How to Practice Mindful Listening


When was the last time you caught yourself in a conversation thinking more about how you’d respond than about what the other person was saying?

Humans have to make a conscious effort to listen with a view to understanding the other’s perspective — not just trying to win an argument or make a point. 

Not working out so well for either of you, though, right? 

If you’re looking for a better way to communicate, try any of the 5 mindful listening exercises in this post. 

What is Mindful Listening?

Half of communication is listening. But in order to absorb what someone else is saying, you need to be fully present. 

When you’re fully aware of the present moment, you are available to hear what the other person is saying.

You’re also more aware of their body language and more likely to consider what you’ve picked up from past conversations. 

You’re able to see the big picture of what they’re saying — along with what they’re not putting into words. 

If mindfulness is about paying purposeful attention to the present moment, mindful listening is about paying purposeful attention to what someone is saying to you (verbally and otherwise). 

Maybe you remember times when you practiced mindful listening — also called active listening. It probably made all the difference in how well you were able to empathize with the other person. 

But unless mindful listening is a habit for you, conversations will be hit or miss — or mostly miss with a few scattered hits. 

How would it change your relationships if you made mindful listening a regular thing?

7 Benefits of Mindful Listening

According to communication expert Rebecca Shafir, the average person remembers only 25% of what someone has said, just a few minutes after they said it. 

But a few minutes a day of mindful listening exercises could boost your retention and understanding of important conversations — making it far less likely that you’ll forget something you can’t afford let slip from memory. 

elderly woman and woman talking on the sofa mindful listening

It does this by training you to silence the internal noise of your own thoughts so you can hear and understand what others are saying to you. 

You probably know how it feels when you’re trying to get your point across to someone, and they look confused, distracted, or zoned out. Frustrating, right? 

Now imagine how much better conversations will be when you’re both mindfully listening to each other. And the benefits go beyond what they can do for intimate relationships. 

Mindful listening also gives you . . .

Add to these the benefits of daily meditation, and you have the makings of a completely different life from the one you’re living now — not to mention different relationships with the people closest to you. 

Totally worth taking a few minutes each day to practice active listening, right? And before you know it, you’ll be feeling those benefits. 

And you might just want to write about them in your daily journal.

5 Mindful Listening Exercises

At least one of these mindful listening activities will help you make a habit of listening more mindfully.

Not only will you reap the benefits of a daily mindfulness practice, but also you’ll see how it hones your communication skills and strengthens your relationships. 

Take turns.

First in line is the simple exercise of taking turns in a conversation.

When you’re anxious to get your words out, it’s too easy to interrupt the other person or talk over them. But this makes it impossible to hear everything they’re trying to tell you. 

Of all the mindfulness communication exercises, this one ranks at number one because it compels you to stop talking and listen.

To help with taking turns, you can use a talking stick or a timer.

When it’s your turn, you can talk for a full three minutes or until you’re done for the moment (whichever comes first). 

Then the other person gets three minutes to talk without interruption, and it’s your turn to give them your undivided and mindful attention. 

Stop and listen.

You can practice this one even when you’re alone. Stop whatever you’re doing and listen mindfully to every sound you can pick up in your immediate environment.

Give it a few minutes, and take deep, calming breaths while listening. 

If someone is trying to tell you something, make it a habit to stop what you’re doing (unless you’re driving) and listen mindfully to what they’re saying. 

man explaining something to woman outside mindful listening

This is not a time to multi-task. Use this exercise to not only become a better listener but also to improve your ability to focus. 

So, no peeking at your phone or checking the clock. This is a time to give someone the level of attention you’d want from them if you had something important to tell them. 

This can easily become an exercise in taking turns, so be prepared to use whatever will help you both communicate more effectively. 

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Mindfully listen to music.

Set aside at least five minutes to listen mindfully to some music of your choice while relaxing in a comfortable position. For a more immersive experience, use headphones or earbuds. 

You can also do this with a friend. Just make sure you agree beforehand whether or not there will be any talking while the music plays. 

After all, if you’re supposed to be focusing on the music, introducing a conversation could make this an exercise in multi-tasking. And that’s not what it’s is about. 

Listen to everything — the tune, the instruments being used, the voices, and everything else you can pick up. Just doing this once a day can help you develop a better appreciation for well-crafted music.  

If’s okay if, after one song, this segues into taking turns. It could also lead to the following exercise.

Practice mindfulness meditation

Building a mindfulness meditation habit is one of the best ways to cultivate a more mindful approach to listening and conversation, among other things. 

two women talking while holding cups mindful listening

Not only do you improve your ability to focus, but also you become a better observer of your environment.

And that comes in handy when someone is trying to tell you one thing with words while communicating the contrary with their body language. 

It also gives you a break from worrying about things you can’t control (or at least can’t address in that moment), which makes you more present for those around you. 

Learning how to acknowledge your own thoughts and feelings without judgment also helps you do the same for others. 

The more aware and accepting you are of what’s going on in your own head (and heart), the more open and understanding you’ll be with those who need your attention.

Participate in group mindfulness exercises.

Practicing mindfulness with a group of others can open your eyes to the fact that you aren’t the only one who struggles to focus and to really hear what others are saying to you. 

This is a challenge faced all over the world — between couples, among coworkers, and in every social situation. Why not hone your skills with others who have the same intention? 

Practice listening to each other’s conversations and repeating the essence of what you’ve heard in your own words. 

Start practicing mindful listening today.

Now that you’re more aware of the benefits of mindful listening and how to practice it, what activities appeal to you most? Which active listening skills do you think will be easiest for you to practice every day?

And do you have someone if your life who’s willing to build the habit of becoming a more active listener along with you?

Having an accountability partner for this practice can make all the difference in your progress and personal growth. And the benefits go both ways. 

Not only will you benefit yourself by improving your ability to focus and to understand others, but the people in your life will notice and appreciate that you’re making an effort to be more present for them. 

It tells them you care about what they’re saying. And those who appreciate that are more likely to return the favor.

What will you do today to become a better listener? 


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