Monday, March 24, 2014

Effective Communication with Mindfulness

Have you ever had the experience while talking to someone where the person is really not listening to you? They act like they are but it is obvious that they aren’t. The ironic part is that they probably think they are communicating with you but on some level you just feel that you weren’t heard at all.
Communication is something we all engage in on a daily basis but due to the pace of our lives, conversations become just formalities. It is like when you go to the store and the cashier asks you: “how are you?” It’s as if she was on cruise control as opposed to really being interested in how you are doing.
Living mindfully isn’t limited to meditation, but can also be applied to effective communication in our daily interactions with other people. This article takes a look at 10 effective communication tips using the principles of mindfulness.

In my work as an attorney, eighty percent of cases I have seen in my career are a result of some form of misunderstanding and lack of effective communication. People agree to do something. They sign papers and start working on a project. Eventually, it turns out that each party heard something completely different.

Communication Truth: We Hear What We Want to Hear

Let’s say someone tells you that they will talk to you later. Well, what does later mean? Does it mean five minutes from now? Does it mean five hours or five days from now? Or is that a polite way to convey that they have no desire to ever talk to you again? The possibilities are endless
I was recently talking to a friend about a problem that I had. I poured my heart out to her and when it was her turn to talk, she just gave me her thoughts which were mainly about herself and totally missed the point of what I was saying. I realize that my friend had good intentions but she was just not listening.
My initial reaction was sadness because I did not see how she could have misunderstood what I was saying. I started to wonder if maybe I did not express myself clearly. However, as I thought about what she had told me, I realized that she was listening to me from the perspective of her views of the world without placing herself in my shoes.
My friend was trying to find something in her life that made her feel the same way without truly understanding what I was feeling. It was like she heard only one word and was only focused on that one word but not the context.
The whole interaction fascinated me. Of course, that was not the first time I have had such an experience with someone. However, it was the first time where all the pieces fell into place and I realized the importance of applying mindfulness into my own communication.

Communication vs. Mindfulness Communication

Mindfulness communication is a term that originates in Buddhist philosophy and became popular in the West due to the work of Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. He is the person who is credited for introducing to the medical profession the concept that meditation helps people reduce stress and other physical ailments.
Mindfulness communication means to listen and speak with compassion, kindness and awareness. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, regular communication is defined as “the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs.”
As you notice in the above definition, there is no mention of compassion or kindness. If you watch any regular interaction between people, the form of communication will appear to fit the regular definition.
One person says one thing and the other person shares their thoughts. Most of the time, when someone is asked a question, they answer immediately. Not many seem to really think before speaking. In order to engage in effective communication using mindfulness, we have to listen mindfully and speak mindfully.

5 Tips to Listen with Mindfulness

1. Clear Your Head

When someone starts to talk to you, do your best to clear your head of any thoughts that are occupying your mind. Remove any sense of judgment about the person who is talking.
To listen to someone with a preconceived idea of who you think they are or what they are about to say, puts you at a disadvantage because you may miss what you could otherwise learn from the person who is talking.

2. Create a Safe Space

It is never easy for someone to open themselves up and tell you what is on their mind. If you really are attentive to what they are saying, it indirectly tells the other person that it is safe for them to be themselves with you.

3. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking to you, do not look at your feet or the ceiling or whatever else is surrounding you. Just look into the eyes of the person who is talking. It shows that you care and wouldn’t you want someone to do the same for you?

4. Put Yourself In The Other Person’s Perspective

Experiences are relative; meaning people react and see things based on how they view the world. Put yourself in the shoes of the person who is talking and try to see the world from that angle.
Back in 2004, I was working in an office where everyone was a big supporter of a certain political view. I thought they were crazy but when I tried to understand why they all supported it, I saw that they really were good people who thought that the political idea in question would protect them. I disagreed but that was okay. I saw why they thought the way that they did. It made working with them so much easier.

5. Don’t Assume

If the person who is talking says something that you do not understand or is not very clear, don’t assume a thing but ask them to clarify their statement. Many times people assume that the other person means one thing when in reality they could be talking about something totally different. There is nothing wrong with asking questions as long as you ask them with compassion.

5 Tips to Speak with Mindfulness

Photo by Nathiya Prathnadi

1. Think Before Speaking

When someone asks you a question, don’t just immediately start talking. Take at least ten to twenty seconds (or more) to think about the question and how you want to answer.
When I first started dating my husband, I used to get impatient when it would take him a long time to answer my questions but then I realized he was thinking about what to say and I wasn’t used to someone actually taking the time to ponder the question.
It touched me so much, I started to do the same and it is amazing how much people really appreciate it when you take their questions seriously.

2. Choose Your Words Consciously

Just because something makes sense to you does not mean it will make sense to the other person.
I have a friend who has a very strange sense of humor. Most of the time, it sounds like he is insulting you but in reality he is not. I don’t think he is aware of what he does and he is always amazed that people get mad at him or feel hurt after speaking to him.
Painful words can cause more damage than physical pain, so choose your words consciously and carefully. Not everyone is willing to give another person a second chance. A sentence uttered without thinking can cause a person to lose their job or end a relationship.

3. Speak Your Truth

Many times when we talk to someone, we like to give off a certain image. We want to appear as perfect as possible. We want the other person to like us and to think highly of us. Therefore, many people try too hard to be something they are not and they end up acting that way through a conversation.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to be yourself. That means speaking your truth. This does not mean you have to be rude or mean. You can speak your truth with compassion and kindness.
For example, I once met someone who was very critical of people who were vegans. The funny thing was that the person had no idea that I have been a vegan (vegetarian) for 21 years. I had two choices. I could either play along or tell the truth. I went ahead and told the guy the truth.
I was calm and told him that I understood his point of view. I went on and shared with him my thoughts on the issue. We ended up having a really great conversation and neither one of us ever had to raise our voice. No one likes to be lied to so don’t lie about who you are.

4. Mean What You Say

If when talking to someone, you tell them that you will send them a certain document by a certain date, do keep your word. You will earn a lot of respect when you follow through with your promises.
If you have no desire to talk to one person ever again, then do not say you will give them a call sometime. Whether it is in business or romance or with friends, keeping your word goes a long way. A Buddhist master once said to me, “word, thought and deed have to be one”. So don’t say you will do something when you really don’t intend to do it.

Parting Words: Effective Communication

As a former “Type A” personality, I was always on the go and never really had time to talk to people. I always needed to be somewhere else or to do something. I am very well aware that the above steps may seem too time consuming but if you want to be successful in whatever you do and if you want to have meaningful relationships, you need people. As the saying goes, “it takes two to tango”.
The only way to have people respect you is if you respect them and engaging in effective communication using mindfulness is one of the best methods to earn that respect.

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