Anyone who has a pet dog knows that they understand some of the words spoken by their owners. For instance, a dog may become excited at the mention of a “walk”, or “treat”. Amazingly, a Border Collie called Chaser learned the names of over one thousand toys and other objects and many actions like “take” and “paw” as they applied to these objects.
For humans, the ability to communicate was a defining development of our evolution, which led to the growth of our larger brains to support conversation as well as thinking using language. Humans are social animals, so the quality of communication at work and in our personal lives is fundamental to our wellbeing, as well as that of those around us.
Unfortunately, we’re not born with a life manual on how to communicate well. Apart from learning a language, we’re not explicitly taught how to communicate effectively as we grow up. Like becoming a parent, communication is one of those many things that we end up learning by doing, sometimes making mistakes,, and then adapting. Consider for a moment, just how much time in a typical day we’re either receiving or sending information. We’re not only in conversation with other people; we also watch TV, listen to the radio, read, and respond to social media and emails – so typically we communicate for many hours a day.
Good communication involves attention and awareness. Without awareness of ourselves and others, it’s no wonder the world sometimes appears full of different interpretations and conflicts. Although it can be relatively easy to walk, eat or wash up mindfully, given how important communication is, it’s ironic how difficult it is to remain mindful when we’re engaged in conversation with another human being. So why is this?
One reason is that we can become self-conscious – in other words, our attention and awareness turn inwards as we identify with limiting thoughts and feelings about ourselves, or with the negative judgements that we assume other people are making about us. Being self-conscious is something everyone experiences when we’re out of our comfort zone and is quite natural. For instance, we’re more likely to be self-conscious in situations like a job interview or speaking to a large audience. Self-awareness works at another level, with more space and freedom of movement – so if we experience negative thoughts or feelings, we notice and acknowledge them as they arise, without automatically identifying with them.
Another reason is that when we’re awake our powerful minds are always online; like a proactive super-computer serving interpretations, associations, learning, spotting patterns, and prompting our own conversational response. It’s interesting that the average person listens at a rate between 400-600 words per minute and speaks at 125 words per minute, which leaves loads of time for the mind to wander.
Mindful communication means:
- Remaining in the present moment
- Aware of thoughts arising without letting our attention be diverted away from the act of communicating
- Aware of feelings as they arise without letting them de-stabilize who we are in the moment
- Aware of and grounded in our body – without becoming self-conscious
- Truly connecting with the other person and giving them our full attention
When another person is speaking:
- Actively listening to the sound of their voice
- Connecting with them as a whole person with a complex inner life just like your own
- Letting go of any judgemental thoughts that may arise
- Bringing patience, openness, curiosity, and kindness
When you’re speaking:
- Speaking from the “best of yourself” – from a stable, open and aware position
- Being kind and authentic
- Making a conscious effort to bring out the best in someone else – being generous with genuine gratitude and appreciation
We can continually improve the quality of our communication throughout our lives. Bringing mindful awareness to how we communicate helps us to learn faster. It also gives us the wisdom, space, and freedom to be much more skilful in how we communicate.
Suggested weekly practice
- Pay special attention to situations where you communicate with ease and when communication is difficult and see what insights emerge about thoughts, feelings and whether you were open, kind, stable, and balanced.
- Try simply listening to the sound of someone’s voice without evaluating what is being said.
- Be aware of the judgements, interpretations, and limiting beliefs that arise in your own mind, but also in the minds of others.
Find somewhere undisturbed and sit in a comfortable, dignified and upright posture, where you can remain alert and aware.
There are two guided practices for this session. You can close your eyes, or lower your gaze while the meditations play.
- Play the settling practice, then read through the session content, which you can print off if that helps.
- Then play the second one to explore mindful communication.