Listen And Communicate Mindfully

Author: Anne-Louise Friedrichsen, Wellbeing Advisor, MEC Graduate

Essential in the helping relationship, mindful listening and communication is a powerful way of being that allows us to engage in conversations fully, understand one another’s perspectives, and foster deep connections.  Let us explore some key concepts, how they can be applied in our lives, and the relationship between mindfulness and mindful eating. Then, we will list some practical tips for incorporating mindful listening into our daily lives. The topic is huge. Much has been written about listening skills as a therapeutic tool and in organizational and management literature. I wish to highlight simply two basic foundations for mindful listening and communication:

We are profoundly social

‘It is a lethal lie that we are alone,’ says the neuroscientist Dan Siegel. Whereas the mind-body relationship has long been established, he argues that our minds equally have a relational aspect. He develops this in his theory on interpersonal neurobiology (1). Elizabeth Stanley explains how we can ‘widen our window’ of tolerance (2) to become better at recovering from life's setbacks. She describes how our first reaction to a difficult situation is a social one, where we turn to others long before we go into ‘fight or flight’ or even ‘freeze.’ Emotional intelligence (3), interpersonal connection, and more helpful stress reactions can be learned by practicing mindfulness, amongst other approaches (4). 

It is all about the attitude

We are indeed ‘social animals,’ to quote Aristotle (5); communication is so essential to our survival and thriving, so it is no wonder that human beings have wanted to cultivate these skills over many centuries. The Buddhist tradition, which has inspired modern mindfulness approaches, sets out the noble eightfold path, including ‘right speech’ along with right understanding, right intention, right action/conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration (6). We cannot take mindful listening as a stand-alone path; it needs to be complemented by the other elements of the path. 

Marshall Rosenberg (7), who is behind non-violent communication, has greatly contributed to mindful communication, emphasizing empathic listening and authentic expression. Marshall Rosenberg invites us to pay close attention to facts, feelings, needs, and requests. According to Carl Rogers, one of the fathers of coaching and behind the notion of ‘active listening,’ there are three essential characteristics in the therapeutic relationship – and in any deep conversation: 1. Congruence (being genuine, authentic, present), 2. Unconditional positive regard (beyond the general invitation to be non-judgmental), 3. Accurate empathic understanding (8). All of these are closely related to the mindfulness attitudes that Jon Kabat-Zinn highlights (9). 

Applying mindful listening and communication

There are many good reasons to practice mindful listening and communication; it is actually hard to find any reason not to improve our communication. Here are some examples:

  • Eric is a psychologist and begins a session by offering a coffee made with a manual espresso machine, making a whole ritual out of weighing the coffee, explaining where it came from, grinding it, heating water to the exact good temperature, etc. In this way, the client is naturally guided through elements of mindfulness, and the rapport is established by together a) paying attention on purpose, b) in the here and now, c) in a kind, non-judgmental way–in other words, using the definition of mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn. 
  • Pauline intuitively resorts to mindful listening when her husband has episodes of depression (What happened? Can you tell me more? How do you feel? What would be helpful now? Can I do anything?), then helps redirect his attention to the wonderful meal she has prepared: the colors, textures, flavors, tastes. She also uses mindful cooking to resource herself through these times.

  • Alice is helping a colleague nearing burnout who feels lonely and lost. They go to lunch often and fully focus on the meal, and she listens mindfully to her friend. Alice has noticed that she is more available to others when she listens well to herself at all levels, from the signs from her body to her mood and needs. It is essentially the same listening skills and an invitation to be kind to ourselves.

Many people suffer from loneliness, lack of self-compassion, various mental health issues, or an insufficient sense of connection and belonging. The practice of mindful listening can bring relief and joy to both the speaker and the listener. Mindful communication is, in essence, a way to deeply connect with someone, thus bringing beauty to the world. 

The role of mindfulness and mindful eating

What is the relevance of listening skills to mindful eating, and vice versa: what can mindful eating bring to our capacity to listen fully? 

As mindful eating facilitators, we can help our clients with various degrees of eating disorders, negative body image, and the feelings of isolation and loneliness that accompany these. Learning more about mindfulness in general and, specifically, mindful listening can contribute to overcoming the sense of disconnect from others. In mindful listening, we tune in to others, their feelings, and their needs while remaining in touch with ourselves. We can educate ourselves and others in communicating in ways that allow for needs to be met–our own and those of the other person–including needs for community, being heard, and belonging. 

Likewise, we can hone our listening skills using mindful eating. Several times a day, a mealtime can become the mindfulness bell that reminds us to pay attention in that special way, not only to our food but also to the people around us. Jan Chozen Bays invites us to examine our nine hungers (10), and each hunger points to a deeper need for beauty, variation, and connection. Specifically, heart hunger is a social one, and we can train our relationship muscle (11) by honoring the life energy of the people who have been involved in making the meal possible. The practice of loving-kindness is indeed powerful for transforming our attitude when meeting people. 

Meals are an important part of how we socialize and are highly symbolic: we invite a loved one for dinner, we meet friends for lunch, we celebrate many of our traditions with typical meals, and when we are hosts, we pay attention to what we serve as a way of honoring our guests. A shared meal is indeed a wonderful occasion to be mindful of the eating and the people we are with.  

