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I find myself building mental associations while someone is speaking to me. I might ask them a question and while they are talking, I’ve already left to form some mental map (prapanca I suppose) i.e. I don’t listen much (I think I am more visually-oriented).

Is this really bad or just my imagination? It does appeared socially impolite and I do it often, so maybe there is a functional reason (like too much information to process). It would be rude to interrupt or not look and pay attention. So, the conversation might end up awkward or repetitive.

Perhaps, it is a sign I don't really care about their response which is terrible especially since I asked the question. But the conversation can be lost in a split-second as a result of a visual que, a background sound or any distraction. What do you think? How can I progress to be a better listener?

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  • Have you tried transcendental meditation? Commented Mar 6 at 0:05

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A way to deal with this issue is to invoke curiosity. Wonder what the next words will be; wonder what the person is trying to convey to you beyond the words; look at their expression and gestures and wonder whether those match the words they are using. The thinking mind wants to make assumptions and jumps to conclusions, because its purpose is to answer questions. An overactive mind will use those assumptions to project itself into the future — anticipating and dealing with coming events — and miss what's going on in the moment itself. Pushing the mind into a questioning state short circuits that anticipatory urge.

Note that what you're doing isn't precisely 'rudeness' or a lack of listening. Your mind has decided that the person you're talking to is a known quantity, and so it charges off looking for something it doesn't know, because not-knowing is its fear. Convince your mind that it doesn't know people half as well as it thinks, and your mind will naturally focus on them.

As you go deeper in practice that urge to assume and anticipate will soften, and you'll be able to track the present moment without any special effort. Dedicated curiosity is a stop-gap measure, but it can be effective.

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In the suttas, the mind is counted as one of the senses,

MN38:30.6: That is how this entire mass of suffering originates.
MN38:30.7: When they hear a sound with their ears …
MN38:30.8: When they smell an odor with their nose …
MN38:30.9: When they taste a flavor with their tongue …
MN38:30.10: When they feel a touch with their body …
MN38:30.11: When they know an idea with their mind, if it’s pleasant they desire it, but if it’s unpleasant they dislike it. They live with mindfulness of the body unestablished and their heart restricted.

Listening to others involves mindfulness and situational awareness:

AN10.61:2.13: I say that lack of mindfulness and situational awareness is fueled by something, it’s not unfueled.
AN10.61:2.14: And what is the fuel for lack of mindfulness and situational awareness?
AN10.61:2.15: You should say: ‘Irrational application of mind.’

Now consider two cases. First considering listening to a Dhamma talk--a wandering mind is of no use here. Second, consider listening to someone talking about themselves endlessly--perhaps you both have better things to do. In other words, apply your rational mind to what should be attended rightly.

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Came across this article, it might help. I am not an expert so it might be better to consult one.

There are some coping strategies recommended in this article that maybe relevant.

to look at people’s lips, move to a quieter room, or use high-fidelity ear plugs.

With Metta.

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