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Dr. Hallowell's Blog

Connection is Prevention: Start With Mindful Listening

by Rebecca Shafir, M.A.CCC Personal Development and Executive Functioning coach at the Hallowell Center MetroWest

What causes disconnection? Standards, expectations, comparisons, too many rules, too much time talking and not enough time listening, acting like you’re listening, words like “policy” and “should” are good examples. These words and behaviors invite frustration, isolation and alienation. If that is what surrounds you day after day, the anxiety and depression can get bad enough to cause harm to yourself and to others. If a person suffers from a mental illness on top of that, his or her reaction can be magnified to tragic proportions.

Mindful listening is one good solution for creating connection. When you are heard wholeheartedly, when you’re given a chance to express your feelings and given the attentive silence to do so, that lonely place inside you gets some friendly company. If you ever had a family member, teacher or friend who gave you that rare gift of listening, it is memorable. Do you recall? You were the most important person in the world to them during those few minutes. Note how they didn’t talk too much, give advice or interrupt you. They watched you intently – they ignored their phone and didn’t sneak a peek at the clock. It was all about you. Perhaps they didn’t agree with you, but in the end, you finished that interaction feeling valued and respected for your point of view. Your reality was recognized by someone else. You felt understood (or you got the feeling that at least they tried to understand you) and perhaps, quite grateful to that listener. That is the experience of connection I’m talking about.

Mindful Listening is a simple solution to disconnection, but it is not easy. It requires you to forget yourself, your agenda, and like at the movies, “get into the movie” of the speaker. Just like at the movies, you don’t interrupt, cast judgment or argue, you watch and listen with curiosity. As observers, we ask ourselves, what makes that person feel that way, say and do those things?  We want to understand. Connection is a two way street. Once you’ve put aside your agenda to understand someone else, you’re in a better position to help them. Your judgments about this person (i.e. “the troublemaker” etc) were temporarily put aside, and you got a clearer view of what it’s like to be him or her. That person’s story changed you. You, the mindful listener, are in the best position to help them, if you can. If you can’t help them, you can take what you learned and share it with those who are in a better position to help. At worst, just by listening to this person, you have helped them.

Learn more about Mindful Listening at www.MindfulCommunication.com and the book The Zen of Listening: Mindful Communication in the Age of Distraction by Rebecca Shafir.

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