Mindfulness for trainers: the practice of deep listening
In part six of this content series on how to become a mindful trainer, Kay Buckby, facilitator at The Development Company, explains why being able to truly listen to others is an essential skill for teaching.
How many times do you have a non-conversation with someone? I heard one at lunchtime:
Friend 1: “Hi, how are you?”
Friend 2: “Great, how are you?”
Friend 1: “Really good. So, how are you?”
We’ve probably all heard a similar conversation – or indeed said it ourselves. Our nerves, feelings, thoughts are all travelling so rapidly that we end up asking the same question again – even though it has been answered.
We are not listening to ourselves, so we cannot listen to others. To be an effective facilitator, we need to be in the moment and to have a sense for what our traineers are thinking.
“Listen with the intent to understand, not to reply.”
Stephen Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People)
The above example is harmless enough, yet many misunderstandings, conflicts, and pain can be eased or eliminated if we practice deep listening.
Developing listening skills
I’m often asked to ‘do a slot’, or ‘put in a session’ on listening skills when I’m running courses for managers or leaders.
Listening is a huge skill to develop – I could spend a week exploring listening skills. We all listen, yet most of us do it badly.
It is a horrible human experience to feel that you are not being listened to. As a learner, we have dedicated valued time to be at an event, and we need to feel listened to.
Our learner may be struggling with a new concept, telling a story that reveals their vulnerability, or you may be attempting to get your idea across to everyone in the room. If the trainer doesn’t use deep listening, it can be painful for the learner.
Levels of listening
There are many models about the levels of listening. A few levels of listening are:
- Selective listening: taking in the bits that you want to hear. A classic example is when someone is telling you about their trip to New York, and you can’t wait to jump in to tell them your experiences of New York.
- Empathetic listening: seeing a situation from the other person’s point of view. We may use reflection and paraphrasing to show the person that we are truly listening to them. It is a way for us, as the listener, to check that what we think we are hearing is accurate.
- Deep listening: we listen with the sole purpose of making the other person feel heard and accepted.
I have found that when I listen mindfully, I can be a more attentive listener. It improves my facilitation skills.
Going deeper with listening
The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says that listening is about bringing your true presence to the conversation – in other words, you are really there for the other person. He says:
“Listening is a very deep practice…you have to empty yourself. You have to leave space in order to listen…especially to people we think are our enemies – the ones we believe are making our situation worse.
"When you have shown your capacity for listening and understanding, the other person will begin to listen to you, and you have a chance to tell him or her your pain, and it’s your turn to be healed. This is the practice of peace”.
Most of us are so busy that we aren’t even aware of our own emotions, needs, motivators and drivers to be able to be present for others.
To be able to listen to someone else, firstly you need to be able to listen to yourself.
Practicing mindfulness provides us with the capacity to observe – it gives us the opportunity to listen to ourselves as we speak.
Three steps to deep listening
In order to truly practice deep listening, there are three steps you need to take.
- Be present
Stop. Breathe. Feel the weight of the clothes on your body. Feel the weight of your feet on the floor. Ask yourself: How am I? How am I feeling? Am I listening to myself? If you are not centred, you will not deeply listen. When I am centred, I can be present for what is coming towards me.
- Be aware
Raise your awareness to some of the tendencies that may stop you from deep listening. My internal ‘stuff’ can get in the way of me listening to someone else, for instance, if I am already preparing what I intend to say. I may be analysing, judging, wanting to give advice, being selective, wanting to help. All of this is about me – I am not deeply listening to the other person.
Personal suffering can stop us listening to others – for example when you feel your head is spinning, or that you have too much to do, or you are tired or hungry.
If I can handle my own feelings and thinking processes, I am taking care of myself. If I cannot embrace my own emotions and thoughts – I cannot be there for anyone else.
When I am kinder to myself, I can be kinder to others. When I listen to myself, I can listen to others.
- Understand yourself
This is about the insight that comes when you see the larger picture. For instance, I may have an insight about my ‘hot’ buttons that stop me from listening to others. An example would be political views, and the view of being ‘right’ – this is my problem. Once I have this understanding, this can be the beginning of a new, mutual understanding.
Deep listening is a beautiful thing to offer to someone. Try it in a relationship, and let me know how that relationship changes.
I look forward to hearing how this rests with you.
Interested in this topic? Read Why listening is a vital leadership skill.
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Kay uses a learner driven, experiential approach in her work. She is always prepared to be challenged with unusual development requests, and often uses actors for drama workshops to embed knowledge, skills and attitudenal change.
Kay has held a variety of roles in her career - sales and marketing, office manager, HR person, Financial...