How to Communicate Mindfully
We can enjoy many of the benefits of our meditation practice, reduced stress and greater focus for example, but we often find that when the "rubber meets the road" we are still triggered (although perhaps less often) by our partners, angry with our children or frustrated at work, unable to connect to that sense of calm when we need it most. So, the question becomes, How do I take the lessons and skills from my meditation practice and apply them in my real life?
Getting to Know Your Mind
The ultimate answer, that I have been told by numerous experts in the field, is to continue to practice. Mindfulness meditation is a practice. Understanding it conceptually is one thing, living mindfully takes practice Just like going to the gym, learning to play an instrument or getting better at a sport, you need to actually do it to get better at it.
The modern word “Mindfulness” comes from the ancient tradition of Vipassana meditation, which means insight or clear seeing. Western “mindfulness” is being used to lower stress, increase focus and improve cognitive function (to name a few of the benefits), which are real and important benefits of mindfulness. But living mindfully can change us in much more profound ways if we want to deepen our practice beyond those health benefits. It can help us better understand our own minds and help us lead happier lives.
Mindfulness practice is a practice in open awareness, in seeing our moment–to-moment experience as it unfolds. As we develop our mindfulness practice, we begin to see the nature of our minds - our thoughts, emotions and the stories we tell ourselves about our experiences - without getting swept up by them or overwhelmed by them.
Similarly, we learn to feel and observe our physical experience, both our sensory experience and the felt sensations of our emotional responses. When we simply notice what we are feeling, and see the thoughts that fuel our emotional responses, we can better understand our habitual patterns of behavior that are causing us suffering.
This awareness or insight is what mindfulness practice helps us to uncover, and this is a way to alleviate suffering and increase happiness in our lives. So, the meditation itself is where we practice this state of open awareness or “clear seeing,” but life is where we put our mindfulness into action.
So, how do we put mindfulness into practice in the real world? One example is through Mindful Communication. In a recent training on Mindful Communication through Mindful Schools, Oren Sofer, used the teachings of Marshall Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communications: A Language of Life, to explain how the important skills we develop through mindfulness can help us communicate more effectively. Here are just a few of the many important lessons I learned from his teachings about how we can Mindfully Communicate, which can benefit our parenting, our relationships, our work and so much more.
4 Ways to Communicate Mindfully
(1) Be Present
We all know what it feels like to be talking and not listened to. We also are familiar with times when we are supposed to be listening, but our minds are so busy or distracted that we do not hear a word the other person is saying. So, the first rule of mindful communication is to be present.
Start by noticing when you are not listening because you have become distracted (turn off those phones) or are mentally somewhere else entirely. Also, notice when your mind is so busy analyzing, judging or trying to fix the problem that you are no longer fully present and listening. This exercise in focusing your attention is one reason we spend so much time training our attention with concentration practices in mindfulness meditation. If we can’t exercise control over our attention and place it where we want it, it is very hard to be present. So, notice when you are distracted, and practice drawing your attention back into the room.
Use mindfulness of the body to draw in and anchor your attention back on the conversation. Simply connect to your body - the feeling of your feet on the floor, the sensations of your hands on the desk or the sensations of your own breath. You can use anything that is actually happening as an anchor of your attention. This will draw your attention back into the room and open your awareness to your own internal state and back to listening to the person speaking.
Being present is critical to effective communication because it helps you gather information so that you can connect with the others in the room, hear what they are saying and come up with creative solutions.
(2) Set Your Intention
Often when we enter a conversation we have a clear intention. Being aware of what your intentions are can be the first step in communicating more mindfully. Ask yourself, what are my intentions? And, will this intention help me effectively communicate?
Either consciously or unconsciously, we often enter a conversation from a place of judgment or blame, or of knowing the answer or solution we want. These intentions create barriers to communication, deteriorate trust and are roadblocks to problem-solving. Learning to train our intention to come from a place of curiosity and care allows for much greater connection, compassion and more desirable resolutions.
Prior to your conversation, phone call or meeting take a few minutes to reflect on your intentions and then set clear intentions for yourself before beginning the conversation. Cultivate a sense of curiosity, openness and care. For example, say to yourself, “I am here to learn from the other person, and to hear what they have to say.” Rather than, “I am here to show them why they are wrong and why I am right.” See differences as natural rather than as obstacles, look at conflict as a grounds for learning, and see each person as adding value to the conversation.
This radical shift from blame to curiosity, from win/lose to win/win, from right/wrong to greater understanding truly fosters communication and connection. Setting proper intentions can also make it much easier for you to listen because you are coming from a different mindset of curiosity and care.
(3) Speak Mindfully
We often think that we need to be loud and dominant in a conversation to show off our expertise and leadership. Or, we want to avoid that awkward pause or uncomfortable silence and so we fill the silence with our own voice. Try asking yourself, why am I speaking at all? At any given moment, you have a choice of whether you want to speak or to listen.
Do I want to speak right now?
Why do I want to say this?
Is this the time to speak or the time to listen?