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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Are you listening to me? A key skill in this coming New Year

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Dec 22nd 2008

couple fighting"Are you listening to me?" She asked as the muscles in her face began to tighten and the spark of frustration ignited between them.  "Ofcourse, I heard what you said," he retorted and then followed with a list of the words that his brain caught while she was talking. We've all been through this conversation and for some reason this response usually doesn't relieve the situation between two people. Why? Because when we're speaking to someone we want them to listen to us, not hear us. Listening and hearing are two different processes with the former being a conscious process of intentionally paying attention to the person, and the latter is a passive process of the words just filtering through our ears to our brain. There is that anonymous saying "We were given two ears and one mouth for a reason", to cultivate the skill and gift of listening.  

How does the active skill listening turn into the passive act of hearing in our relationships? As we live our day to day lives we make little micro decisions that lay just beneath our consciousness about whom and what we're going to pay attention to. What happens is we begin to develop filters in our minds about what we're going to intentionally pay attention to and what we're not. It's as if we get kicked into auto-pilot, with no intentional focus in the moment. You can hear, but you're not listening. This can easily happen with those closest to us. Our minds think we know what is and is not important to pay attention to so we filter out what people are saying in order to pay attention to other things, usuall stuff in our own minds. In doing this, we miss out on connecting with the people who may be most supportive to us in our lives. As we do this a disconnection begins to grow which can lead to a downward spiral of miscommunication, frustration, hurt, and potentially loss of the relationship as we knew it.

This holiday season and into the New Year, try something different. Try intentionally listening. How do you do this?

First, when someone is speaking to you, see if you can pay attention to them and not interrupt them until they are completely finished speaking.

Second, notice when your mind begins to wander off to thinking about what you need to do later that day, or some grievance of the past, or the brilliant counterargument that you need to make. When it does this, just become aware of it, and then intentionally bring your attention back to listening. See if you can practice this with an attitude of curiosity.

Third, when the person has finished, take a breath before you speak.

Remember, you are not going to be perfect at this, so every time you aren't able to do this, see if you can forgive yourself and use that moment as an insight to practice listening. You may do this again and again. When people feel listened to, not only do they feel more connected to you, but also feel less on guard or defensive. This creates the space for an entirely more fruitful space for dialogue and connection. It also opens up our filters to take in so much more that is going on as our invaluable resource of attention is no longer extending as much energy up in our heads while the other is speaking, but instead taking in what they are saying. In doing this practice, you may find that you are taking in so much more of life than you used to.  How will your holiday season change, how will your relationships at work change, how will your relationships at home change?

Whatever you do, don't take my word for it, try it out for yourself!

As always, please comment on how listening, or not listening has affected your life. What ways have you found that are helpful to you. We all have wisdom to share to support one another on this journey of life.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

listening - - Dec 29th 2008

Excelent article on listening and consequent miscommunication and mis understanding. It may prove to be a very difficult job to switch off the auto pilot. One should try.

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