Learning to Listen

 Disagreements are an inevitable component of all relationships. No two people are identical in thought and belief patterns, regardless of how similar they might be. Even in the strongest relationships, conflicting needs and opinions arise occasionally. More often than not, it isn’t the conflict that presents the most significant challenge; it’s how we attempt to resolve the issues that get us into deep water. When our minds get stuck on the need to get our message across, we can completely lose the ability to remain curious about our partner’s point of view.

During disagreements, you might think: ‘If only they would listen to what I’m saying’ or ‘I wish they would see things from my point of view.’ Understandably, you yearn to be heard and understood; but take a moment flip this lens around. When you want to feel heard- ask yourself ‘how can listen more closely? How can start to understand my partner’s point of view in a new way?’

None of this is to say that you cannot or should not also ask to be listened to with care and respect. However, let’s consider your own capacity for mindful listening. How can you practice listening in ways that help your relationship effectively move through whatever conflict or challenge it’s facing? Chances are, as you strengthen your capacity to listen more mindfully to others, you will start to receive the same in return.

Approach with curiousity

If you arrive in conflict assuming that you already know exactly how another person is thinking and feeling, you close yourself off from discovering something new about your partner’s perspective. Cultivating curiosity is about meeting your partner (or anyone) with a sense of openness and a willingness to learn. Practice this by asking for more details, seeking clarification where needed, and mindfully noting any assumptions or judgments held.

Shelving your defensiveness

Shelving your defensiveness is not about denying your own needs, feelings, or beliefs. Rather, it is about setting your own views aside for a time to better understand the experience of another. If the mind races while your partner speaks, you can shelve your defensiveness by letting go of attachment to your own thoughts, noticing your breath and then returning open attention to the person.  

Listen to understand rather than to respond

What is your intention when listening? Are you listening to understand or to respond? It is not uncommon when someone is speaking to formulate a counter argument. However, true listening requires presence and a yearning to understand. Moving into a place of understanding does not mean condoning a particular behaviour or agreeing with a certain belief; it simply means you are open to seeing where another person is coming from. It is indeed possible to understand and to validate without agreeing.

Cultivate loving intention

Lastly, one of the most important practices for mindful listening is cultivating loving intentions. Sometimes, approaching an argument or discussion with care and compassion is difficult, yet the more you practice, the easier this becomes. When you disagree with someone you love, you can:

  • Take a moment’s pause, perhaps inviting the person you’re with to do the same.
  • Close your eyes and take a long, deep breath.
  • Then, draw your awareness to a sense of ‘us, we or our -based focus.,’ rather than an ‘i, me, my-based focus.’
  • Ask yourself, ‘What am I defending here?’ Is it more important than my love for this person
  • Tap into your love and care for the person. Can you recommit to finding a way for both sides to be seen, heard, and held?

After this mindful pause, return to the conversation. Notice if anything has shifted. More often than not, this simple loving practice greatly shifts the energy of the discussion, imbuing the dialogue with increased calm, patience, and presence.

When practicing mindful listening, it is important to note that you won’t always manage it perfectly. Human relationships are complex and dynamic, but the more you practice tuning in with presence, openness, and care, the easier it becomes to navigate conflict effectively. Furthermore, as you practice mindful listening from your end, you might just find that you naturally and effortlessly invite others to do the same. When both sides are open to listening and understanding, conflict loses its charge, instead becoming an opportunity for wonderfully profound, mutually enhancing growth.