Focus on Listening by Choosing Appropriate Behaviors

Since August, I have been sharing key practices for joining with others to tackle the complex problems we face in our lives at work and in our communities.  A year ago, I spent time exploring specific skills that support those practices.  One of those skills is listening.  Listening is such an important skill to bring to our work with others that over the next four weeks I want to give attention again to four characteristics of good listening.

Listening involves being quiet and stilling your mind so you can receive what others are saying.  In our habitual environments, so much is going on to attract our attention.  For example, in a meeting (especially ones without agreed upon ground rules) some participants may be looking at their cell phones, people may come and go, side conversations may interrupt the conversation, and so on. Narrowing our focus to give our mind’s full attention to a single speaker requires us to ignore other inputs.

We can choose behaviors that will help us to narrow our focus and quiet our minds.  We can mute and put away our own cell phones.  We can take notes to reinforce our listening by writing.  Having paper and pencil with us also enables us to jot down distracting thoughts or responses so we can return to the business at hand: listening. Enacting mindfulness practices, like paying attention to our breathing, can support our listening. We can keep our eyes directed on the speaker. Some behaviors that support listening are unexpected.  For instance I know someone who tends to tilt his head downward and point one ear toward the speaker to improve his listening.  It’s not because he is hard of hearing.  It helps him concentrate. You will have your own ideas for better listening.  I hope you will share them in the comments so that we can all learn from each other’s best practices.

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Mary’s book “Talk Matters!: Saving the World One Word at a Time” is now available.  Click here to purchase it.

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