Updated: Jul 21, 2020
Communication is a broad umbrella that highlights how information or ideas are exchanged and received from one medium to another. It is a fundamental component for harmonious relationships, learning and productivity, yet it is something that can be fiercely challenging to master.
In a time where we seem to be constantly busy, it can be hard enough to take a mindful moment for yourself and just be, let alone extending this to others. Yet mindfulness is such a wonderful tool to help enhance our relationships with others (and self) but allowing us to be completely present for someone, without judgement or expectation. Here are a few tips to help engage in more mindful communication with others.
1. Be present
As Thich Nhat Hanh so beautifully says, "The most precious gift we can offer someone is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they bloom like flowers." When you are spending time with someone, listen with your whole body. Pop down the phone or other distractions, face the other person, engage with them through actively listening. Try to refrain from interrupting or butting in, and when appropriate, reflect back what you have heard. Dr Brené Brown has written many works on the subject. She offers suggestions on meaningful engagement with others, and offering feedback to clarify what is being said and build trust. If listening without responding verbally makes you feel like Roger Rabbit trying to resist the old "Shave and a Haircut", some suggestions you could try during your next engagement could be something like:
"That must have been a difficult situation for you to navigate..."
"It sounds like you were wanting this outcome instead of that one.."
"So you were really happy with the outcome.."
"Let me make sure I understand.."
Go on, give it a go!
2. Listen without judgement
Oftentimes, it can be difficult to listen without judgement, whether it be towards the person themselves, their opinion, or perhaps their mode of action. Even the most well-meaning response sometimes can start with "what the hell are you doing!?" or "I would never do that..." type retaliation, which can negate the other persons feelings or beliefs, and can inhibit effective communication.
Learning to put any judgmental feelings aside and listen to someone with empathy (the ability to feel what the other person is feeling) is a real skill, and can facilitate a trusting, comfortable and healing encounter.
3. Be mindful of your non-verbal language
You may or may not be familiar with the scientific findings put forth by Mehrabian, who concluded that less than 35% of our communication is verbal, and over 65% is actually non-verbal, predominantly conveyed through tone and body language. In addition to this, Ray Birdwhistell, a famous anthropologist, conveyed that although the average person only talks for around 10 minutes a day, we can recognise over 250,000 facial expressions. These notions indicate the true power behind non-verbal expression, particularly in how we portray and interpret information with others. Oftentimes these non-verbal cues trigger our gut feelings or intuition about others, and can enhance our cognitive awareness and 'psychic vibes' with others and our surroundings.
During your next conversation, I challenge you take a 'mindful moment' to reflect on the non-verbal information being relayed from you and the other person/s involved. What is the tone of the conversation? How is your tone? What is the intention behind the messages?What is not being said? Does the body language reflect what is being said from you and the other person? And of course, my personal favourite, are there other factors at play right now that might be influencing the tone of the conversation, e.g. hunger, tiredness, stress? Creating this awareness helps create depth, trust and better engagement, which leads to better quality communication.
4. Don’t offer advice unless asked
It can be really difficult to listen to someone and fight back the urge to offer advice, but it can be more difficult to put yourself out there and express how you really feel, only to be interrupted or devalued in a sense by “here’s what I think” or “you know what you should do” and so forth. As much as you might want to help the other person or share the benefit of your wisdom and experience, it can become easy to take the other person’s problem on as your own, when really it is up to them to work through it. In addition to this, you might not have all the facts or details on the other person’s whole situation, or perhaps their true feelings or current state of well-being, so unless you are asked, it’s best to refrain from offering suggestions or advice. Let’s be honest, most of us know the answer deep down, or hate being told what we already might know. Sometimes it is more helpful to let us clear the clouds of confusion on our own through a good vent or verbal release!
5. Don’t take it personally!
Back when I used to work in retail pharmacy, an amazing friend of mine introduced me to 'the Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz. The Second Agreement addresses the notion of taking things personally, and for me, this agreement has impacted my life so so much for the better, and completely revolutionized how I see others and myself! Particularly for those of you who have or do work in customer service, retail, medical or other government type jobs, unfortunately you are likely a first point of call for people to take out their stress or frustration on. Learning to not take things personally, for me, was like a super-fortification on my auric 'shit shield'. Telling myself that it wasn't about me, it was likely more so a reflection of their current stress, circumstance or perhaps health, allowed me to develop and communicate with more understanding and love towards them, and to be able to strengthen myself against any potentially nasty or hurtful words, and believe me, there were many over the years! On the same note, accepting criticism gracefully, taking ownership or responsibility when you mess up takes courage, facilitates personal growth and establishes trust in relationships. We all mess up, we all have good days and bad days. We're all here in this journey of life together to learn and grow. Learning to acknowledge something for what it is, own it, and move forward is not a blow to the ego or a failure, it is a springboard into a sense of freedom and empowerment that can only strengthen your sense of love for others and self. Sometimes it is about you, but not always. Remember that!
May your conversations be meaningful, strengthening, uplifting and healing. :-)