Mindful listening is an important skill. In general, people thrive when they feel fully “heard”
and “seen.” Mindful listening means listening completely to the other person. Instead of
interrupting the person, trying to tell one’s own story, or thinking ahead, the listener is
fully present in the moment. The listener listens as though he/she is “over there” with
the speaker. In other words, mindful listening involves a form of self-regulation in which
the focus on the self is set aside. Mindful listening can create an inner stillness in both
parties, as the speaker may feel free of the listener’s preconceptions and prejudices, and
the listener is free of inner chatter.
The goal of this exercise is to explore the concept of mindful listening by experiencing
what it is like to listen to others mindfully and talk when others listen mindfully.
Before the start of the exercise, inform participants about the goal of this exercise: “We very often think
about the past or future when listening to another person talk. When we do that, we are not listening at
all. Instead of being in the moment and fully absorbing both the words and content from the speaker, other
activities occur in our minds, such as planning what we are going to say back or thinking about what we
should have said. In this exercise, you are going to practice and experience what mindful listening means.”
Part 1: Mindful listening
Invite participants to think of one thing that is stressful in their lives and one thing they are looking forward
to. In 1-2 minutes, each participant shares with the group insights into both stressful and pleasurable thing,
one story at a time, while everyone else listening.
Before participants start sharing their stories, invite them to direct attention to how it feels to speak and
how it feels to talk about something stressful and something positive. Participants are instructed to observe
their thoughts, feelings, and body sensations both when talking and listening
Part 2: Small group discussions
After completing part 1, ask participants to break into groups of three. Give the groups 5-7 minutes to
discuss the following reflection questions:
■ How did you feel when speaking during the exercise?
■ How did you feel when listening during the exercise?
■ Did you notice any mind-wandering?
■ If so, what was the distraction?
■ What helped you bring your attention back to the present?
■ Did your mind-judge while listening to others?
■ If so, how did “judging” feel in the body?
■ Were there times when you felt empathy?
■ If so, how did this feel in the body?
■ How did your body feel right before speaking?
■ How did your body feel right after speaking?
■ What are you feeling right now?
■ What would happen if you practiced mindful listening with each person with whom you spoke?
■ Do you think mindful listening would change the way you interact and relate with others?
■ How would it feel if you set the intention to pay attention with curiosity, kindness, and acceptance to
everything you said and everything you listened to?
Part 3: Plenary discussion
Finally, conduct a large group debrief about the above-described experiences. Encourage each other to
share a specific personal experiences and to expand on the small-group conversations.
Each small group may choose a group leader to report to the larger group about what was discussed and
what was found to be most prevalent, unique, or interesting.