"Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment."
This quote has presented itself to me several times this week, and it couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. The next month is filled with many wonderful opportunities starting with presenting at a national conference this week followed by two different workshops I will be leading in different cities. Though I am very excited and ready for these opportunities, I am also anxious and nervous about them. Sometimes, I begin to stress over how “successful” they will be, how many participants I’ll have, etc. I remind myself of this quote. Using it as a trigger word, I take a deep breath and then focus on being present.
Being present is not as easy as it sounds; it is a practice. But just like the mental tools we have to shift our mindset, we also have tools to help us be more present. This week I would like to focus on mindful listening. Have you ever had the experience where you are talking to someone, but instead of listening you are just waiting for the person to stop talking just so you can what you want to say? This happens often in life whether that be in meetings and wanting to share our brilliant idea or in a fight with your significant other when our hurt is the only thing we feel matters. Many times what we have to offer when we aren’t listening doesn’t even make sense when we step back.
Whenever thinking about mindful listening, I am reminded of when I am coaching actors in a scene. With many young actors, they are focused on what their lines are and when they say them. They just want to hear their cue line and then deliver the line with what they think is raw emotion and great acting. However, it usually comes out as fake or contrived. That’s because they were too focused on what they had to say and not focused on listening and responding accordingly.
The theater saying, “acting is reacting,” can be helpful when practicing mindful listening. In order to react authentically, we need to listen actively. Here are a few techniques for practicing mindful listening that can be applied to both private conversations and group conversations:
- Can you repeat what the person said to you?
- Are you making eye contact?
- Before you respond, take a breath and ask yourself “is what you originally intended to say still relevant?”
- Are you making space for others to share or do you dominate conversations?
- Are you offering and participating in the conversation or do you hide?
The last two techniques are very useful when engaging in group conversations. There tends to be the people who always voice their opinions, have an idea, a concern or a solution. Then there are the people who never share their opinion or offer suggestions. Take a moment to figure out which group you most identify with. I challenge you if you are in the first group, to make space for others, concentrate on your breath, and ask whether what you feel compelled to say is necessary. If you are in the latter group, I challenge you to actively listen and find a time where you decide to participate, owning what it is you have to offer to the group.
Mindful listening provides us with a fuller experience where we are engaged with the people around us. Consequently, it leads to stronger and more meaningful relationships. Try some of the techniques this week and then reflect on the changes you notice in how you engage with others and your fulfillment in what you do.
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