By: Maria Katrien Heslin
Communicating effectively and persuasively while maintaining integrity, honesty and calm is one of the trickier art forms most of us humans aim to master.
It's a challenge for so many reasons because an incredible number of factors impact how we communicate with others. When two people engage in conversation, they bring everything from their mood, intentions, body language, speaking style, awareness level and listening skills to their previous life experience, sense of humor, penchant for metaphors or more concrete language, relationship construct, levels of confidence and patience and much, much more. Given those factors, it's pretty amazing that clear, pleasant and effective exchanges ever happen at all!
Learning how to connect well with others is an incredibly worthwhile pursuit, of course, as strong communication skills dramatically enhance our personal and professional relationships and outcomes.
Learning how to communicate mindfully is one of the most effective paths to communications success, providing numerous tangible benefits. If you're all that familiar with mindfulness, the quick story is that it's a skill that can be learned through the practice of meditation, yoga and dozens of other techniques. While its traditional definition is "Paying attention on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment," mindfulness is a way of being -- an attitude or an approach you possess as you move through life.
The benefits of mindfulness are endless, as more than 3,000 scientific studies show. In terms of approaching communications mindfully, here are four of the biggest ways it can make our efforts far more successful. And this approach is all the more critical and powerful if you are attempting to engage persuasively because that intention adds a layer of challenge other conversations lack.
Enhances our awareness.
When we are mindful, by definition we are in the moment, paying attention only to what is before us. With our mind not drifting to our to-do list, our lunch plans or our response to the speaker's next statement, we are able to pay close attention to what the speaker is saying, how he is saying it, what his body language is expressing, and the fact that he is bringing a lot of those other factors we outlined above into this conversation. Just being aware of the fact that everyone (including ourselves) has dramatically different approaches, experiences, styles and sarcasm levels can allow us to respond in a more understanding, genuine manner.
Helps us focus.
Related to the point above is the ability mindfulness provides us to engage in active listening rather than drifting off into an internal conversation. By focusing acutely on what the speaker is saying, we allow exchanges to be more coherent, respectful and on point; we save time by not having to ask the speaker to repeat herself (we listened the first time); and we allow for freshness and spontaneity to enter the conversation.
Increases our equanimity.
Being a mindful participant in a conversation makes us uber cool. By that I mean we are much more prepared to respond in a way that is even-keeled and temperate, even if the speaker has just said something obnoxious, mean or inaccurate. Now, this doesn't mean we are passive, wimpy, uncaring or lacking passion! Nor does it mean we bottle up our feelings and blow a gasket a la Seinfeld's "Serenity now, insanity later." Instead, it means our mindfulness has allowed us to build up the part of our brain that provides us with a little extra space to respond vs react. This brief moment allows us to generate a response that's not clouded by excessive emotion nor fettered by major desires to lash back.
Boosts our empathy.
A mindful person has a significant level of empathy and therefore in a conversation has the ability to understand the perspective, needs and situation of the speaker. This comprehension may not alter how much we agree on an issue or how alike we are in other ways, but it allows for less judgment and conflict and better give and take on a topic. Through empathy we consider how we'd like to be on the receiving end of actions or comments. This helps us do unto others as we would like to be treated in return.
So, the next time you're chatting with someone you know, like, love, enjoy or are inspired by or even someone you just met or share strife with, pause for a moment and consider how mindfulness might make the exchange all the more positive, satisfying and fulfilling for both of you. If you like the possibilities you envision, consider adding mindfulness to your repertoire.
Written by former Deputy Mayor Maria Katrien Heslin, Mindful Leadership Coach and Adjunct Professor of Public Relations, Indiana University; Founder of Boostcamp Coaching & Training, boostcamp.us.