Dr Michelle O'Driscoll: How to engage in mindful communication

Your communication with a person - be it your partner, boss, or other - can steer the course of that relationship.
Dr Michelle O'Driscoll: How to engage in mindful communication

Cheerful young lady smiling to her boyfriend while sitting near the bed next to him Couple talking Couple chatting Picture Stock

MINDFUL communication involves showing up to your relationships with awareness, acceptance and an desire to connect and understand.

No matter the nature of your relationship with the person standing in front of you, whether it’s your Valentine or your boss, how you show up for and contribute towards your communication with them can steer the course of that relationship.

We communicate to be seen, heard and understood, and we communicate not just through what we say. We convey messages through our body language, our facial expressions, the tone of our voice, and even through what remains unsaid at times!

Communication requires at least two participating parties, and the process is almost like a dance, one which you can get better at by learning the steps to it. It’s a flux between sending and receiving messages, understanding the connection between the two participants, and the impact that your response has on the other person. It results in the understanding or misunderstanding of the message, and impacts the outcome of the exchange.

Here are a few things to take into consideration in your communication with lovers or loved ones, colleagues or friends.

Awareness: How often have you been mid- conversation only to realise that you actually cannot remember much of what was just said? We spend a huge amount of time on autopilot, and our communications and connections can suffer as a result. We miss opportunities to really understand and empathise. As best you can, see if you can bring awareness to your communications. Become aware of the words, the facial expressions, all those things that make up the experience. Be present to them without judging, and see how much richer the experience can become.

Curiosity: Most of us are guilty of going into conversations, already ‘knowing’ what the other person is going to say, or how they’re going to act. And sometimes we’re right, but quite often we’ve narrowed down the potential of the interaction before it’s even begun. Experiment with going into what you deem to be predictable interactions with a sense of anticipation, curiosity, a sense of “not knowing” and see how the situation unfolds. You’d be surprised how being open in this way can expand the experience for the better. Because we actually don’t ‘know’ — and we need to remember that, particularly heading into what we predict are going to be challenging conversations.

If you can first receive and understand, the other person will feel heard, listened to, and validated. Picture: Stock
If you can first receive and understand, the other person will feel heard, listened to, and validated. Picture: Stock

Listen to understand: So often, we manage to listen attentively but with the aim of answering the other person intelligently, or correctly, or as we think they expect us to answer.

Instead, see what it’s like to listen with the only aim being to understand the person. No commentary, no agreeing and running with the ‘me too’ tangent, or disagreeing and getting consumed in the internal rebuttals, but simply just to receive their message and understand it for what it is. Much easier said than done, but if you can first receive and understand, the other person will feel heard, listened to, and validated. The ‘me too’ or disagreements can then follow on later from a much steadier foundation, giving a better experience for both parties.

Both sides of the coin: I wrote earlier about awareness of the message the other person is giving out, but simultaneously try to remain in tune with what’s going on for you internally as you listen and receive the message. Are things resonating with you? Is your mind flitting from one place to the next, or just adding layers of commentary? Are you noticing any emotions, or physical sensations linked to them?

Tuning into your own experience as well as that of the person in front of you will allow you to respond much more appropriately when the time comes, than if you react from a blind spot in terms of your own experience. Things like frustration or anger can be spotted and handled much more appropriately if you choose this response.

Do no harm, take no ****: You can replace the stars with whatever word you feel is appropriate here (!!!), but essentially this phrase should mean that you show up to your communications with others with the right balance between strength and softness. One usually comes more easily to us than the other. In terms of strength, it’s vital to be able to be to set boundaries, stand up for what you believe in, hold your own. That strength on its own though can come across as cold, uncaring, standoffish.

Similarly with softness, it’s really important to show up to relationships with kindness, openness, empathy. But this on its own can lead to being taken advantage of, to seeming weak, uncertain, too nice. The balance of both strength and softness is what works best; a strong, warm, solid presence. A rock of empathetic support, but with an ability to remain steadfast in times of conflict. Practice showing up to your communications in this way, and see the benefits that it brings.

We convey messages through our body language, our facial expressions, the tone of our voice and even through what remains unsaid at times!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr Michelle O’Driscoll is a pharmacist, researcher and founder of InTuition, a health and wellness education company. Her research lies in the area of mental health education, and through her company InTuition she delivers health promotion workshops to corporate and academic organisations nationally. See www.intuition.ie and @intuitionhealthandwellness

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