Are you a good listener? Four easy things to try today

Listening is an art and it's an art form that is sadly being lost. According to the dictionary, the word listen means to pay attention, to apply oneself, and to wait attentively for a sound.

In the strictest meaning of the word, are we really listening?

Turn on the TV and watch the pundits, journalists, and reality show stars talk over in each other. It's a competition of who can get in a point first and be the loudest. Shouting is so common in normal conversation these days that it's become a modern day sport.

In a room full of shouters it's worth asking, can you really listen?

But it's not just the shouting on television or in our homes that frustrates our ability to listen. Another hindrance to listening is the judging that takes place. When a friend shares a story most of us, rather than simply hearing the person out, rush give our opinion or to solve the issue. Rather than offering an ear, we impose our thoughts and opinions.

And this is the thing, most of the time, people just want to be heard. They don't want advise, they don't want opinions, nor do they want to be saved. They just want a compassionate ear and open heart to be able to speak their pain freely. Most importantly, people also don't want to feel judged. 

In the Eastern world listening takes on a different form. A friend recently visited me from Japan and we spent some time catching up. I noticed something peculiar about the flow of our conversation. With my American friends, the flow of our conversations are often fast paced, a staccato of frantic energy. With my Japanese friend, however, the conversations felt like waves of an ocean, with spaces of silence every time one of us spoke. These pauses were not awkward rather refreshing. My friend, who by the way speaks perfect English, took the time to take in fully what I expressed and vice versa. She quietly processed -- actively paid attention -- to what I said and in turn, so did I. The long pauses that followed after each of us spoke allowed breathing space for each of us to take in the words being expressed. To a westerner, who is always trying to fill in the "silence" these long pauses can be very awkward. But these pauses and suspension of judgments are keys to listening. They also allow for more delicious connections and conversations.

Here are a few practices that I encourage you to try to make you a better listener:

  • Meditate

When you still the mind, seek silence in your day, you become a better listener. Don't know how to mediate. I got you! The Chopra Center will offer a free 21-day mediation challenge starting next week. Besides fine tuning listening skills, meditation can offer a slew of benefits.  
Click HERE to register. 

  • Spend quiet time in silence alone in nature

Sit by a garden, a body of water, walk in a forest, a long trail. And take in the sounds of nature, quietly.

  • Suspend judgment during conversations

This is admittedly the most difficult task especially because most of us cherry pick what we want to hear and listen out for things that confirm our opinions about life. And we can't wait to share them. 

British philosopher Jonathan Glover says that the facts we grasp are often cherry picked by our emotions. These emotions, the ones that are deep and buried in our subconscious he argues, distort our view of the world. 

And Glover is backed up by the world's most famous shrink, Sigmund Freud. Freud argued that our psyches are layered like the ruins of Rome. What we experienced in the past is buried deep below, one experience slapped on top of another. We are like emotional lasagnas--stratified! What is below and deep even if we cannot see it, informs what is above, or how we see the world. In other words, we see the world through what is below and that is where the real work begins.

So, try this next time someone is sharing a story: suspend judgment or your opinion. Keep your opinion or advise to yourself. Let the person speak. Ask things like how does that make you feel. What do you feel? Listen, just listen with an open heart. If your friend wants your opinion, she or he will ask for it. Otherwise just hear them out.

  • Don't rush to speak right after the other person has spoken. 

Pause and think about what the person has just said. Try it. Might feel weird at first, but you may notice and even deeper level of communication.