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Change your intention

According to the vast majority of experts on communication, most of us listen only with the intention to reply.

We filter what is said so that we can focus on what we can challenge.

We are having our own little conversation in our heads, coming up with a suitable response that will prove our point. Instead of listening, we are "just preparing to speak."

We act like lawyers for the prosecution and the defense and focus on how we can decimate our opponent and the premise of their argument.

Oops . . . did I say decimate? Did I say opponent?

Is this a person that we care about? A person that we are in relationship with? Is that not why they are trying so desperately to get through to us?

How about we put aside the cross examination skills that we may have learnt from Harvey Spectera and Alicia Florrick on TV just for the moment?

And try listening to understand.

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Why bother?

Continuing our discussion from yesterday about not confusing listening with giving advice.

Here is a poem:

Why Bother?
Yesterday you asked as you passed
How I was
Without stopping to hear me say
"I'm feeling down."
You never even turned around
As you quickly walked away.

Today you stop to ask how I am;
My answer is quite real:
"I'm feel blue . . . "
You retort before I'm through,
"Don't feel that way,
Everything will be okay!"

These words I ponder,
At your insensitivity wonder;
You keep right on talking
While I go on hurting;
"Have a good day!" you say
As again you walk away.

Joy E. Walker Steward,1997

Just for today, can we intend to listen to someone who is attempting to express pain or hurt? Can we simply be present, be a witness to their pain or frustration and simply try to understand it?

It won't kill us, I promise.

AND it may just save their (emotional) life.

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Listening is uncomfortable

Listening to somebody express their needs, their problems, their pain, their frustration or sadness is not easy and it is not fun. It touches your heart, makes you anxious and you want to make it all better.

As soon as possible.

And so you start offering solutions to make the other person feel better…

"Cheer up. Its not so bad."
"Look on the bright side"
"Be grateful. There are so many people who have it much worse"
"Be positive. Its all in your mind."
"Don't be sad (or angry, or upset, or frustrated or whatever). It will get better soon".

A question for you: how is that working out for you and for your relationship?

Does the person thank you for your wisdom, calms down, takes your advice and becomes cheerful?

No, I didn't think so.

Here's the thing: there is a time for listening and a time for offering support, guidance or advice.

And you generally have to do one before you can do the other.

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Why work on listening?

There are many many reasons why it is important to work on our listening skills. Apart from being a key skill in the workplace and in life, it is not an overstatement to say that the art of listening is critical to successful relationships.

Without listening, we have what George Bernard Shaw called "the illusion of communication". We can tell when there exists a lack of listening in a relationship when there are frequent misunderstandings, hurt feelings and feelings of frustration regarding unmet emotional needs.

It is said that being listened to is so much like being loved that most people don't know the difference.

Truly listening to another human being and allowing another person to express themselves without interrupting, judging, refuting, or discounting is a gift of love – a sacred gift - that we can offer.

For the one expressing themselves, being listened to, heard and understood is like emotional oxygen. When the core human need to be listened to and understood is met,...

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Test yourself on your listening skills

How do you know if you listen well or not?

Here are some questions to reflect on.

Do you:

Tend to speak more than others.
Interrupt, and believe this is a natural part of conversation.
Think ahead, finishing peoples sentences for them.
Come to conclusions quickly and form options of what needs to be done before the speaker is finished.

Get impatient if the speaker is slow and taking a while.
Find yourself thinking about what you want to say instead of  concentrating on what the speaker is saying.

Are easily distracted.
Fake attention when listening to others
Make judgments about the speaker.

Want to get to the bottom line quickly.
Want facts rather than ideas.

Are not interested in how people feel, you just want to know what they've done.
Often forget what people told you.
Listen selectively, dipping in and out of attentiveness.

Are more interested in content than feelings.
Don't observe body language and facial expressions, and stare into space while listening.
Tend to listen without...

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How well do you listen?

Turns out that most of us think that we are better listeners than we are.

We may vocally interrupt while the other is speaking, change the conversation to something else, insert our own experience or say something to distract the other person.

And just because our tongues are silent while the other is speaking does not mean that we are actually listening, even though our ears may pick up the sounds emanating from the other person.

The vast majority of us are too busy in our own heads while we are in conversation with someone else. We might be formulating our response, making a witty comeback, poking holes in what the other person is saying, or telling our own counter-story to the story that the other person is telling.

In other words, we are having a conversation with ourselves in our heads while pretending to be listening to the other person.

That is why it is said that a "conversation is a vocal competition in which the one who is catching his breath is called the listener". As we...

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Expand your awareness

One of the hallmarks of emotional reactivity is that it causes us to have tunnel vision.

When we are in the midst of a reacting to a trigger, our entire attention is focused on the cause of the irritation and upset. As a result of this, we fail to notice everything that is beautiful and good around us.

While there are solid biological reasons for this reaction when we are in the midst of a true life and death situation and need to focus our attention on the threat, this kind of reaction does not serve us well in the vast majority of triggers and upsets that we face in our daily lives. It simply causes us to lose perspective and become reactive.

One of the ways to develop mental and emotional balance is to intentionally expand our awareness to include what is going right around us. When we do this, by definition we put the problem or the irritant in its rightful place.

Expanding our focus is NOT about denying what is bothering us or not dealing with it. It is about having a realistic...

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Be like Teflon

Let's continue our discussion on developing and practicing equanimity as a path to mindful communication.

Equanimity, as we have discussed, is the ability to remain calm even in difficult situations and not get triggered in response to what others say or do.

Today's practice is about being like Teflon.

Teflon, as you may know, is used as a non-reactive, non-stick coating for pans and other cookware. The primary characteristic of Teflon is that it does not react with the chemicals in food and also allows foods not to stick and instead slide right off the pan.

So what is a Teflon Mindset? To have a Teflon Mindset is developing the ability to allow experiences, feelings, and thoughts come into your mind and slip right out without reacting to them.

If you run into someone else's bad day, for example, you do not have to engage with them and get hooked into an argument. If they say something which is baiting you to engage into a verbal battle, how about practicing being like Teflon?

Let...

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Practice self awareness

Continuing our discussion on foundations for mindful communication, today let us talk about self awareness.

"Self-awareness" is a phrase we often hear in spiritual contexts. There is a famous Islamic narration which goes: "He who knows himself, knows God". In other words, to become aware of God and His magnificence, we must become aware of ourselves.

So far so good. But what on earth does it actually mean to be "self-aware"?

Self Awareness means having a clear perception of your personality, including strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions. It is, in essence, the ability to become an observer of oneself, to consider our own selves from a somewhat objective perspective.

Without self-awareness, we are full of "blind-spots" – we have no real idea of our own strengths or where our challenges lay. Without self-awareness, we tend to have little agency or control over own thoughts and emotions, and live in a reactionary mode most of the time. Without self...

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When it comes to reforming communication, remember the four Rs

Yesterday we talked about how acknowledging our need to learn new ways to communicate is one of the foundations of mindful communication.

Today, lets deepen this conversation just a little more.

How do we know that we need to work on something, in the first place?

"Remember that Reform starts with the four Rs"

1) Reminder – everything in our environment can act as a reminder if we let it. We hear an inspirational story, a lecture, an article or even a social media post. This reminder confirms what is true within our nature. It makes sense because the knowledge of what works and what doesn't is already hardwired into us. This one reason why inspirational quotes are so inspirational – they eloquently express what we feel and know to be true within.

For example, here is a quote about the power of words:
Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words...

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