Enhancing Communications with Mindfulness
Mindfulness can enhance our communication in many ways, nurturing presence, personal growth and compassion for ourselves and others. This post will explore mindful listening, emotional responses during communications and how to respond mindfully.
When we are listening mindfully, we bring our attention to what is being said, really focusing on the other person. We notice non-verbal cues from the other, such as body language, facial expression. We become aware of our own thoughts. Sometimes our focus is drawn away from the person speaking to thoughts about what we are going to say next, or what we will do next, or how we can steer the conversation on to something we would like to talk about. With mindfulness we learn that we do not have to engage in the thoughts and that we can kindly bring our focus and attention back to the person we are speaking with, letting the thoughts be in the background, or letting them go.
Mindful communication also allows us to become aware of feelings that are arising in response to what is being said, moment by moment. Our feelings are a natural part of being a human being, as Jon Kabat-Zinn says “You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.”
Mindfulness teaches us to open up to how we are feeling, to notice where the feelings are manifesting in the body (perhaps in the belly, the chest are, the face) and to notice any thoughts that might be fueling unpleasant feelings. Mindfulness invites us to become curious about the feelings while allowing and accepting them. So, for example, if somebody you are speaking with says something that hurts you, mindfulness gives you the space to reflect on this feeling of hurt. With practice you can start to distinguish whether the hurt is due to something within yourself, eg an insecurity that has been touched upon, or something that is coming from the other, eg their own insecurity or perhaps the person is in some way suffering. There could also have been a misunderstanding. Exploring emotions in communication is not about fixing or solving or analysing. Just a subtle investigation of what is happening in that moment with non-judgement and compassion.
This quote from Thich Nhat Hanh really resonated with me when I was researching for this piece:
‘Silence is something that comes from the heart, not from outside. Silence doesn’t mean not talking…; it means that you are not disturbed inside. If you’re truly silent, then no matter what situation you find yourself in you can enjoy the silence.”
The more we practice mindfulness and integrate it into our lives we will truly be able to surf emotions more easily, while keeping the quiet calm that resides in all of us. This will be a massive benefit to all our communications and our wellbeing.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Viktor Frankl
Mindfulness creates a space for us to be able to respond to what is being said rather than reacting in an automatic way. We could use the example of criticism. Perhaps your automatic response to a criticism from someone is to get defensive, you feel attacked so you want to “bite” back. This is our reptilian, fight or flight stress response, which is driven from the part of the brain called the amygdala.
In these situations mindfulness can help. Firstly we must acknowledge to ourselves the hurt we are feeling as a result of what has been said. Notice where this hurt is manifesting in the body. Next we apply some self-care and self-kindness (self-compassion). You may say some soothing words to yourself “Darling, I know you feel hurt right now, but you are an amazing person and you always do your best”. You can also place a hand on your belly or your chest – this will help to bring down the stress response leaving you more able to respond calmly. Once you have attended to your own stress and discomfort, then you can start to see the situation more clearly and can choose how you respond with dignity and compassion.
The key to mindful communication is our non-judgemental awareness of what is happening in the moment with compassion for ourselves and others.
Try for yourself!
Try to bring mindfulness to the next conversation you have. Observing thoughts, emotions and body sensations and well as bringing a kind and curious focus and attention to the person you are communication with.