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Mindfulness in communication

Watch Craig discuss the role of mindfulness in communication, and provide some advice on what we can do to become better communicators.
CRAIG HASSED: Now, communication is one of the most important things we ever do at home, at work, just in practical ways in day to day life. So being mindful about how we do that is a pretty important issue. So some of the key things that get in the way of being mindful while communicating are, firstly, distraction. The person is talking and, on automatic pilot, we’re nodding and so on. But we actually realise, we’re not really listening to what the person is talking about. We’re in default mode, essentially. We’re not listening to what they’re saying. We’re listening to a conversation with ourselves about something we’ve got to do later on or something that was happening before.
Well sometimes, the default mode takes a different form. So the person’s talking and we’re kind of engaged in the conversation, but we’re not really listening to what they’re saying because we’re actually rehearsing what we’re going to say next. And that means, of course, that we’re not really hearing the person. And we’re rehearsing, just waiting for them to draw a breath, and then we chip in. And of course, they may not be listening to us either, because while we’re speaking, they’re not really listening. They’re actually rehearsing what they’re going to say next. And this often happens, of course– two people having a conversation and they seem to be engaged with the topic, but neither one is really listening to the other.
Creating the mental space to actually pay attention and hear with a clear, quiet mind what the person is actually talking about. There is, of course, the effect of multitasking. And this is, obviously, already being gone into in various ways, but we’re doing one thing while we’re trying to do something else that’s complex like communicate. And the illusion that’s created is, we get a couple of words here and a couple of words there and a couple of words there. And when we’re multitasking on automatic pilot, that creates an illusion that I’m following what the person is talking about. But we don’t realise there are big gaps.
And those gaps we often fill with assumptions and imagination about what the person said, but not what they actually said. So it’s a common form of poor memory in what the person said. We didn’t hear instructions because we didn’t listen properly. Misunderstandings. And, of course, it’s rude. And these days, we’ve actually stopped noticing that it’s rude to not really listen to a person properly when they’re talking, especially when they’re talking about something that’s important to them. We think we’re being more productive, but of course, we’re not. So there are a number of ways in which being unmindful can negatively affect our communication. Now the effects of poor communication, or being unmindful in communication, is that it wastes time.
It affects the quality of the relationship. It leads to misunderstandings and errors. It impairs our memory. It sometimes leads to a distortion of another person’s views– that we project attitudes onto them that perhaps they don’t actually hold. And of course, it affects empathy and compassion that we have for others. So how do we practise being mindful while communicating? Well the first thing is, when we ask a question, for example, just to listen to the answer. And this thing means not thinking at the same time. It means actually listening to the words coming out of the other person’s mouth, rather than the words that might be rattling around in our own minds. So following conversations step-by-step and moment-by-moment.
It also means being aware of the things that arise while we’re having a conversation. We might be aware of our own reactions and responses. If we’re able to notice them, that’s a very important part of self-awareness. But we may not get caught up on those. We might actually be aware that this is potentially going to have an effect unless we stay present to the person, in terms of really being able to listen to their point of view. One of the other habits of highly effective people is to listen first, and then to speak afterwards. And make sure that we’re listening, rather than being so preoccupied about talking. And so inquiring, mindfully, following the questions.
Perhaps even in a Socratic kind of way can be very important helping to understand another person’s perspective as well. And a part of being self aware while having communication, is also to be aware of her own body language– perhaps the tone of voice. We might notice, for example, when we’re anxious or attached to a particular outcome, that all of a sudden we start forcing or pressing the issue. And we start to notice that we’re trying to impose on somebody else, rather than have a really mutually respectful exchange of thoughts and ideas. So that whole self-awareness of our own sound or our own body language is a very important part of communicating mindfully as well.
There is, though, perhaps a little footnote to add to this. One of the things that sometimes gets in the way when we start to think about communicating mindfully, is that we get self-conscious about it. There’s a difference between conscious– that is having the attention open and turned out to the other person– compared to being self-conscious, which is what impression am I making? What are they thinking? Am I coming across all right? And we sometimes confuse that with mindful communication, when it’s actually quite unmindful. Our attention is not on the communication. There’s a kind of self-preoccupation, a kind of hyper-vigilance, of ourselves. And so we need to learn to recognise that. And that’s an impediment to communication itself.
And being mindful is not being hyper vigilant or self conscious. It’s to be aware and self aware. And so that’s a common trick that sometimes comes up when we think we’re cultivating mindfulness, when we’re actually doing the opposite sometimes. Now of course there is the issue of speaking to somebody else who may not really be listening to us. They might be multitasking. They might be preoccupied. And if we’re really mindful, we might recognise it’s important to stop speaking to either, for example, say to the person, is this a good time to chat? Is there something else you need to do? Should I perhaps come back later?
Or to say the person, this is an important thing so maybe let’s just leave other things and just really concentrate on what we need to deal with here– to make sure the person’s attention is engaged before we actually engage in speaking. Because if we’re not really paying attention– we just keep on talking while the other person’s multitasking or their mind is somewhere else– we’re probably pretty much wasting our time. And so it’s very important to be mindful enough to help the other person to be mindful when we’re going to communicate. Because communication, in the middle of that word, is unity. Two people connecting as one– or more than two people. But unity is the real connection.
And that doesn’t happen without attention being fully and properly engaged.

Watch Craig discuss the role of mindfulness in communication, and provide some advice on what we can do to become better communicators.

Find out more

If mindfulness in communication is of interest to you, consider exploring the See also section of this step for links to research and articles related to this area. Remember, these additional readings are optional.

These papers and articles are included to help demonstrate some of the research in this area, but we do not expect you to purchase a journal subscription to read full papers. Hopefully, just reading the summary provided in the free abstract will be sufficient for those that are wanting to know more about specific studies.

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