What is Mindful Communication?

We live in a flood of mindless communication. Television, internet, and radio assail our senses. Most of this information is designed to sway us emotionally. It bypasses our wise brain, and fills our minds with noise.Mindful Communication defined

This is a brief manifesto in favor of mindful communication. Mindful communication is the authentic sharing of information with others. Two-person dialogues are perfect for this deep interaction. Yet, speakers and listeners in large group can also practice mindfulness.

Mindful Communication is the application of mindfulness principles to communication. The main principles are:

  • Being Fully Present,
  • Focus on the Present Moment,
  • Openness to Experience,
  • Non-Judgment,
  • Acceptance of Things as They Are,
  • Connection,
  • Non-Attachment,
  • Peace and Equanimity,
  • Compassion

 

Let’s examine how each of these plays out in two-person conversation.

Present and Focused

Mindful Communication definedBeing Fully Present: Both people must be fully present. They each bring their most authentic self to this conversation. When speaking, each will attempt to express true ideas and avoid focusing on feelings. When listening, they will work to understand the meaning and intention of the speaker. They show that this interaction is the most important, and only, thing they are doing right now.

Focus on the Present Moment: The participants focus only on their conversation. During this time, they will avoid all distractions. They give their full attention to the person speaking or listening. What is expressed will be examined with full and detailed care and attention.

It can be difficult to give and receive undivided attention today. Our cell phones demand attention like hungry infants. Work is not confined to an 8-hour period. For Mindful Communication to occur, we must control distractions. We cannot multi-task and be mindful at the same time.

Openness to Experience: This conversation is unique, though it may raise familiar topics. Both people should be ready to accept new ideas, or changes in opinion, in the other. Change is not threatening, because it is the only certainty in life. This communication may offer new possibilities, new opportunities, or new understanding.

Openness to Experience includes our mind’s most enjoyable characteristics. Curiosity, imagination, and attentiveness are all part of openness. These especially come into play when we are listening. What can we learn about the speaker if we listen to each word and phrase with our full, curious attention? Think how different that would be from the way we usually hear, without listening?

Accepting Attitude

Non-Judgment: When listening, each person will practice non-judgement. This means that they examine each statement for its truth value, but will not call it “good” or “bad,” “right” or “wrong.” The two communicators discuss the thoughts and feelings that lead to a statement. They examine whether the statement represents the speaker’s most authentic self. There is no rush to response; speaker and listener are a team.

Acceptance: This is letting each communicator be the person who they are. The participants express their best thinking at this moment. They listen for understanding as well as they can. There is no attempt to change the other person to think or become more like us. When we make requests of the other person, we accept that the response may be, “No.”

We also accept ourselves. Mindful communication is not about giving in to the demands of the other person. It is also about practicing self-compassion. We should be mindful of our own value as a person, so that we can share ourselves, our ideas, our insights with the world. It is not wrong to assert rights for ourselves that we would assert for others.

Non-Attachment: Mindful communicators do not become so bound to an idea that they use it like a weapon. There is no victory in argument, only in discovering truth. Statements in conversation are not proxies for the speaker’s ego. They are thoughts, which are only true or false, useful or not useful.

Emotional Stillness

Peace and Equanimity We communicate to improve our relationship with another person. We reject negative emotional reactions that we may have to some comments. No one “makes us” feel a certain way. Our emotional reaction to some statements or behaviors belongs to us.

Mindful Communication definedIf statements trigger emotions of fear or anger, we must examine why this happens. We identify and express the emotions we experience, and the thoughts that cause them. But these emotions are only a part of the communication, and do not drive it. An attitude of emotional stillness is essential to Mindful Communication.

Compassion: Speak and listen with love and kindness. Hear the joy and pain in the speaker’s words, watch the expression of the listener’s face. Try to understand what in the person’s experience has produced these thoughts. Be grateful that the speaker is sharing his or her thoughts, and that the listener attends to them. Remember that the other person is trying to become closer to you.

The Purpose of Communication

Connection: The purpose of Mindful Communication is to build connection with another person. It is not a battleground of ideas, or even cooperative problem-solving. The aim is to know another mind better, and to feel a new, stronger bond with that mind. There is also an opportunity for the other person to appreciate us in a new way.

The quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives. Communicating mindfully shows how much we value both another person and ourselves. Imagine how Mindful Communication could affect the quality of your relationships. Imagine how Mindful Communication could affect the quality of even one of your relationships.Mindful Communication defined

Do you communicate mindfully or mindlessly? The people in your life deserve, and crave, your undivided, compassionate, attention. Try bringing your full self to your very next conversation. Listen with care and compassion while the other person speaks. Do not be overcome by negative emotion. Answer the person by showing understanding, instead of offering a contrasting idea. Work as a team to find what is useful and positive in the statement. Finish that task before offering an idea of your own. But remember that your ideas are also necessary to the other person’s understanding of you.

These practices are easier with some people than with others. Do not judge yourself harshly if you cannot maintain mindfulness in every conversation. As you experience Mindful Communication more often, it will get easier. With practice, you will remain mindful even in stressful situations. Always remember that your goal is to build an authentic relationship.

 

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4 thoughts on “What is Mindful Communication?

  • Great article, more easily read than preformed in real day to day living. A real eye opening article to start practicing TODAY..Thanks for this Good insight,,, Sincerely, cliff

  • My new partner is very into mindfulness and is asking me to be the same, we were having a conversation which went on for quite a while she gave me an answer to a question which I did not fully agree with but I said I can see your point although I don’t fully agree with it and then I asked her if we could end the conversation as I could feel it was starting to trigger me ,but she would not let it go she tried to get me to agree with her answer .
    Because she would not let it go it ended up in a row which I got the blame for I don’t feel this was fair am I wrong to feel this

    • Thank you for this honest and thoughtful post, Michael. It sounds as though you are really trying to communicate mindfully with your partner. I have been thinking about how to reply to it, and rather than try to address this incident directly, I will talk about some situations where I have felt triggered in conversation, and what I have learned from that.

      When I feel triggered, I have often not been wise enough to ask for time. When I have, I have had a similar problem to yours in that I did not steadily assert my need for that time. This requires an assertive attitude. Often, in an effort to please my partner, I would be passive, simply doing what she wanted in an effort to please or be agreeable. But passivity is dishonest and not mindful, because it conceals just how much one needs space or a break. It also did not work for me, because I really did need time to think my emotions through. Without that time, if the conversation became very pressured, I often lost emotional control and ended up damaging the relationship I was trying to preserve.

      Let me also say something about triggers. It can be difficult to determine exactly why they occur, but there is usually some fear that underlies them. In my case, much of that fear was that my partner was telling me that I was less than perfect. When I fell in love, my partner seemed perfect for me, and I assumed that not only was I perfect for her, but that this was a necessary condition of our love. If my partner was now pointing out some imperfection of mine (and, of course, these are many!), I would be terrified that she was also saying that she did not love me anymore. I could not hear the specific complaint or problem because I was terrified of losing love forever.

      But let’s assume for a moment that I was aware enough to hear and understand my partner. In general, she was not so much saying that I was imperfect, or even imperfect for her, but that she needed some behavioral change on my part. This, too, could cause me panic. I was often unsure that I was competent to so what was being asked of me. I have struggled to develop self-esteem and self-worth, so I often doubted that I was capable of doing what was necessary to meet my partner’s needs. At any time, though, we have the right to decide whether we wish to make the changes our partners are requesting. Did I wish to change and grow in the direction my partner needed or wanted, or did I wish to stay the same–or even grow in a different direction? I needed to make this clear to my partner so that she could let me know if she would accept me even if I did not do as she asked, instead of just passively pretending that I would do what she wanted. Again, note how passivity impaired my partner’s ability to know who I really was–because I was uncertain that who I was was acceptable.

      When we communicate mindfully, we take risks. Without becoming emotional, or losing control, we admit our imperfections, and let our partners know honestly what we will and will not do to please them. We let them know who we really are, not the fantasy version of ourselves that we were when we first met them. It may turn out that our real selves are not acceptable to our partners. If, on the other hand, we and our partners practice acceptance while encouraging risk taking and growth, our relationship can flourish and we can also grow and improve as human beings.

      Think deeply about how you would like to express yourself to your partner, Michael. Deeper love can emerge as you reveal yourself and as you allow your partner to reveal herself.

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