When delivering a new training I created on Mindful Communication recently, I knew a key challenge and aim would be demystifying what mindful communication is. I also knew I had to address a myth that it is some hippie-dippy, idealistic stuff.
Mindful communication combines a pyscho-social, emotional intelligence approach with non-violent communication. It is the constant and consistent manner in which you communicate with self-awareness and empathy while conveying acknowledgment (to others as well as yourself), observations and curiosity in a way all stakeholders can really hear and understand. The end resolution meets and/or exceeds everyone’s expectations in a positive, impactful way.
Over the years I have had a lot of opposition to this type of communication style. In a variety of ways I’ve been told, “I have no time for this stuff!” The reaction is understandable. Most, not all, cultures around the world teach children from a very young age to communicate from positions. A classic example taught to people learning how to negotiate and solve conflict is the story of two sisters fighting over an orange. The older sister says: “I want the orange.” The younger sister says: “No, I want the orange.” Practicing a pause to get curious and learn what underlies those positions is not something habitually taught or valued.
Ok, so I’m going to geek out for a second but stay with me: In the late 1800s into the early 1900s, Mary Parker Follett, a social worker and one of the pioneers of Organizational Theory and Organizational Behaviour, highlighted a key and powerful question which integrally changes difficult conversations and conflict. Asking the question, “Why?” allows parties in conflict to understand the underlying reason for each other’s positions. When a person feels like you truly understand why they have the position they have, you are more likely to have their full attention to resolve a conflict.
In the example of the two sisters who fight over the orange, by asking why, you learn that one wants the orange rind to make a cake and the other wants the pulp to make juice. The outcome is so much better than one getting the orange and the other not (the win-lose outcome), splitting the orange (a compromise that really doesn’t meet the needs of either), or no one getting the orange (the lose-lose outcome).
So mindful communication includes this key ingredient of asking, “Why?” however, it also requires emotional intelligence (EI is also known as emotional quotient or EQ). EI is the ability for you to be self-aware about your emotions and others’ emotions so that you can adapt to a situation and achieve your intention or transform the context in a positive way for everyone involved. In order to have this ability you need to learn how to be self-compassionate, build healthy boundaries and practice self-care.
In the era of #MeToo and #AidToo, with organizations in the humanitarian aid and international development fields grappling with toxic workplace cultures, I believe mindful communication is needed.
When coaching individual clients and organizational clients on how to apply these skills, I have witnessed conversations that could have permanently destroyed teams transform into dialogue that creates healthy workplace relationships and changes enemies to allies. Clients who have dreaded coming in to work for fear of having to speak to intimidating colleagues shift to walking in feeling clear, empowered and grounded. Having supported them in building, reinforcing and articulating their EI, their approach shifts the heavy weight of negativity to one where colleagues feel positive, light and re-committed to making change happen collaboratively!
Mindful communication is not “hippie-dippy” stuff. It is a complex approach, holistically dealing with human interaction made up of IQ and EQ. What I’ve learned as I’ve practice and taught this communication style for 15 years is that unlearning years of positional communication to practicing and learning this method is tough and transformational. Applying this method has led to resolutions that are long-lasting, deeply meaningful and builds connection among all parties involved.
What’s the next step?
If you would you like to learn more on how you or your team can develop these skills you can:
- Sign-up for my free toolkit on Clarity, Empowerment and Resilience using this link. You get a total of 4 tools which include how to communicate mindfully.
- Check-out my coaching page for a session or package that works for you using this link.
- Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about my mindful communication trainings and how I can build one relevant to your team and context!