In today’s fast-paced, information-heavy digital world, it’s become increasingly difficult to understand one another’s needs, desires, and viewpoints. As we spend more and more time in the virtual sphere, interpersonal communication has become a culture of interruption and misunderstanding.
Conscious listening is the act of being fully present during a communication exchange between oneself and another. It requires the listener to become aware of their own feelings and needs, along with those of the person with whom they’re communicating. If the purpose of conscious communication is to establish mutuality, this requires us to set aside our own agenda so that we may listen to, and truly receive, the person with whom we’re communicating.
Nowadays, we are often not great at listening or paying attention. Even when we try our best, it’s easy to become distracted by personal intent, emotion, or disposition. Mental heuristics and the tendency to judge make it difficult to be fully present. We then respond to those mental or emotional cues rather than to what is actually happening in the conversation. Many of us have also developed the habit of fluffing up conversations with meaningless fillers which ends up training us not to pay attention, and we spend most of our time saying things other than what we actually wanted to say.
In truth, the act of conscious listening is a meditation in itself, through which the communicator anchors their awareness in the moment in order to fully receive that which is taking place. The secret is in staying present.
Similar to meditation, when the mind becomes distracted, we gently guide the awareness back to the person that’s speaking. The practice is to forego personal judgments, responses, and opinions. With conscious listening, we gain a greater capacity to understand whomever we are listening to. Oftentimes, there is much more to the communication than what’s being said.
The 8th pauri of Japji Sahib speaks to the power of listening. Often, we think of the wise ones as outwardly teaching, speaking, and sharing wisdom, when the greatest sages have actually learned through the power of listening.
Sunni-ai translates as hearing or listening, and specifically, deep listening. It means hearing more than the words spoken, and tuning into the vibration of the sound current which includes the subtlety of all that is below the surface. Sunni-ai is intuition applied to listening.
The experience of deep listening comes from stillness. It is an act of applied consciousness and alertness. Deep listening, like a radar, senses the shape and momentum of the present moment. Mutual respect is the byproduct of conscious listening. What a gift!
And we know this from experience: when we really feel listened to, we respect the person who listens. When we listen carefully, we perceive the intention and the conflict in the speaker. We hear the nonverbal messages and feel the context of the communication. What if our power is in the ability to listen?
In conscious listening, there is no agenda or predetermined objective other than the desire to understand. Listening to understand, and only to understand, gives the gift of insight and the capacity to appreciate various points of views. In other words, it places the communication act within the context of the whole. Conscious listening reveals solutions to problems that we couldn’t perceive before and helps establish common ground.
It sounds simple, and it may be—but that does not make it easy! Think of conscious listening as a meditation practice, within the context of interpersonal communication.
Breathe. Stay present. Observe. The intention is to understand.