Tips for practicing mindful listening and communication

Set your intention. Seek first to understand, then to be understood (12). Setting an intention like ‘each day I wish to have a deep, meaningful conversation with someone’ is transformative. 

Cultivate mindfulness attitudes before, during, and after a conversation. 

Give your full attention to the person you are listening to while remaining aware of your emotions. Listen with your whole being: the ears, the eyes, the heart. 

When and where: Create the occasions. Choose a moment and an environment where you have time and will not be disturbed. Choose the approach wisely: sometimes listening is easier if we walk together or sit next to each other while we cooperate towards finding a way to help the person.
How: Observe the various levels of communication:

  • Verbal: choice of words, especially as concerns feelings and needs. According to some studies, the verbal is only a fragment of the information in a conversation. Nevertheless, you can, for example, spot certain patterns linked to limiting beliefs and pessimism if you know that the pessimist (13) is likely to consider an adverse event to be personal, permanent, and pervasive;
  • Paraverbal: tone of voice, silences, hesitations, rhythm;
  • Non-verbal / body language and facial expressions: These non-verbal cues often convey emotions and provide valuable insights into the person's inner world. According to Paul Ekman, we can – across cultures – recognize the facial expressions of the following six basic emotions: fear, anger, sadness, disgust, surprise, and joy (14). Observe the person well: are there contradictions (like pronouncing ‘yes’ hesitantly while shaking the head ‘no’)?

Ask wise questions. Open-ended questions (where, what, when, how, why) will allow you to learn more about the person than closed ones (where the answer is yes or no), as illustrated by the poem by Rudyard Kipling: 

I have six honest serving men

They taught me all I know

Their names are what and why and when

And how and where and who

Ensure that you have understood correctly to avoid misunderstandings. Paraphrase or reflect back using non-violent communication: ‘Do I understand correctly? This happened (facts), and now you feel… (feeling) as you want… (need).  

Cultivate compassion. Avoid the empathy trap by cultivating compassion (15). Empathy is ‘feeling how the person is feeling’ and can be draining. It is important to be aware of this and know how to cultivate compassion and self-compassion so that both persons can feel a little better. There are three steps: 

  1. Accept the reality ‘This is hard;‘
  2. Realize that others have similar challenges – common humanity;
  3. Loving-kindness: wish for all, including ourselves and others, to be well.

May you all be well!

About the Author

Anne Louise Friedrichsen, Cand. Scient. Pol. is a well-being advisor in a major international public administration, giving conferences, courses, and coaching classes on sleep, nutrition, plant-based cooking, stress reduction, non-violent communication, and self-care. Having a master's in political science, she worked with program management before taking a master's in executive coaching at Oxford Brookes University in 2012. She is also accredited by Myers-Briggs Type Indicators (MBTI) and is a certified practitioner in Ericksonian hypnosis. Certified by the medical faculty of Brussels University as a Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) instructor and a mindful eating teacher, she also coordinates and teaches Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) at her workplace and has trained more than 400 colleagues.


Daniel J. Siegel and Chloe Drulis (2023): ‘An interpersonal neurobiology (IPNB) perspective on the mind and mental health: personal, public and planetary wellbeing.’ Annals of General Psychiatry, 2023; 22:5.

Elizabeth Stanley, Ph.D. (2019): ‘Widen the window – training your brain and body to thrive during stress and recover from trauma.’ Great Britain. Yellow Kite. 

Daniel Goleman (2009): ‘Emotional intelligence’. New York, Random House.

Chade Ming Tan (2012): ‘Search inside yourself – Daniel Goleman has written the foreword and highlight show emotional intelligence and can learned through the practice of mindfulness. New York. Harper Collins

Aristotle: ‘Politics’, Fourth Century

Jack Kornfield (2008): ‘The wise heart – a guide to the universal teachings of Buddhist psychology’. Bantam Dell. 

Marshall Rosenberg (2015): ‘Non-Violent communication – a language of life’, Third edition. Encinitas, CA, PuddleDancer Press.

Carl Rogers (1961): ‘On becoming a person: a Therapist’s view of psychotherapy’. London. Constable.

Jon Kabat-Zinn (2015: ‘Full catastrophe living – Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain and illness’, second edition. The attitudes are non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance, and letting go.

 Jan Chozen Bays (2009): ‘Mindful eating: a guide to rediscovering a healthy and joyful relationship with food. Shambala. The nine hungers are eye, touch, ear, nose, mouth, stomach, cellular, mind, heart, 

 Guy Winch (2013): ‘Emotional first aid.’ Guy Winch dedicates a whole chapter on loneliness, described as relationship muscle weakness. USA. Penguin 

 Steven Covey (1989, 2004): ‘Seven habits of highly effective people’. The seven habits are: 1. Be proactive, 2. Begin with the end in mind, 3. Put first things first, 4. Think win-win, 5. First, seek to understand, then to be understood, 6. Synergize, 7. Sharpen the saw.

 Martin Seligman (1998: ‘Learned optimism: how to change your mind and your life.’ Seligman has set up a little model ABCDE: A: Adverse event, e.g., I failed an exam, B: Beliefs, often that the situation is a personal, permanent, and pervasive consequence (that I become depressed), D: Disputing (what would a friend say), Energizing. Penguin Books. 

Paul Ekman (2003): ‘Emotions revealed’

Kristin Neff (2015): ‘Self-compassion, the proven power of being kind to yourself’