What comes to mind when you consider the qualities of a good communicator? Being skilled at expressing your ideas, delivering a punchline or articulating your thoughts and feelings are all examples of great communication. But communication is a two-way street; therefore, it also means being able to read faces, pick up on non-verbals, ask just the right questions, and be a fully present and attentive listener. Sometimes great communication also requires you to manage your internal reactions to other people if a conversation is not going the way you’d like it to.
There are many skills cultivated through a practice of mindfulness that will help you to be a more skilled and artful communicator and thus build quality connections with the people in your life. Below are a few ways that you can bring more mindfulness to your interactions and increase the quality of your communication and your relationships.
1. Be fully present
It should go without saying that being a good communicator requires you to be fully present to the person/people with whom you are attempting to communicate. You might think you’ve shown up for a conversation, a meeting or a lunch date, but it’s always worth checking in with yourself. Have you fully arrived, or is your mind still on the text message you received from your partner a few minutes ago or the work project that’s due tomorrow? Are you looking at faces or at your phone? Far too often we are there in body but not in mind, so this is an essential first step.
2. Mind your judgements
Being mindful means taking the present interaction, as best as you can, for what it is; not what you think it is or what you want it to be. In our default state of auto-pilot, we typically carry around a whole load of pre-conceptions, opinions and assumptions about everything, and of course we bring all of that to our interactions with other people. How you interpret a situation can vary depending on the mood you’re in or the day you’ve had. Communicating mindfully means remembering that everything is perception and being open to the possibility that there are alternative perspectives and explanations for any situation. In mindfulness practice, we refer to having a ‘beginner’s mind’ which means trying as much as possible to let go of preconceptions and to see people and situations as if for the first time.
3. Be generous in your assumptions
If we can remind ourselves that we see the world through our own filters (our personal history, current mood, cognitive biases, opinions about this person etc.), we might also remind ourselves that so does everyone else. We can’t possibly know what another person’s experience has been or what kind of day they’ve had. Keeping that in mind can help us to not take things personally, and be a little less harsh and hasty with our own judgements.
I was taught a long time ago that the best way to manage difficult interactions was to always assume a positive intent on behalf of the other person. That is, don’t assume that someone is behaving in a particular way because they’re an awful person or they woke up this morning with a plan to piss you off. Being mindful helps you catch yourself when you begin going down the path of assuming the worst in people and instead, turn your thoughts to something more generous.
4. Manage your emotions
Mindfulness is especially important when your buttons get pushed and you feel a strong emotional reaction arising with you. (Usually the people who tend to push our buttons most easily are the people closest to us.) A less skilled communicator might let themselves be run by that strong emotion and have it drive their behaviours. Whether it’s sulking, withdrawing, getting angry or going into blame mode – these are all examples of emotional reactivity that can be managed with mindfulness.
Alternatively, it might be that you are doing your best to be non-judgemental and to see the other person’s perspective but they’re not extending you the same courtesy. Whatever the circumstances, being mindful means being present to your emotions, noticing how you’re inclined to react and choosing to be thoughtful and considered in your response rather than allowing yourself to be hijacked by strong feelings.
5. Allow space
Whether it’s space for silence, space for people to process thoughts and feelings, or space for a whole range of different opinions and points of view to be heard, being mindful means having the ability to manage tension rather than needing to fill the silence, rush people to answers, or dominate discussions.
If it’s time you invested in cultivating your own mindfulness practice, you might want to get your name on the waitlist for my next round of Mindfulness for Busy People – an 8-week, evidence based, online mindfulness course.
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