how to actively listen

How to Actively Listen and Improve Your Conversations

Can you remember the last time you were in a conversation and only half paying attention?

Maybe you were checking your phone? Maybe you nodded your head and gave a few “Umhmms” and “Yeahs”?

We’ve all been there. Standing in front of someone, not listening. Pretending we were paying attention when we were really checked-out.

Of course, technology makes things worse. Zoom conversations are easy to tune out. Flip your video off and just go multitask elsewhere. No one knows. Or do they?

Active Listening is About Caring and Choosing

The real issue when it comes to listening isn’t necessarily your slack or your phone. It is a lack of caring. It’s easy to lose sight of what really matters—that human being talking to you.

You have stopped listening because your mind has prioritized something else. Maybe it’s another thought. Maybe it is a buzz in your pocket. Whatever preoccupies you happens so quickly and unconsciously you probably don’t even know your attention has been highjacked.

This is the situation we all face. Our nervous systems’ are trying to integrate an endless world of incoming information and our conscious minds are struggling to keep up. Thankfully, there is a way to override this distractible circuitry and redirect your focus so you can actively listen. It is a practice called “Wise Eyes.”  

How To Practice “Wise Eyes”

The Wise Eyes idea comes from the work of author and philosopher Ken Wilber at the Integral Center. Simply put, it is a reminder to start every interaction with this thought:

What if this person in front of me was an incredibly wise being? What if he or she was more developed, more awakened, and more intelligent than I could ever imagine?

I can feel you tightening up.

You really want me to believe that other people are wiser and more developed?

Yes. Try this perspective on for a moment. Whether it’s true doesn’t matter. The intention it creates makes all the difference.

When you start to see others through “wise eyes”, you stop half-listening. You no longer treat people like insignificant chatter and choose to pay attention because you believe they actually have something precious to say.

Seeing With “Wise Eyes” Helps You Actively Listen

Imagine having a conversation with Mother Teresa, Gandhi, or someone that you deeply admire. How would you show up in that conversation?

Chances are you would be respectful, curious, and ready to listen. No?

You would naturally pay attention because you believe that person has gifts to offer. When you assume you are talking to a very wise person, you will want to take in everything they’re saying. You will want to ask questions, and you will want to learn everything you can from the precious interaction. Wise Eyes turns everyone into a teacher and reignites the world with possibility.

Moreover, it actually feels good to actively listen. It makes you connect with your innate curiosity, and people can feel that when they’re with you. There’s a certain energy and resonance of being fully attuned to another person. It’s called presence, and your friends, coworkers, and customers can feel it.

Seeing Others As Wise Empowers Them

A beautiful thing occurs when you treat others as enlightened beings. You begin to hold the space for them to bring forth their highest potential.

This is often apparent in conversations with kids. When you treat children with the intelligence and maturity of an adult, they often rise to the occasion and show up as more mature and more developed. Conversely, when you infantilize them, they are likely to regress back to immature patterns of interacting.

In other words, how you approach the interaction can create the possibility for them to show up as the best version of themselves or the worst. When you create space for their greatness, it draws their light out into the world.

It’s not just with kids. The same holds true for adults. Create a container for them to shine and then step back and listen. It’s a spectacular thing to watch someone open up once given permission to shine and your full undivided attention.

Being Seen As Wise Uplifts Yourself

Now imagine when someone treats you as a wise, developed person worthy of being listened to.

How would it feel?

Pretty damn good, right?

We all want others to take an interest in who we are. It makes us feel validated, appreciated, and respected. The act of being seen as a wise person makes it more likely for you to bring these qualities forward within yourself, creating an upward spiral of good intention.

Practice Wise Eyes To Actively Listen And Bring Out the Best In Everyone

We all want to see and be seen, not just for who we are but for who we may become. 

The Wise Eyes practice highlights how your expectations of others, even if they’re unspoken, can actually influence how they show up. By half-listening, you are not only being rude, but you are actually disempowering the other person. In turn, this creates a responsibility for you to call forth everyone’s best when you are in conversation.

So the next time you’re interacting with someone, young or old, stranger or family, hold open the possibility that they are more awakened and more developed than you are. Doing so almost guarantees a conversation that is richer and more meaningful than you might ever have expected. 

Cheers to actively listening and improving your conversations,

~ Jeff

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Jeff Siegel
Jeff Siegel, M.Ed, is a health and wellness coach, Harvard University mindfulness instructor, and personal trainer.

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