The Zen of meetings: Remembering to listen

Sometimes being in the moment means being bored. That is the uncomfortable reality of attending meetings.

I’m not a big fan of meetings. If they go on too long, and what meeting doesn’t, they release the squirmy preteen who lives in my head.

bored looking preteen girl
My inner squirmy preteen

She flicks her gaze back and forth between the clock and whoever is speaking. She scribbles nonsense in the margins of her legal pad. When she has exhausted all socially acceptable diversions, she resorts to that middle-school favorite, criticism.

“Let’s think outside the box,” she fumes silently. “Really?!”

Of course she’s not the only person who finds that cliché, or any cliché, distasteful. After all, clichés indicate a certain laziness in the speaker, right, so it’s okay to heap scorn and mockery on their heads, right?

Simmer down, I tell my inner brat. It isn’t that simple.

Sometimes using clichés is a mistake. But sometimes using them indicates a code, a common language indicating common goals, a way to get to the point faster. In those instances, a cliché can be an effective communication tool. So what’s really going on here, I ask my inner tweenster. Why the eye roll?

The ugly truth

The truth, it turns out, is very unflattering. To me. The truth is that when I’m bored and fidgety, it’s often because I’m not truly listening. I’m using boredom as an excuse to disengage and think snarky thoughts. Rather than tuning out, I need to tune in.

Listening is a skill. It’s an active process requiring not just my attention but thoughtful consideration of the message. It requires setting aside my own impatience and extending the courtesy of my full attention to the speaker. In short, it requires mindfulness.

Coming home to mindfulness

It all starts with the breath. I begin silently counting my breaths, from one to four. Inhale slowly, exhale slowly, and count one. Inhale slowly, exhale slowly, and count two. When I get to four, I start again.

Four Leaf Clover
I count to four and start again

This return to mindfulness helps me engage my listening skills. And once I do,  the meeting transforms. Or rather, my experience of it transforms.

I feel more connected to the others in the room. I start to understand what it is they’re saying, or trying to say. I’m more actively involved. This sense of connection is a good clue that I’ve tuned in again.

Do I still get fidgety? Of course. And I still think no meeting should last more than 20 minutes. But I’m getting better at reminding myself to listen. One meeting at a time.

zen garden
Zen garden
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