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.
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,
- Acceptance of Things as They Are,
- Peace and Equanimity,
Let’s examine how each of these plays out in two-person conversation.
Present and Focused
Being 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?
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.
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.
If 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.
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.