I have been reading and practicing with some teachings on mindful speech recently and it seems to be an area of great difficulty for most people. I know it is for me and it is something that I am sure I will work on for the rest of my life.
What is mindful communication?
Mindful communication happens when you are truly present in this moment with curiosity, kindness, and compassion. You listen with an open, nonjudgmental heart to the other person. You speak skillfully, generally avoiding lying, harsh language, gossip, divisive speech. (Did I lose most of you here?) Before you speak, you ask yourself is it useful, true, beneficial, and timely.
Here are just a few things that make mindful communication difficult.
- You hear what you expect to hear rather than what is actually being said
- You have difficulty expressing your emotions
- You lack good attention skills
- You’re very busy
- You jump to conclusions
- You want to get your thoughts expressed instead of listening to the other person
- You get caught up in gossip and divisive conversations (it happens all the time!)
- You forget to be compassionate of the other person
- You are so busy listening to your internal chatter you can’t hear the other person
- You like to fix other people’s problems
- I could go on and on…
How can you improve?
I think it is important to connect with why you would want to improve your communication. In my experience, mindful communication brings about harmony in relationships and harmony within myself. That’s all the reason I need. So, check in with yourself to see what your intention is before you start to speak. Are you wanting to bring harmony and compassion to the situation or do you have another intention? When we don’t connect with our intention we can more easily fall prey to unskillful speech.
At work, mindful communication can help you think on your feet, seek out information in a collaborative manner, help you resolve conflict in ways that helps all parties be heard, and encourage transparency about processes. All of these things will improve relationships and enhance productivity.
You can practice pausing before you speak. Take one deep full breath and consider what is about to come out of your mouth before you say anything. Notice what it feels like to not say something that you realize would be hurtful in some way.
You can set an intention to listen attentively to someone at work and at home without interrupting, asking questions, agreeing, or otherwise inserting any speech. Notice what happens inside you when you “just listen” and notice how the other person responds. You might be surprised at how many friends you’ll gain with this strategy.
Practicing mindful communication is quite challenging because there are so many ways we fall prey to our conditioned way of speech. As a start, try listening more and talking less. As Epictetus said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”