What Is Deep Listening and Why Is it Important for This Holiday Season?

The Holiday season is here, and you know what that means: holiday dinners with all your family members that differ on every absolutely everything. In a time where family members aren’t on speaking terms because of a difference in beliefs, we want to encourage you to become a deep listener- so you can love those different than you, and set enjoy the time with your family.

What Is Deep Listening?

Deep listening really is what it sounds like. It is the practice of becoming connected to someone during a conversation. It is learning to be fully present for the other person as they are sharing their thoughts, hopes, concerns, and dreams with you.

In the process of deep listening, your goal is to learn something from the other person as you listen with intention. You remain focused on their words, facial expressions, and body language so that you can absorb as much as possible about what they need, think, or desire.

This isn’t a time that you need to be their problem solver unless they ask for help or advice or guidance. You just listen–really listen, without an agenda and without bias. And it isn’t easy.

Why Is Deep Listening so Difficult?

If you think about your last conversation, it’s likely that during the entire time you were talking with the other person, your mind was doing a dozen other things. You may have been thinking about your grocery list, or the cupcakes you need to make for your child’s soccer party, or who is hosting Christmas dinner this year. In other words, your mind was scattered and unfocused.

Besides that, you probably had a phone in your hand or pocket, and it’s likely you reached for it or looked at it many times during that conversation. Maybe you had alerts or alarms going off while you were chatting. These interruptions have become so commonplace now, most of us no longer notice them.

The fact is, our modern world is fast-paced and noisy, with a lot of different things demanding our attention simultaneously. We rarely have the time to give anything our full attention. Our lives are running a mile wide and an inch deep. Deep listening tries to address this.

In addition to the modern technological distractions and hindrances, our brains work against us too. While most adults speak about 140 words per minute, our brains can process speech at a rate of about 400 words per minute. Or more! So when you feel like your mind is racing ahead in a conversation, it probably is.

So although the concept of deep listening is simple, the practice is far from easy.

How Can You Develop Deep Listening Skills?

In spite of, or perhaps because of, our modern distracted life, many people are finding joy and value in becoming better listeners. Here are five ways you can hone your deep listening skills:

Learn To Find Silence

Before jumping into Expert Listener 101, spend some time being comfortable with silence all by yourself. Whether it is through mindfulness, prayer, or meditation, learn to feel at ease in silence, without music or devices or plans.

Mother Teresa said, “See how nature — trees, flowers, grass — grows in silence; see the stars, the moon, and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls.”

Personal Silence is the Beginning of Deep Listening

Put away the devices. When you want to listen with intention and with a desire to learn something from the conversation, put your phone and other devices out of sight and on silent. Even five minutes without distractions can give you an excellent opportunity to listen intently.

Pay Attention To Eye Contact

While you don’t need to stare down the person you’re talking with, eye contact is important. It allows you to observe their body language, posture, and facial expressions. All of this nonverbal communication can give you a lot of information if you’re watching for it.

Use your own nonverbal communication. As you are listening during your conversations, allow your body language to show your intention and focus. Lean in a little; smile; have an open posture. All of these habits show the other person you are fully engaged with what they are saying.

Give occasional verbal feedback. Remember, unless the person directly asks you for input, this is not the time to offer advice or try to fix anything. But it is good to respond at times throughout the conversation. Even small phrases like “I see” or “Uh-huh” let the person know that you are engaged and paying attention.

Why Is Deep Listening Important?

Employers are working on deep listening skills and are training their employees in the process as well. Teachers, ministers, and doctors are taking note too. In short, people are discovering that deep listening is valuable and worth the effort. Why?

It Develops Empathy

As you tune in and focus your attentiveness on another person’s speech and body language, you begin to understand their perspective and their thoughts. This level of understanding is crucial to developing empathy, or the ability to see things from someone else’s point of view.

Eye contact and verbal feedback allow the other people in your conversations to feel connected to you. These personal connections, in turn, allow people to feel more tethered to the world at large, rather than adrift and alone. A sense of “connectedness” is a crucial component to good mental health.

It Develops Open-Mindedness

Although you may not understand or agree with everything you hear in a conversation, deep listening forces you to set aside your agenda as you listen to learn. You will hear and understand things about the other person and their world that you did not know before.

So go to the Thanksgiving dinner with wanting to listen as your goal, and show your loved ones how much you really do love them. If you’d like more information on this or other mindfulness topics contact us at Third River Health, we would love the chance to connect with you.


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