We’ve all been told plenty of times that “communication is key.” In any relationship, be it personal or professional, good communication sets the foundations for getting along harmoniously. The challenge in our modern-day society is that we’re all incredibly busy and are constantly being bombarded by a range of different distractions and notifications, which in turn hinders our ability to really be present to the people around us.
And we’ve all been there before… you know that feeling when you’re on the other end of the phone to someone and you can tell that they’re totally not paying attention. Or when you mindlessly say something off the cuff and accidentally end up causing an argument. It doesn't feel very good, does it?
On an ongoing basis, this type of mindless communication can lead to misunderstandings, miscommunication, and mishaps in our relationships. This is why it's essential to move beyond our mindless ways of communicating (i.e. being distracted by external thoughts or stimuli or speaking without being aware of the impact of our words) and instead learn the magic of mindful communication.
What is mindful communication?
Mindful communication happens when you allow yourself to be truly immersed in the present moment. You listen without judgement but instead with a sense of openness, kindness and curiosity. You take the time to truly understand the other person before jumping to conclusions or reacting. And when it’s time to respond, you take the time to think before you speak, ensuring that what you say is truthful, compassionate and genuinely helpful.
So, how can we go about improving our communication skills? Here are 8 simple tips to help you cultivate deep listening and mindful speech:
1. Pay attention
Often when we think we’re listening to someone, we’re not really being present. Our minds might become busy formulating our response, perhaps it wanders off to the to-do list or other distractions, or we might start to wonder how we can wrap this conversation up so that we can move onto the next thing. In order to listen mindfully, begin by ensuring that your awareness is focused on the other person. This might require you to put down your phone, turn away from your computer or remind yourself to keep re-focusing whenever you notice yourself getting distracted.
2. Pick up on what’s not being said
From here, start to broaden your awareness to take in the full range of the conversation. Believe it or not, spoken word only accounts for 7% of meaning in a conversation! What makes up the rest? Tone of voice (38%) and body language (55%). Tuning into the other person’s body language and tone of voice will help you to pick up on subtle cues that might not be directly communicated to you. This will help you to navigate your response when it’s your turn to speak.
3. Let go of judgements
Whilst you’re listening, make sure you’re adopting and open and receptive stance. In mindfulness we talk about being compassionate and non-judgemental, so as best you can allow yourself to take in what the other person is saying without reacting or jumping to any conclusions. It’s easy to fall into the trap of unconsciously judging the other person’s opinion, perspective or story. As best you can, remind yourself that there’s no right or wrong, only different perspectives.
4. Be understanding
Most of the time people just want to feel heard and understood. It can be tempting to want to jump straight into advice giving or problem-solving, but above all else, the most comforting response we can receive from someone who’s listening to us is “I understand”. If you don’t understand or you’re unclear about what’s being communicated, know that you’re allowed to ask for clarification or perhaps even try paraphrasing so that you can get to a place where you really see what the other person means.
5. don’t interrupt
Let the other person have their say and wait for your turn to speak. Not only is this the ultimate sign of respect, but it will also put you in a position to be more mindful of your own response.
6. Respond rather than react
Often when we hear something challenging or unexpected it causes us to get defensive or reactive. Creating a short pause before responding to the trigger can help you disconnect from those automatic reactions and change the course of the situation completely. Before you speak, take a moment to pause, breathe and consider what you’re going to say. The acronym THINK can help you to frame your response. Ask yourself; is what I'm about to say True? Helpful? Necessary? Inspiring? Kind? If it's not, it will serve in your best interest to change your approach to something that will tick these five boxes.
7. Choose your words wisely
Mindful speech is gentle and considered, so it’s extremely important to make sure you choose your words carefully and consciously. Try not to over exaggerate or let your emotions get in the way of what you’re trying to communicate. Instead use clear, calm and succinct language to get your point across without being threatening, accusatory or going on an unnecessary tangent.
8. Be aware of your own tone of voice and body language
Often when we’re busy, stressed or have had a difficult day, we fall into the trap of taking it out on others. This can come in the form of using a clipped tone, being overly abrupt in our communication or exerting ‘closed’ body language signals such as frowning, crossing your arms or rolling your eyes. No matter what’s going on in your world personally or professionally, there’s no place for this type of behaviour. When you’re communicating with someone, make sure you speak with a calm, neutral tone of voice, maintain eye contact and let go of any tension and tightness in your body. These small physical changes will actually help you to soften into the conversation.