What Is Mindful Listening? (It’s Not As Easy As You Think)

Listening is a big part of communication. And there are better ways of listening to someone than others. For example, simply hearing what someone is saying so that you can hurriedly respond? One star. Making time to sit down and try to understand what the other party has to say with no distractions? That, friends, is a five-star listener. It’s also demonstrating the practice of mindful listening.     

What is mindful listening?

According to Psychology Today, mindful listening is the art of listening without interruption. That means you can’t be half-listening to what’s happening on TV, you can’t be preoccupied by your to-do list, nor can you be sorting laundry at the same time. (Sorry). When you’re mindfully listening, “you’re paying attention and being open to the present moment.” Not only that, but the pros at Mind Tools also add that part of mindful listening is “listening without judgment, criticism or interruption,” which means if your BFF is telling you all about how she got back with her on-again-off-again boyfriend for the umpteenth time, your job is to let her get her thoughts and feelings out before you give your opinion.

Why is mindful listening important?

Again, because listening is such an integral part of communication, mindful listening can only strengthen a bond—whether that’s between partners, parent and child, friend to friend or even boss to employee. We’ve all been in those conversations where, before you can even get your point across, the other party interrupts to inject their opinion or object to what you say. Not only can that disrupt a pivotal train of thought, but when the topic being discussed is highly sensitive, it’s easy for a person to become defensive, frustrated or discouraged and leave the convo without resolving an issue. What mindful listening offers is a space for you to fully take in what someone is saying before you react. “Better listening can lead to better two-way communication,” says Masterclass. “When both parties are present in the moment, they are more likely to show empathy and compassion.”

5 Ways to Practice Mindful Listening

1. Set an intention for the conversation. Intention can be the difference between glossing over an issue or truly having a breakthrough (see intentional dating). It also allows you to take stock of the things you can and cannot control. For example, if your goal is to get an apology from someone, well you can’t really make them apologize if they don’t want to. But you can walk in with the intention to air out your grievances which is well within your powers. That way, whether or not that apology comes, you’ve gotten some things off your chest.

2. Ask specific questions. Setting an intention will certainly help with framing the questions you want to ask. Keep in mind though, that it’s not just about you, but the other person as well. The key is to “ask questions that help the speaker explore their feelings and experiences,” advises Psychology Today. And in the spirit of not passing judgment or criticizing, it’s also important to ask non-accusatory or harsh questions.

3. Don’t jump to conclusions. We are all storytellers. Putting together bits of information and drawing conclusions is the only way our brains make sense of the world around us, and it happens without us even noticing. However, when you’re in the mindful listening practice, it’s your job to be self-aware of your thought patterns. That way, you’re not drawing a conclusion without having heard the entire story even if you think you know how it’s going to end.

4. Be attentive to body language. Body language makes up 90 percent of all in-person communication, so don’t drop the ball by not picking up any physical cues either—just be sure to remain present and attentive as you do so. Are they avoiding eye contact? Do they have their arms crossed? Do they seem to be holding back laughter? These are all clues to let you know you need to stay with the story and really soak in what’s being said.

5. Stop whatever you’re doing. This may seem obvious, but you have to literally put everything else on pause. No matter how small the task—painting your nails, cleaning the countertops post-dinner or answering a quick email. If you’re strapped for time or simply can’t give your full attention at the moment because you’re tired, then it’s best you have the conversation when you can give it the time and space it deserves.

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Resident Hufflepuff, Beyonce historian, self-proclaimed tea sommelier

Steph is a native of Zimbabwe who is both enamored and genuinely baffled by the concept of silent letters. From 2020 to 2022, she served as Associate Editor at PureWow covering...