Mindful Listening Essay


Mindful communication is one of the topics relating to interpersonal communication that can contribute most to development of one’s personal skills, the ultimate goal of academic studies - Mindful Listening Essay introduction. Elaboration on the topic of mindful listening is especially important for any social person, as it helps to establish an effective contact with the interlocutor and develop an adequate assessment of the situation. Academic discourse on the problem of mindful listening offers scholarly evidence for the old adage successful listening that is the privilege of a few is the key to mutual understanding.

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Identification and definitions of concepts

In the first place, one needs to distinguish between hearing and listening as these two processes, although closely related, are distinct. Thus, hearing is defined as “physiological activity that occurs when sound waves hit our eardrums”, and listening is “an active, complex process that consists of being mindful, hearing, selecting and organizing information, interpreting communication, responding and remembering” (Mindful Listening (n.d.)). Thus, while hearing is essentially a physiological activity, listening draws on our physiological, cognitive, psychological and social capabilities, and is thus broader in scope. A breakdown in any of these realms can hamper listening activities; thus, a person with poor hearing will suffer problems in most everyday conversations that can lead to deficiency in social adaptation.

Mindfulness implies “being fully present in the moment” (Chapter 6, (n.d.)). That is a combination of “physical reaction of communication, selective perception of communication, organizing perceived communication, interpreting communication, responding to others, and remembering communication” (Chapter 6, (n.d.)). These components represent successive stages in the process of mindful listening that form the string from the initial physiological perception of information to the stage when this information can be applied to meet the person’s communicative purposes.

Mindful listening is closely related to active listening that occurs when the listener takes active part in the communication process, for example, by asking questions on the content of conversation. These suggestive questions aim to steer the speaker towards the topics most relevant to the listener’s interests and thus serve to meet the communicative goals of the listener. Questions asked by the listener fall into two categories, open and closed/ An example of an open question is “What did you do after you graduated from college?”, as it presupposes a range of answers. A closed question is one of the kind “Did you like the concert?” as it only allows of two answers “Yes” or “No”.  The listener can also take part in the conversation by inserting interjections, like “Hm…”, “Oh!”, “Ouch!”, and the like, serving to maintain the phatic function – establishing or maintaining contact. Some of the reactions can also be non-verbal, such as moans, groans, sighs, nods, etc. These reactions indicate to the speaker that the listener is maintaining contact. One more way to maintain contact is to react with sentences that present a paraphrase of what the speaker has just said – they keep the speaker checking on what the listener has understood, leaving him or her the possibility to correct misunderstanding in the course of the conversation.

Listeners unwilling or unable to exercise their mindful listening skills can resort to disruptive techniques labelled as non-listening. Non-listening can take several forms, such as “pseudolistening, monopolizing, selective listening, defensive listening, ambushing, stage hogging and literal non-listening” (Mindful Listening (n.d.)). Overcoming these non-listening techniques will pave the way to mindful listening.



Related Theories

Listening to another person is, like any part of a conversation, a goal-oriented communicative activity. Any communicating person aims at “acquiring information necessary for generating new knowledge, correcting faulty knowledge, and remediating skill deficits” (Daly, Wiemann 1994, p.1). Acquiring new information for the production of new knowledge requires the application of skills pertaining to mindful listening, the and the validity and usefulness of this new knowledge is in direct proportion to the skills of mindful listening possessed by the person. This observation leads to the conclusion that mindful listening is one of the vital communication skills necessary for survival in the society. Thus, inability to adequately process the heard information may lead to deficiencies in knowledge, and “faulty knowledge or lack of skill may prevent interactants from achieving their social goals” (Daly, Wiemann 1994, p.1).

The importance of adequate listening skills has long been recognised. Thus, religious scholars have underscored the necessity “to be mindful of some of the characteristics of the word God addresses to us” (Grizworld, 1999). The word of God was perceived as “a word of information that we can safely receive and store away”, something that has to be received through listening and retained in the listener’s memory (Grizworld, 1999).

Scholars have also tried to examine obstacles to effective listening that can be determined by physical, social, or psychological barriers. Thus, common noise can be an obstacle to efficient processing of incoming information. Besides, the listener’s physical and psychological condition can be a barrier to effective communication, as stress and overload can diminish the ability of the listener to respond to the intended message. The above-mentioned obstacles to effective listening are external; internal barriers embrace “preoccupation, prejudgment, lack of effort, not recognizing diverse listening styles” (Mindful Listening (n.d.)).

Some of the barriers to effective listening can be explored using the information theory developed by Claude E. Shannon in the late 40s and expounded in A Mathematical Theory of Communication (1948). In his study, Shannon presents the transmission of information as a process that takes it from the information source via encoder, or transmitter, to the channel, where information turns into a signal, and then via the decoder, or receiver, to the destination. The information theory, as developed by Shannon, was most relevant to technological transmission of information and the channel primarily implied wire or fiber that was used to carry signals in telecommunications networks. However, modern linguistics and psychology have successfully applied the concepts of the theory to human communication. Thus, in linguistic and literature studies, scholars have talked of how the difference in the encoder and decoder prevent proper understanding when the contemporary reader is working on a historic text – some of the details and allusions implied by the ancient author may be lost on the modern reader who relies on a different system of concepts, values and beliefs.

