young woman listening to gossipHave you ever been in a situation where you’ve been talking and are quite certain the person you’re talking to isn’t listening? Yeah. We’ve all been there, and done that—but let’s fix that.

Learning to listen effectively is a powerful way to build concentration. In turn, concentration will help you to listen better.

Most people will talk more or less continuously and are thinking of what they are going to say, while pretending to listen to others. “Conversation” becomes a war of clever soundbites, delivered with little interest in what others are saying. Most people in conversation will have some remark locked and loaded, ready to fire, just waiting for a pause in the other person’s remarks. Then they switch roles, each jumping instantly into the silence, and filling it with speech.

If you listen for a few minutes to two people talking like this you will notice several features about the conversation. First, there is never any silence. Second, because there is no silence, the conversationalists are never actually taking in what each other is saying. Third, since they aren’t taking it in, they aren’t really thinking about it or responding to what’s being said in a meaningful way.

As a result of these three factors, the conversation skates along on the shallowest possible level, a mere robotic duel of rote verbal reactions triggering more rote verbal reactions. Conversations like this are extremely tiring. They contain no food for the brain or heart. They are the verbal equivalent of junk food—empty, unsatisfying and ultimately bad for you.

Learning to listen means learning to actually pay attention to—and concentrating on—what other people are saying.

You listen to their words as if you were listening to a favorite song, with your mind focused on what they are saying and what it means. Listening with concentration can be called active listening or deep listening because we are not just passively allowing speech to enter our ears. Instead, we are bringing as much of our listening capacity into the act as possible. Our ears become hungry for the words they are listening to, and chew the words as finely as possible before digesting them. The benefits of deep listening area greatly increased concentration, enjoyment of music, and enjoyment of other people too. And, perhaps most importantly, a profoundly positive shift in the quality of relationships.

The first step in learning to listen is
to be quiet.

Make a friend of silence. This can be difficult because nobody wants to be thought of as dull. There is a natural desire to respond quickly, and to be seen as interesting and smart. But if you resist this urge even a little bit, new things can begin to happen.

Try this experiment: When talking with someone, play a mental game of waiting one full second before responding to anything they have said. That’s it. Just one second of silence, no matter what you’re talking about. This is a long, long time in a normal conversation. During this second of silence, don’t think about what you are going to say, think about what the other person has just said. Give it one long, delicious second of your full attention. Then respond, saying whatever it is you have to say. Make sure to maintain eye contact so that they know you’re listening to what they’re saying and considering it.

You will be surprised what a big difference this little game makes. By actually giving the other person’s words a moment to sink in before you respond, your connection with that person, the depth of your conversation, will be very noticeable. Because humans love to be heard, the speaker will begin to say things and respond in ways that are very positive. But the biggest changes will be in you. You will feel yourself opening to the person in a new way. Even if you strongly dislike their ideas, you will begin to open to the person emotionally, and feel into their humanness. It’s a powerful feeling, one that immediately begins to relive our chronic condition of existential isolation.

You will actually feel smarter and more concentrated. Dedicate the entire time the other person is speaking to actually hear their words, not listening to your own mental reaction to them. By doing that, your mind is doing one thing at a time: listening when it’s time to listen, and responding when it’s time to respond. If you practice this enough, not only will your concentration power begin to get quite strong, but you will have some of the best conversations you’ve ever had. And others will begin to slow down and listen to you as well. The added bonus? Others will begin to slow down and listen to you as well.

Want to connect with people? Want to really understand where people are at and what’s going on? Let some silence happen and make a practice of deep listening.

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