“The art of conversation is the art of hearing as well as of being heard.” ― William Hazlitt
How many times have you had a conversation with someone but not be able to recall what was said?
How many times have you spoken and not felt heard?
We have all been both the culprit and victim of poor listening skills and inferior communications.
When our minds are occupied with regrets about yesterday and concern about tomorrow, we do not leave room for what is happening right now. We do not fully see or hear the person we are talking too.
We are not present.
When we lack presence in conversation, we listen absentmindedly and then we are unable to respond appropriately because we have not really heard or processed what was been said or what questions were put to us. This leads to feelings of uncertainty because we are not sure what is expected of us and guilt because we have not listened properly. Guilt is a destructive emotion which affects us negatively and is linked to negative core beliefs. It certainly does not improve the effectiveness of our communication.
Now think about how it feels when someone does take the time to stop and really listen to what you have to say. You feel valued and recognised. We often talk about aspiring to be ‘ok’ without the need for external validation, but we also recognise that as human beings, our relationships are complex, and we all respond better when we are receiving full attention from the other party during a conversation. Communication is about sharing information and when we feel that another person has listened properly, we are encouraged that they understand the problem from our perspective.
How does it feel as a parent to give that time to your child? These are the moments when we truly connect with our loved ones. We are giving them our whole attention and they almost visibly blossom under such positive regard.
Being fully present in all conversations is vital if we want our communications to be effective. Remember that we have strong survival instincts, and these will kick in when we need them. This includes during communication. In the same way that we can have automatic or unconscious thoughts, we can give automatic, unconscious answers. Think about how much better it would be if all our communications were conscious and not knee-jerk reactions.
Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” The benefits of Mindfulness exercises and activities have been thoroughly researched. The results suggest beneficial effects both physically and psychologically. Improving our sleep, blood pressure and reducing any pain we may have, as well as reducing stress and anxiety, and boosting our immune system and improving our cognitive function.
What if we chose to practise mindfulness during all our communications? What if we gave 100% of our attention to the person we were talking to, not thinking about what we needed to do later or things that happened at work or the latest updates on our phones? What if we employed pure focus without distraction?
When we take the time to really listen and to find out what the other person is thinking and feeling; what outcome they are hoping for, what they need, our communications are much more productive.
The next time you have a conversation with someone, take a moment to prepare.
Take a few deep breaths using your diaphragm.
Let go of anxieties about what has happened in the past.
Let go of concern about the future, the future is unknown, so all time spent worrying about it is futile.
Feel your heart rate slow and your mind clear.
When you are ready, give your full attention to the other person:
Notice how they look. Are there any changes from last time you saw them? Have they had their hair done? Do they look tired or sad or in pain?
Really see them.
During Covid restrictions touching others is discouraged but for those in your bubble, how does their skin feel? Touch is a powerful tool and making a physical connection with the person you are communicating with reinforces to both of you that you are listening.
Remember a large part of communication is non-verbal. Show the person that you are listening with your body. Turn towards them rather than away. Make eye contact and maintain it, do not look at your watch or phone, focus on them. Doing this powerfully sets your intention to fully engage with them.
Now listen. Give them time and space.
Resist the urge to jump in and tell them what you think.
When it is clear they have finished, if appropriate you can gently reflect to them what you heard by paraphrasing the information. You can then ask questions or tell them your news.
Keep all your communications mindful and you will have better connections with those with whom you interact. You will find that in those moments of true focus the right words and actions will come – without thought.
When you cultivate the habit of having mindful conversations, the benefits to you and everyone you interact with will become evident. It will keep you centred, reduce stress and anxiety and foster positivity and productivity.
‘How to Rise- A Complete Resilience Manual’ with a foreword by Dr Amir Khan (The Doctor will see you now) has more than 60 additional, effective tools and techniques to improve your mental wellbeing, reduce stress and anxiety and allow you to take control of your life.