Deep Listening

Deep Listening

To really listen to others, we must first learn to listen to ourselves. 

By Mindful Staff | August 26, 2010

If we are to survive in the twenty-first century we must become better communicators, speaking and listening honestly and compassionately across diversity and difference.
Unsatisfying communication is rampant in our society: in relationships between spouses, parents, and children, among neighbors and co-workers, in civic and political life, and between nations, religions, and ethnicities. Can we change such deeply ingrained cultural patterns? Is it possible to bring about a shift in the modes of communication that dominate our society? Contemplative practices, with their committed cultivation of self-awareness and compassion, may offer the best hope for transforming these dysfunctional and damaging social habits.
A fruitful place to begin work on shifting our patterns of communication is with the quality of our listening. Just as we now understand the importance of regular exercise for good health, we need to exercise and strengthen our ability as listeners.
Poor listeners, underdeveloped listeners, are frequently unable to separate their own needs and interests from those of others. Everything they hear comes with an automatic bias: How does this affect me? What can I say next to get things my way? Poor listeners are more likely to interrupt: either they have already jumped to conclusions about what you are saying, or it is just of no interest to them. They attend to the surface of the words rather than listening for what is “between the lines.” When they speak, they are typically in one of two modes. Either they are “downloading”—regurgitating information and pre-formed opinions—or they are in debate mode, waiting for the first sign that you don’t think like them so they can jump in to set you straight. All these behaviors were abundantly on display in the health care debate.
Good listening, by contrast, means giving open-minded, genuinely interested attention to others, allowing yourself the time and space to fully absorb what they say. It seeks not just the surface meaning but where the speaker is “coming from”—what purpose, interest, or need is motivating their speech. Good listening encourages others to feel heard and to speak more openly and honestly.
posted by Team Tony
Have you ever spoken to someone who made you feel like you were the only person in the world at that moment? Who seemed truly engaged and interested in every word that came out of your mouth? How did that make you feel? Important? Understood?

This is the power of deep listening. Deep listening is more than a valuable social habit; it is a transformative communication tool. With deep listening, you are not only allowing yourself the time and space to fully absorb what your conversation partner is saying, you can actually encourage him or her to to feel heard and to speak more openly and honestly. And this is a key step in developing rapport with someone.

To better understand how to interact and communicate more effectively with others, we spoke to body language expert Jan Hargrave, one of our Leadership Academy speakers, about the core tenets of deep listening:



“By maintaining good eye contact, you are demonstrating to your conversation partner that you are fully engaged and interested in what he or she is saying. A good guideline to follow is the 80/20 rule, in which 80% of the time your eyes are meeting your speaking partner’s, and 20% of the time, your eyes are roaming as you gather information to say.”


“The average person speaks between 135 and 160 words per minute, but the average person’s brain works between 400 and 600 words per minute. This means your mind is going a lot faster than your conversation partner’s mouth, which makes it easy for your mind to drift. It’s up to you to stop your mind from shifting away from the conversation and to be truly present. Not only will you be able to fully absorb what your partner says, you will be able to respond in kind, which makes them feel appreciated and understood.”


“There’s nothing worse than speaking to someone who gives no verbal feedback. It’s like talking to a wall. Make the effort to give the occasional nod, smile, or other sign of recognition to your conversation partner. These nonverbal cues may seem trivial, but have tremendous impact by showing your interest, understanding and involvement in the conversation.”


“When you are speaking one-on-one with someone, position your body in a way that creates a safe and welcoming space for him or her to speak openly. Lean slightly in, open up your chest, pull your shoulders back, and fold your hands gently in your lap or on the table in front of you. If you are standing, form a reversed hand steeple, in which the fingers come together to form a point. When someone steeples in the lap area, it means they are confident about what they are hearing.”


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