What makes good communication? I mean what is it about a conversation or an encounter with someone that leaves you feeling that it was worthwhile or successful? Do you find many of the meetings you go to fit the bill as exercises in good communication? What about encounters with doctors, police officers, helpline staff or customers? And then, what about conversations with your partner or kids or your boss? I guess most of us, most of the time, leave such situations with, at the very least, a vague sense of dissatisfaction. I have a theory about meetings especially; I reckon meetings are the worst possible way to get anything done because, invariably, the loudest, most assertive, most confident people always get their own way. Not only that but getting their own way becomes the most important thing, the ONLY thing that matters. This is why so many dreadful decisions are made in meetings. Quiet, thoughtful people don’t usually get a look in and let's face it, they probably have a lot of the best ideas! The trouble is, people want to be heard and they are not too concerned about listening. Even when you appear to be listening to someone else, isn’t it the case that a large part of you is already thinking of how you are going to respond? The difference between the defensive, closed down, fear driven, controlling communication we all experience from time to time and the more open-hearted, inclusive, creative communication we really want to have with others, is in the quality of the listening. We do quite a lot about mindful communication in the 8-week course (although probably not nearly enough) and one of the greatest benefits most people get from the course is in applying mindfulness to their relationships. In fact it could be argued that this whole mindfulness business has no point unless we bring it into our relationships with others.
Here’s the practice: when you get the opportunity, have a conversation with someone and really listen to them. To do this you must connect with all your resources - your body, your kind heart and your open mind. Put your "self" aside for a while. If you find yourself thinking about something clever or interesting to say, just notice that thought and come back to listening. Being selflessly present with others is very rare but very powerful. The situation could be a one-to-one conversation with a work colleague or friend or it could be a meeting. Whatever it is, just listen with complete attention as if your life depended on it. Notice your tendency to interrupt or dominate when it arises. Speak when you feel ready to do so and always acknowledge what you have just heard.
The shift towards mindful communication has been described as moving from “me first” to “we first”. It is, first and foremost, a compassionate, respectful way of being with someone else. Like lots of the other things in our lives that we bring mindful attention to, this is not easy. Entrenched habits of communication won’t disappear overnight. But that’s not what this is about. We are trying to learn about our own patterns of behaviour and cultivate a different way. There is no end to this work and remember that it is perfectly OK to be flawed; we need to be compassionate towards ourselves as well. If you want to learn more about how you can bring mindfulness into your communication with other people, have a look at “The Five Keys to Mindful Communication: Using Deep Listening and Mindful Speech to Strengthen Relationships, Heal Conflicts, and Accomplish Your Goals” by Susan Gillis Chapman.