We don’t mean to be so self-centred in conversations. We want to listen to the other person. We want it to be a two-way street. But it’s so easy to slip into thinking about the next thing that we want to say, instead of really putting our attention on the other person and taking in what they’re saying to us.
Sometimes we do actually listen fully, but it’s easy to slip into the habit of being in our own heads during a conversation.
We can become more consistent listeners by practicing pausing in conversation. We can actively cultivate the habit of giving others our attention, by pausing.
During a conversation, when someone else says something, we can wait a moment and pause before we respond. During that moment we create the room to let what they just said resonate. What they said might impact us. After that brief pause, we can respond to them and have an actual conversation, instead of just telling them what we were waiting to say.
We’ll get our chance to say things as well — and hopefully, the other person will reciprocate this kindness and really take in what we’re saying as well. If they do, we can connect and share together on a much deeper level.
When we pause and actually take in what the other person is saying we are much more likely to have interesting conversations with people.
This is obvious stuff. We know that this is true. But it’s easier said than done. For many of us, practicing the pause will be difficult. If it’s difficult for us, then it’s more likely that we could benefit from doing it.
Some people intuitively practice the pause — or they’ve already learnt to prioritize it. Think of how much of a pleasure it is to talk to those people. We all want to talk to people who are present and listening to what we have to say.
Being in conversation with someone else who is also reciprocating this kind of pause — someone who is actually listening to what we are saying and is engaged with us, as opposed to someone who is waiting for their turn to talk — is an absolute delight.
Tara Brach — a clinical psychologist and meditation leader — sums up the practice of pausing as follows:
We may pause in a conversation, letting go of what we’re about to say, in order to genuinely listen and be with the other person.
In a pause we simply discontinue whatever we are doing—thinking, talking, walking, writing, planning, worrying, eating—and become wholeheartedly present, attentive and, often, physically still.
Remember that you already know the things that you know.
You may not know the things that the other person knows.
Be the type of conversationalist that you want to see in the world.