentration is accentuated by barriers and filters that get in the way of our listening. Distractions are everywhere, whether internal thought, conversations close by, pictures and noise from the media broadcasting constantly, or our inability to ignore our own mobile devices. We may be feeling tired, hungry, or stressed out. The speaker may be telling a long, boring story that we have heard many times before. We may be looking forward to something coming up later in the day. We may be consciously or unconsciously applying listening filters; we may be dismissing what the person is saying as insignificant, trying to diagnose the problem and thinking of ways to fix it, or becoming defensive. Managing these barriers and letting go of these filters can help with our listening attentiveness.
Listening is not just waiting to speak. It’s about listening to others without interruption, without simultaneously preparing what you want to say next. I see this in my young grandchildren. I often speak with them via video conference. They are full of energy, dancing around the room and sitting down in front of the camera for just a few seconds at a time. They want to share the excitement of their day, and I am happy to listen. I don’t need to be preparing to speak; I’m happy to share in their excitement. Stillness comes only at the end of the day, at story time, when they are listening to their favorite bedtime stories, which I love to read when visiting. Silence and stillness while listening to a client, colleague, or friend are just as important. The silence provides the space for them to speak; the stillness inside us provides the space for us to listen. Allowing the space for silence takes practice. Following Mahatma Gandhi’s guidance “to speak only to improve on the silence” is wise advice for the conscious leader.
Silence and stillness are prerequisites for listening generously, for listening with all the senses, to really hearing what is being said. This can create the space for attentiveness and concentration within ourselves and on the person speaking. This allows us to really notice what is going on inside us and around us, and to practice living mindfully.