Communication is a huge part of our lives. All our relationships depend on it, but it often seems to go wrong and we can react or lose patience, even with people we’re close to. Here are some suggestions for developing our communication with the help of mindfulness
1. Notice your habits
Habits probably play a big part in how we communicate, so we need to reflect on how we communicate, and particularly what difficulties arise. Notice if you tend to focus on what others do when things go wrong: change comes when we identify what we contribute ourselves.
2. Use meditation
When we meditate arguments and unresolved difficulties often rise up into awareness. We can use that time to notice the elements of our experience: the thoughts that go with what happened; the feeling; and how the body feels. These are all clues to what’s going on underneath our interpretations. Notice a tendency to judge ourselves harshly when difficulties arise and encourage a kindly response to ourselves and others.
3. Identify what’s really important in what you are saying
Communication is most effective when we are able to say, simply and clearly, what’s important and why. If you can share that, others are more likely to understand and sympathise with what you’re trying to say. But it takes some reflection, especially if we have to untangle what’s important from resentments and reactions.
4. Connect with the other person
Empathy is the real key to communication and mindfulness can help us listen more fully to what others are say. Use your imagination to connect with them and try to sense what is really important to them, even if it isn’t quite what they are saying.
5. Be truthful
It’s interesting to notice the small ways in which we can avoid telling the truth: exaggerating, flattering or wriggling out of awkward communication. There’s no easy answer to what we should say when someone asks ‘does this dress look good on me’? But little evasions add up and get in the way of straightforward connection.
6. Express kindness
Make a point of expressing gratitude and appreciation of others, and look for opportunities to encourage them.
7. Find the right time
Being truthful can sometimes seem at odds with being kind and the art of skilful communication involves finding the right balance. Sometimes that means finding the right time to speak a difficult truth
8. Steer clear of gossip
Often conversations in workplaces and social situations involve lots of moaning, gossiping and criticising. Notice the effect these have on you and explore not getting drawn in
9. Reduce input
More and more of our time seems to be filled with emails, texts, social media and entertainment. Mindfulness needs mental space, so experiment with chatting less and reducing input. Periods of silence help, especially when you spend time alone or go on retreat
10. Enjoy language
Love words, read poetry, speak well (and reduce swearing!) The best communicators understand that words are precious and have many meanings and connotations. Read authors who also love and understand language, and bring mindfulness to whatever you write: even emails!
These suggestions for skillful communication draw on the Buddha’s teaching on ‘right speech’ and insights from Non-Violent Communication (NVC). If you’re interested in learning more you can follow the online retreat I am leading through October on Tricycle.com on this theme. (The first talk is available to all, the others are for Tricycle subscribers).
Our friend Shantigarbha leads courses on Mindful Communication and NVC in Bristol. His next training day is on Saturday 1 December