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Taking your time to really hear others

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Just the other week, I read an article that really resonated and reminded me of the learnings of Week 6 of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course. In her article ‘Take your time to really hear others,’ Michele Gierck draws on the work of Dr David Loy, an American professor of Buddhism and comparative philosophy and Zen teacher and shares that for ‘many of us, our propensity to talk, to convince others of the plausibility of our thoughts, the merit of our lives and experiences, or that what is important to us must be important to them too, could be holding us back from genuine listening.’

I think this is something we can all relate to. It is not uncommon in conversation to be planning what you are going to say next – in doing so, you fail to listen and respond appropriately.

As part of the home practice following Week 5 of the MBSR course, participants are asked to take note of two difficult or stressful communications that occurred during the week. In Week 6 focused on ‘mindful communications,’ participants come into pairs and share their example. One person speaks for 5 minutes while the second person listens without interrupting. After 5 minutes has past, the listener has 2 minutes to repeat back what they heard as accurately as they can. Following this, the speaker has two minutes to respond to the following questions: 1. How did it feel to receive feedback from the listener? and 2. What has arisen about I communicate?

The pair then swap roles, with the speaker becoming the listener.

The purpose of this exercise is to bring participants’ new found attention to their listening and speaking. In addition, participants also have the chance to experiment with new behaviours and ways of engaging interpersonally.

While what participants discover during this activity isn’t particularly surprising, it does lead to insights that can have a profound and positive impact on how they communicate and relate to others. When asked about their learnings from this exercise, participants share the following:

  • ‘It feels good to be properly listened to.’
  • ‘I didn’t realise how badly I listened to people.’
  • ‘By listening properly, without interrupting, I’m better able to understand someone else’s perspective.’
  • ‘When I feel listened to, I feel special, understood, respected and loved.’


People’s insights and reflections following this exercise make this class one of my all time favourites of the 8 week course. Not only do participants leave the class with a greater awareness of their habitual patterns and behaviours when it comes to communicating with others, they learn new strategies for more effective and creative interpersonal communication skills.

Learn more about the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course here. The next course starts in early February – register here.

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