Listening: Attention or Intention?

Attention Listening



In your life, how many times have you heard that phrase, either from someone else or your internal voice? Shutting out distractions like noise, devices or the torrent of thoughts and imagination that the Buddhist tradition has termed the “monkey mind” seems nearly impossible. We slap ourselves internally in some fashion, and try to refocus on the speaker. This can be just as jarring as the distractions themselves!

Mindful Listening is really not about attention. It’s about intention. Let me explain how I understand and experience the difference.

 Attention is truly a cognitive function…it really is “all in your head.” Many, many things influence and impact your attention. Some are:
  • How rested are you?
  • How hungry are you?
  • How much other “stuff” is going on for you at work?
  • How much other “stuff” is going on for you outside of work?
  • What was happening to you just prior to the start of this conversation? How upsetting was that?
  • How do you feel, physically? Do you have a headache, or perhaps any other kind of pain?
…and these are just some of the items that are internal to you. Add in the relational aspects with the person or process with whom you’re conversing or interacting, and you have an entirely new set of distractions, assumptions and expectations that can act as distractors.

Intention is more of an attitude of being (some would say “of the heart“). It is more of a stance of being toward someone or something that allows you to shelve your assumptions and expectations, really allowing a more complete, open ability to listen. It is, simultaneously, easier and more difficult.
  • Easier because the effort to constantly refocus, yelling at yourself for losing the thread of the conversation and so on is pretty much gone.
  • More difficult because learning to let the monkey mind and other distractions just “float on by”, so to speak, isn’t binary… is learned through practice and patience. Yelling at yourself when you are distracted is NOT allowed! Just move back to your intention…..
Here are a few tips to help get you on the path to more mindful listening.
  • Being present – I know this can sound a little “new-agey”, but bear with me. This refers to not having your mind and intention “elsewhere.” An expert no less than Yoda refers to this: “A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind…All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things.” (emphasis mine)
    • Simplify your meeting place – To the degree that you can, remove distractions like devices, open doors and the like from your space. Also consider WHERE you meet. A noisy coffee shop will not help you to listen well.
    • Take Some Time – Give yourself a few minutes of before-the-meeting time to clear your mind and set aside the monkey mind. Realize this means that you should arrive early to meetings (I know that this is a real challenge in some corporate settings, but you can work out a way to get it to happen more frequently once you realize just how valuable the resulting dialogue will be).
    • Meditate – A mindfulness practice, however you incorporate it into your routine, will really help you to develop a better ability to be present and deal with your monkey mind. The key understanding here is practice. Again, it’s not binary… is learned over time.
  • Build up your EMPATHY – We each have our own world-view, and that colors all we see and react to. The influences that create that world-view are too numerous to mention, and are utterly unique to each person. However, the intentional stance of empathy allows you to understand someone else’s point-of-view or opinion without immediately going to listening-to-reply. You may not agree, and you don’t have to, but you CAN accept that they have a different view of the situation. Real dialogue allows you “get behind” their view, and get much closer to listening-to-understand.
  • Notice what you react to – Many times, in this intentional stance, we notice our thoughts, feelings and even physical reactions showing up. These are because of that world-view, or another way of thinking of it is our “programming.” We feel anxious, angry, uncomfortable, disgusted….any number of things about what was said, the scenario, the person, etc. Notice them, and let them “drift away’, too. Do not let them block the communication taking place.
The ground of truly understanding the person you’re with is more valuable to you and your business than you realize. Imagine not dealing with misunderstandings, misread cues, unclear requirements, and meetings where everyone walks away the thought of “What just happened?!”

Is that worth your effort?

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