Similarly, this theory can be applied to the process of mindful communication to explore the barriers that may stand in the way of mutual understanding. Thus, two people belonging to different cultural paradigms may find that their relevant encoders and decoders used for interpreting the message are different, as they are determined by cultural factors. Thus, a Chinese person who means one thing may discover that a Westerner, relying on a respective set of cultural norms, understands something different. For instance, an Oriental refusal can be couched in terms that are so polite that they may fail to communicate to the Westerner the essence of the refusal. The Western person may either fail to grasp the “No” idea, or fail to understand the true motives behind the refusal.

The concept of mindful listening is related to the study of different levels of listening. Thus, listening can be informational, critical, or empathic. In the process of the informational listening the listener aims at extracting the necessary information from the speech. In this process the emphasis is on the ability to “separate the message from the speaker”, and to judge without being premature or judging the interlocutor with a certain bias (Chapter 6, (n.d.)). Then, it is also helpful to try to single out key ideas and concepts that will be helpful in finding the message of the story. An example of a premature judgment can be a conversation between parents and children in many families. Parents tend to hold strongly defended views about their children’s behaviour, views, level of success and appropriateness of a line of behaviour. Any conversation that brings new information about a child’s life is then evaluated from the viewpoint of an already existing bias.

Critical listening calls for application of critical evaluative skills. Thus, in the process of critical listening the speaker will examine the logical soundness of the argument, searching for logical fallacies, the speaker’s credibility, the relevance of the suggested evidence and look into the emotional appeals associated with the speech. A teacher listening to a student in an oral exam can be an example of critical listening.

Empathic listening calls for exhibition of emotion described earlier; the speaker can use various non-verbals, body position, paraphrase, questions, affect displays to signify reaction to the speaker’s words. This type of listening necessitates the exposure of the listener’s personality and feelings. A conversation between close friends will usually be conducted in the manner of empathic listening. s

How Mindful Listening Enhances Interpersonal Communication

Ability to listen mindfully is among the key priorities of interpersonal communication that is grounded in the aim to explore theories that will facilitate social interactions. To make conversations effective, both parts have to be proficient in what they are doing: the speaker has to develop adequate speaking skills, matched by the listener’s ability to respond to speech adequately. So far the studies of mindful listening have sought to find out what listening techniques are effective and contribute to successful communication.

Rebecca Z. Shafir in the book “The Zen of Listening: Mindful Communication in the Age of Distraction” gives advice on how to become an effective listener. Shafir describes listening as “the willingness to see a situation through the eyes of the speaker,” and describes her own approach to listening. Her strategy, developed by the person with years of clinical experience, includes a number of tactics and exercises designed to develop listening skills (Shafir, 2002, p. 7). Shafir cites lack of self-listening skills as the frequent “cause of communication breakdown”, and suggests that listening to the words one says can immensely improve one’s communication strategies (Shafir, 2002, p.18). Shafir quotes evidence from other studies that found that the presence of a parent at dinner time reduced the likelihood of drug use in children, a finding she attributes to the transforming power of listening.

This and other examples show that mindful listening is an integral part of interpersonal communication. The development of listening skills can overcome many interpersonal problems and assist humans who experience difficulties understanding others to overcome this difficulty.

Personal work on improving Interpersonal Communication

Although I have always been considered a good listener, there is always room for improvement when it comes to interpersonal communication and skills. I have started to consider my weak and strong points as communicator, and here is the list I came up with:


·         Ability to concentrate on what is being said, reducing the internal noise

·         Frequent use of open and closed questions to elicit the missing information

·         Frequent use of verbal and non-verbal phatic elements, especially in conversations with friends


·         Sometimes I tend to judge others by their appearance or reputation, applying bias to understanding of what is being said

·         Lack of cultural skills allowing to decode the message presented from the viewpoint of a different culture

·         Need to develop critical and evaluative skills to prepare myself for critical listening

·         Need to develop the ability to separate the key information from secondary, less important ideas


Mindful listening is one of the most important skills a person wishing to enhance competence in interpersonal communication can acquire. Mindful listening envisages complete immersion in the listening process, being present right here and now. To achieve mindful listening, one would need to successfully overcome the barriers that lie between the speaker and listener’s interaction. These barriers can range from simple physical noise to cultural differences. Whether one wants to improve skills in critical, informational, or empathic listening, it would take a careful study of the needs and requirements of mindful listening that takes one through stages from physical hearing of speech the to the storage of the received information in memory.
Works Cited


Chapter 6 — Mindful Listening (n.d.). Retrieved on June 18, 2005 from: http://www.roch.edu/course/spch1130/wood6_notes.htm

Daly, J.A., & J.M. Wiemann.(1994). Strategic Interpersonal Communication. Hillsdale, NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Griswold, F.T.  (1999). Listening with the ear of the heart, Cross Currents, Volume 49, Issue 1, pp. 5+.

McKain-Fernandez, L. Communication Theory. Retrieved on June 18, 2005 from: http://www2.gsu.edu/~mstswh/courses/it7000/papers/communic.htm

Mindful Listening. (n.d.). Retrieved on June 18, 2005 from: http://www1.chapman.edu/comm/comm/faculty/thobbs/com110/1wood/powerpt/wood6/sld001.htm

Shafir, R.Z. (2000). The Zen of Listening: Mindful Communication in the Age of Distraction, Quest Books (IL); 1st Quest ed edition.

Wikibooks. Information Theory. (n.d.). Retrieved on June 18, 2005 from: http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Information_Theory

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