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Jul 06
Opinion Pieces
Becoming a Better Listener

A few good reasons to practice mindful listening in our everyday lives

by Jackie Edwards

Every day, people struggle to be heard and understood. Whether it’s in our home or at work, the desire to be heard is such that it has become common practice to speak forcefully, which can lead to anger and misunderstanding. But many arguments and hurt feelings may be avoided, if we can practice mindful listening in our daily lives.

While the Fourth Precept of Buddhism (avoiding false speech) guards against speaking unmindfully, it also relates to the suffering caused by the inability to listen to others. In addition, we can undermine truth, not just by lying, but also by not listening to or not believing someone else who is speaking the truth. The people who are most affected by our unwillingness to listen are the ones who are nearest to us, and we may be inadvertently causing them pain (and breaking the Fourth Precept) by being poor listeners. When we stop and take the time to learn how to listen and understand what is being said, it can benefit our lives and relationships in many ways. Here are a few more reasons to  practice mindful listening in our everyday lives.

It can help ease the suffering of another person

According to the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, deep listening, or compassionate listening, can help relieve the suffering of another person. Every person has a story, and every person has a burden that can be lightened if they can talk openly about it. By listening without issuing judgment or criticism, you’ll be better able to understand, and to offer words of comfort or advice that may help. Over time, your listening can inspire self-confidence and happiness.

It can help you create authentic connections with others

You may have experienced being with a group of people, but for some reason, you feel somewhat alone and disconnected from everyone around you. If you take the time to mindfully listen to what others are saying, and to be genuinely curious and interested in the conversation, you’ll be able to respond in a more thoughtful and authentic way. This can lead to bonds that go beyond the superficial, and can create friendships that last.

It can help you solve problems

Oftentimes at work, people come up with wrong ways to solve a problem–because they didn’t take the time to listen actively and to understand fully the situation that needs to be remedied. By being fully engaged, you can ask the right questions to get to the root of the problem, and you can also ask for clarification if you think that you misunderstood or misheard something. This can help everyone come up with a solution that will address the problem in a timely way.

To become a better listener, include the nonverbal cues of the speaker, and encourage the person to speak freely. It would also be better if you put aside all distractions, such as cellphones or other gadgets, when you’re talking to another person. This allows you to listen empathically, and increases your ability to ask for clarification, as well as your ability to know when clarification is needed.

Remain open-minded, and avoid judging or criticizing the speaker, as well as seeking to prove that you’re right, or that the speaker is wrong. The essential part of being a good listener is to listen with an open mind and heart, a practice we can do every day to enrich our lives and the lives of others.

Jackie Edwards is an editor and writer who previously worked as a human resources manager for a small finance company, a role which was complex and at times very stressful. Working in human resources increased her knowledge of listening to people’s needs and taking care of any problems they may have on a day to day basis in the workplace. For Jackie, listening to others in this way can be a huge responsibility, one that needs a lot of forethought and care. 

Lead image by Peter Hershey, courtesy of Unsplash

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