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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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Have an attitude of curiosity and compassion

Continuing with the foundations of mindful communication, let's talk about the attitude with which we approach communicating with others.

Human beings are judgment making machines.

Our minds are active 24/7 trying to make meaning and sense of the world around us. Everything that happens in our environment and around us goes through the filters we have in our brains (our very own unique 'model of the world') and we interpret all information according to these filters and through this model of the world.

This is an automatic, unconscious process. Neither good nor bad. It just is.

The problem is not that we have our own model of the world, it is that most of the time we are unconscious that we are experiencing the world through our interpretations. We tend to accept our interpretations as 'truth' and 'reality'.

The process of becoming conscious involves recognizing this process and noticing the tendency to accept our judgments as the 'truth' or as 'reality'.

Making and accepting...

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But why is communication so challenging?

Yesterday we talked about how miscommunication was quite common and that most of us could do with some reminders on how to communicate better.

There are many many reasons why the message gets lost in translation between my mind and your ears.

Let's try and understand a few of them.

I have an idea in my head, and I want to convey it to you. I try to convey it to the best of my ability. You then have to take my words (assuming that you heard them correctly), decode and understand them to the best of your ability and make meaning out of them.

Both our abilities to convey and receive these messages are of course impacted by many factors.

I will convey my message based on my skill at using language, what certain words mean to me and my tone and body language (which may confirm or conflict with the message).

I also have underlying emotions that colour the way I speak. If I want to go out for dinner, for example, I might ask "What shall we do for dinner" because it feels safer than making...

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Let’s talk about communication

"Effective communication" is a buzz word in psychology and self development literature. A quick Google search on effective communication resulted in about 74,600,000 results in 0.63 seconds - yes that is 74 million plus results!

Clearly this is something that we human beings care about and are concerned about.

At some level, we know that communication is what connects us to others of our species. We can sense that we can meet our human need for connection if we can be understood by, and in turn, understand those who matter to us.

The impact of our communication skills, of course, goes way beyond intimate relationships. In the workplace, in the community, in leadership roles and in the world, our effectiveness as a human being depends greatly on our ability to communicate with others.

Something that is so intrinsically tied to our success and wellbeing should just come naturally, right?

Turns out that while the ability to communicate is a God-given gift, the ability to communicate...

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Be generous of spirit (Imam Ali (as)’s wisdom)

Simple advice for improved social relationships:

If you are greeted, then return the greetings more warmly. If you are favoured, then repay the obligation manifold; but he who takes the initiative will always excel in merit.
Imam Ali (as)

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