One key practice of conscious living is conscious listening, not merely listening to our thoughts, emotions, and our bodies, but to others. In conversation, many people don’t actively listen to the other person, but rather wait for their turn to speak. We ready our responses to what we think is being said, line up our arguments, or prepare to shift the topic to something more pleasing to us.

A better practice is to listen with a goal of accurately understanding what the other person is trying to say. Going deeper, we can listen for feelings, so that we can understand what emotion is driving the other.

Of course, active listening is a necessary skill for writers, whether you are practicing with your friends and family, or when you’re eavesdropping on a conversation at the coffee shop. Practice paying attention and study how people talk, what they say, and what they leave out.

You can also apply this to your characters. If you’re having a hard time developing a protagonist or side character, re-read the dialogue you’ve written with a goal of actively listening. What are your characters saying beneath your dialogue? What are they not saying? What topics do they avoid? Ask what emotions are they conveying with their speech and whether that is the emotion you intended to show.

Finally, active listening is an important component of the workshop and critique process. When you receive feedback, prepare yourself to actively listen. Don’t get defensive. Don’t prepare questions or rebuttals while the other person is talking.

You can practice conscious listening by repeating back what the other person has said in your own words and asking if you’ve understood. Let them know it’s ok to correct you or clarify.

Don’t do this at the coffee shop, though.