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“Listening, turns out, is much harder than speaking. We have to allow things we might disagree with to hang in the air. We have to move over a little and create space for those things to linger.”
- Peter Bregman

When was the last time you felt listened to? I mean really listened to. Somebody looked you dead in the eye and took in what you were saying without interjecting, making the conversation about them, or without a cell phone in hand? I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s been a while. I hadn’t realized just how long until this week.

The brain is funny in that is has to receive information and dissect it so we can appropriately respond to what the other person is saying. As a result, most conversations end up being the listener taking in necessary bits of information to get the general gist, and then using the bulk of the brain processing time to create a response. Mind you, this is without other distractions that can pull our focus and attention. If we took out the part where we are expected to respond, think about how much more we’d be able to hear. This is the practice of mindful listening.

This week your Black Zen team tried out mindful listening on each other. We gave each person uninterrupted time to tell each other about the day. During the exercise, the listener couldn’t speak and had to keep facial expressions to a minimum (as this sometimes unconsciously affects how the speaker chooses to continue). In addition, the listener couldn't judge what the speaker had to say and wasn't allowed to form any opinion in general.
When it was my turn to listen, I learned more about the other person's day in those present minutes than if we'd had that same discussion over lunch. I was able to glean more than just words, and noticed body language and facial expressions that all demonstrated the true feelings behind the words being spoken. It was listening, but on an entirely different level.
As the speaker on the receiving end of that fully present attention, the feeling of being seen and really heard changed the level of openness of the conversation. It naturally brought out an authenticity about how I really felt about my day as opposed to using my usual blanket statements like, “it was good” or “same old same.” For both of us, the biggest takeaway of this exercise was that most of the time we didn’t even know that we weren't listening.
Now this doesn’t mean we’re going to start walking around never responding to people when they speak. That would be weird. However, it does mean that we’re going to use this newfound practice to listen long enough to let the other person finish their sentence. We’re going to work on being so present when someone is speaking that we actually take in what they are saying without comment, giving advice, or turning the subject back on ourselves. We are going to give the people in our lives more space and room to feel seen and heard. Essentially, we’re going to listen.