When hearing is not enough…

If I were to ask you whether you hear the people in your life, or do you listen to the people in your life, what would be your answer?

The really interesting thing is that hearing and listening are actually quite separate processes. Each with different consequences too.

Hearing versus Listening

Hearing is an involuntary process that starts with:

a) sound and noise,
b) vibration of sound through the ear canal,
c) movement of fluid in the ears as sound travels to the brain.
It’s pretty simple, you don’t have to exert effort to hear sound around you – hearing is happening all the time.

Where it becomes more complex, is when the noise actually arrives at its final destination: the brain!

This is where listening happens.

Listening requires your:

a) attention to know what to pay attention to,
b) understanding to decipher what is meaningful to your social situation
c) memory to remember and store the information for later use

Listening is a voluntary act. It’s what we do to try and make sense out of the noise we hear. That could be your partner telling you to put the bins out, or your work colleague telling the team about upcoming project deadlines in a meeting.

Listening requires conscious action and effort. You might be able to hear a person talking to you but it’s possible you may not actually be listening to what they are saying, unless you are attending, understanding and remembering what has been said.

How good are you at listening?

What can we tell about ourselves as listeners? Is there a way we can know if we are listening well enough to the people we care about in our lives? For example, do the people around you in your life ever say “Did you just hear what I said?” or “Are you listening to me?”.

I would say we’ve all had someone say this to us at some point in our lives. Sometimes it can be a reflection of our distractibility i.e. whether we are watching a favourite television program, using social media, multi-tasking cooking dinner and writing out the shopping list whilst trying to listen to your children’s requests.

The impact of not listening in our relationships can be that people may feel ignored, disrespected and/or not valued. As you know, this can affect the quality of the relationship (i.e. the sense of connection vs disconnection), and possibly even the future of the relationship.

Mindful listening

There are various skills and techniques that are proven to facilitate effective communication in relationships, such as active and reflective listening skills, questioning techniques etc. However, these skills and techniques aside, I’m wondering if you think there could be some benefit to simply bringing mindful attention when you listen to others? No fancy skills, just bringing your full, undivided attention to the task of listening. Taking it all in. Not multi-tasking but just doing one thing at a time….paying full attention to the act of listening.

The person’s tone of the voice, their facial expression, the volume of their voice, their body language and posture. In the moment. As it’s happening. With openness and not judgment or defensiveness. How could this affect our relationships if we could do more of this type of listening?

Mindful listening may also involve being aware of your own private experiences as a listener, such as your own body language, any inclinations to interrupt the other person, or perhaps dismiss an opinion of the other person, or finish their sentences before they have stopped speaking. Mindful listening may present you with an opportunity to pause and be silent…… a way of paying attention to the other person’s message with an increased interest in seeking a connection with that person. Seeing them for who they actually are in that moment, rather than who we think they are or who we may want them to be. Being curious and empathic, as opposed to bringing judgement to what they are saying. Cultivating patience in your listening style rather than trying to rush them or shut down their attempts to communicate with you.

The formal skills and techniques can come later, but as a starting point I’m wondering what could be the benefits of bringing mindful attention to listening for you?

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