Hopefully you’re familiar with the experience of talking to someone and having their full, undivided attention.
Of having someone really get what you are saying, understanding not just the words you say but also your tone and body language, almost as if they’re connected with a much deeper part of you, and hearing that.
And you probably know what it is like when someone clearly expresses exactly what you are thinking or feeling, by finding the right word for the occasion or mood. It is moments such as these that show us what communication can be, if we really bring our full selves to the endeavour, that is.
Just as we can listen more fully by stepping out of the automatic pilot of communication, it is possible to begin speaking more mindfully. This refers to speaking our truth, as best we can in any given moment, and simultaneously being aware of what we are saying and what it is like to say it.
Slow things down
In the beginning, as is generally the case with mindfulness, it is useful to slow things down a bit. Slowing things down allows us to step out of the usual habits of chattering away with semiconscious speech. We can do this by taking a breath — a deliberate pause — before speaking.
Before we speak
We can check in with ourselves about what we are about to say and why we have chosen to say this, out of all the possible things we could offer with our speech to this moment. What is our motivation? If it doesn’t feel right then perhaps it’s better not to say it. What is the feeling tone inside us? What thoughts are about to be expressed?
When we speak
Recognise how, when we speak with expectations or attachment to certain outcomes, we are not fully present in that moment to our thoughts or what is happening around us. Often we are speaking out of pre-programmed habits and automatic pilot, rather than responding to the situation in front of us with freshness and creativity.
After we speak
And then, after we have spoken, we can pause again and check in with ourselves. What did it feel like to say that? Did it come out as intended? Was that our truth, in this moment, as best we understand it? And what response did we get from the other person? How did they receive what we said?
As we engage in this reflective process, notice how speaking and listening are inseparable, like two sides of the same coin. With time the whole process refines itself and there tends to be less disconnection between what is happening on the inside and what we express on the outside.
Be clear and authentic
Obviously, we can never fully express what we mean. Speech, like discursive thought, is inherently limited and only ever approximates our intentions and experiences. All we can do is endeavour in each moment to express ourselves as clearly and authentically as we can, and then be honest with ourselves about whether we are actually doing this well.
We can also seek to become more aware of the effects of what we say on others. This is one of the hallmarks of emotional intelligence.
© Monash University 2017. CRICOS No. 00008C