Understanding mindfulness

In this article, Prof. Ting-Toomey argues for mindful inquiry as a way to cultivate intercultural competence. This refers to being fully aware, sensitive, and empathetic in observation, listening, and communication.

“ ‘M-I-N-D-F-U-L’ stands for Mindfulness In the moment Now with Deepening of the Five senses to Understand and to Learn and relearn.” (Ting-Toomey, 2015, 6, 26)

The above sentence summarizes nicely what it means to be mindful. Ting-Tommey points out, in the entry for “mindfulness”, that practicing mindfulness requires people to look inwardly and get the minds ready for taking new perspectives. It prepares people to move from being ethnocentric to ethnorelative and able to shift frames of references. Its origin can be found both in the East and the West.

She listed five key components of mindfulness in this article, and they are:

  • Present at the moment (awareness)
  • Knowing about knowing (metacognition)
  • Knowing (cognition)
  • Affective monitoring (emotion)
  • Communicating about communication (metacommunication)

Being aware and fully present at the moment is the most important condition for mindfulness. It sharpens one’s consciousness in a socially and culturally different environment. Non-judgmental attitude is also necessary as it has the mind ready for taking in different stimuli. But awareness does not stop here. It extends to the consciousness of how culture affects thinking, acting, and feeling as well.

Cognitively, being mindful means one should acquire knowledge of the identities, values, norms, interaction scripts of those one communicates with. Affectively, it means one is able to understand and monitor the emotions that activate certain verbal or nonverbal behavior. Behaviorally, mindfulness allows people to be adaptive, and communicate sensitively about situational factors in their communication. Practicing mindfulness in intercultural communication is more art than science. Its goal is to balance between effectiveness (achieving mutually shared goals) and appropriateness (perceived as proper and expected).

In the end, Ting-Toomey proposed a mindful inquiry practice and argued that it is a way to cultivate intercultural competence.

“A mindful intercultural communication is an adaptive individual who has a strong present-in-the-moment orientation with cognitive, affective, and behavioral flexibility.”

This mindful inquiry entails four skills related to observation, listening, attunement, and reframing. Mindful observation means one should avoid make hasty judgment or evaluate cultural differences negatively. It is recommended that one start with neutral descriptions of behavior, be aware of the possibility of multiple interpretations, and suspend the tendency to make ethnocentric evaluations. Mindful listening emphasizes full engagement in communication by being attentive to different situational factors. It helps validate the face of both communicators and is a gesture that shows willingness to share power. Through mindful listening, one is able to develop cultural empathy (i.e., the capacity to understand and resonate with others in their respective perspectives and to convey the understanding and resonance responsively). It will lead to culturally sensitive adjustment in intercultural interactions and helps with conflict resolution. The highest-order skill for mindful intercultural is reframing the problem through redefining the issue creatively and using languages strategically.

The full version of Ting-Toomey’s “Mindfulness” article is available to download below

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This article is from the free online course:

Intercultural Communication

Shanghai International Studies University (SISU)