Skillful listening

To speak is to articulate words that convey meaning, and to listen is to be aware of the words being spoken.

Ven. David Xi-Ken Astor


Speech is a process then that requires both speaking and listening simultaneously in order to express ideas, emotions, instructions, and desires.  It’s the way human’s communicate – whether it’s written speech, oral speech or signed speech.

When the Buddha spoke of “Right Speech”, he was inferring to both sides of the equation – skillful speech and skillful listening.

I have 2 days left of my study of “right speech”, so for these remaining 2 days I have decided to focus on the listening aspect.

I was lucky enough to find these great tips for skillful listening:

1. Promote an atmosphere of trust. There are many ways to establish trust, but perhaps the most effective is to be genuinely trustworthy. Many people intuitively sense an authentic personality and rarely betray that trust.

2. Shut up and listen. When we interrupt, the unwitting message we send to the speaker is: “What I have to say is more important than what you have to say.” By learning to hold our tongue and become genuinely curious about what others are saying, we greatly improve our listening skills.

3. Give up control. Many people feel that giving up control in a conversation is a sign of weakness. But the biblical injunction to “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” is excellent advice for those intent on developing good listening skills.

4. Cultivate “Beginner’s Ear.” “Beginner’s ear” is a way of paying attention to the present moment with openness and curiosity—hearing it for the first time even though we think we’ve heard it before. Neuroscientists have shown that the more we practice this technique, the better our brain gets at it.

5. Double check for meaning. It is difficult not to overlay our own biases onto what we hear. One way to counter the process is to regularly double check for accuracy by paraphrasing what we hear and the meaning we make of it. Skilled listeners endeavor to reflect back a speaker’s truth and deeper reality, not simply a version of their own.

6. Listen for differences. When we listen to others, often what we listen for are the things we understand or agree with. A skillful listener deliberately seeks out and pays attention to the way others are different.

7. Ask specific clarifying questions. Author and researcher Larry Barker said, “Words have no meaning; people have meaning.” When we engage in dialogue, we frequently speak thoughts off the top of our heads. First thoughts are like first drafts—they require a good editing to clarify meaning. Asking clarifying questions can help a speaker bring their subject into clear focus.

8. Monitor for inconsistencies. Voice, tone, and body language can contradict spoken words. Skillful listeners learn to recognize inconsistencies and get to the bottom of them in a compassionate way that does not provoke defensiveness.

9. Be mindful of age, race, and gender bias. Over 100 documented cognitive biases can color everything we see, hear, and think. Skillful listeners examine how they listen to various age groups and different races or genders, then work to correct any discrepancies accordingly.

10. Cultivate patience. Skillful listeners possess a ready willingness to suspend self-expression while they focus on others without a pressing need for them to be succinct, speedy, or clear in what they have to say.

(full article here)


I look forward to practising this more for the remainder of today, and also tomorrow.

Take care my friends,


Mindfulness of exhaustion

Even though I am halfway through my week of concentrating on right speech, today I also found the opportunity to practice mindfulness more extensively.

The process of living is such a fascinating experience when you experience it from the aspect of the eightfold path.

Today I noticed extreme tiredness and disconnection around mid morning.

It’s true that I hadn’t slept well last night (I haven’t slept well for a long time), however this was different.  It wasn’t a sleepy tired, it was more than that.

I was booked in for a work teleconference at 11am, so I made myself a cup of tea about 30 minutes beforehand in an effort to focus my mind and wake up a bit.

And it occurred to me to question – why was I so tired?

And the answer – because I was resisting.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I dislike talking on the phone.  I mean REALLY dislike.  Apart from speaking to my mother, I will avoid all other calls as a general rule.  Text – love it!  Email – definitely.  Facebook – just try to stop me.

I realised that I was unconsciously resisting having to have this work teleconference.  For no particular reason – I liked the other caller, and have had regular pleasant dealings with her (via email :p).   

However my distinct “don’t want to” undercurrent that was in the background was making me excessively tired.

So I re framed the situation.  I spent time thinking about the opportunities in the conversation.  For connectedness, for kindness, compassion, and deep listening (yes, even in a work call).

By the time she called, I was calm and ready and enthusiastic.

And the call went really well.  And afterwards I felt GREAT.  I felt happy and lighter and more cheerful.  And I realised that was because it was such a good phone call – and the positive interaction with another person had brightened my day.  

So that was where “right speech” also came into play today.  During that conversation, and also others that I had during my day.

Blessings to you all,


The week of right speech

As mentioned in my last post, I’m enjoying listening to talks by Gil Fronsdal on the Eightfold Path.  

I would really like to explore this area further, and in more depth, and I had an idea this afternoon – I will devote one week to each step of the path.  To try to learn as much as I can, and incorporate it as much as possible into my life.

So this week is Right Speech.

I’d love to hear – have you read any books that you recommend on Skilful speech?  Or any articles or blog posts?  Or even any tricks that you use to remember to speak wisely?

Right speech is an area I am so passionate about, and interested in.

We can do both great harm and benefit with our speech.  And it’s so interesting to be mindful of what we are saying, and how we are saying it.

I think for me the greatest challenge will be no idle speech. Not so much gossip (which I don’t participate in), but more chatter with no particular purpose.  

So that will be a particular goal for me this week 🙂

Blessings to you all,


Don’t be afraid to give yourself

In every interaction you have – no matter who with – you have a choice in how you respond.

Once choice is politeness, formality, a lack of connectivity.

This is the easy thing to do…. the safe thing to do.

It doesn’t require much risk.  You don’t have to expose who you really are.  You are not risking rejection.

The other choice is to give yourself.  Share your heart.  Your passion.  Be open and without boundaries or reservations.

This other type of interaction usually leads to interesting discussions, friendship, love, and connection.

In this way you are giving a piece of your heart.  You are giving the real you – your attention, and your presence.

This is the hard thing to do. The risky thing to do.

And it provides the most rewarding and “real” connection.

Instead of thinking about what you want to say, or do.  Or what message you want to convey, you engage fully in the present moment, and act from your true intentions. Your true “self”.

It requires great truthfulness.  Mostly to yourself.

And it requires great courage.

However it leads to the greatest rewards.

Idle speech

I had a great reminder today about the dangers of idle speech.

I try to be very careful with what I say, and avoid gossip and idle speech as much as humanly possible.  I also try to avoid listening to it.

Today I was involved in a situation where there was a fair amount of gossip being spread – none of it particularly malicious – but it still caused a great deal of heartache.

People were given the wrong idea.

People were hurt, and caused unnecessary stress and suffering.  Those people included myself and my loved ones.

And it made me even more determined to be very careful with what I say.

Iit reaffirmed my commitment to practice right speech: to use words skilfully, in a way that will bring peace and happiness to myself and the people around me.

Dogen said that idle talk disturbs the mind. A Buddha, fully mindful of his thoughts, words and deeds, does not speak idly.


“The man who is committed to abstinence from slander avoids tale-bearing.
He brings about reconcilation among those who are divided.
His words strengthen the unity of those who are already united.
He delights in seeing people in harmony.
He loves harmony, so he will make only the remarks that tend to encourage harmonious relationships.”