Mind What You Mean

“When we say something that nourishes us and uplifts the people around us, we are feeding love and compassion. When we speak and act in a way that causes tension and anger, we are nourishing violence and suffering..”

Thich Nhat Hahn

This quote is rooted in the practice of mindfulness, and whether or not we are practitioners of mindfulness, we all as humans could benefit from engaging in mindful-compassionate speech, with ourselves and others.

Communication is essential to getting one’s needs met, and ineffective communication is a frequent cause for misunderstanding, stress and dissatisfaction. The manner in which we choose to express our needs is not always met with the best intentions and can yield negative results, contributing to increased stress.

As infants we had ways of alerting our caregivers of a specific need via cues. As adults we adjust and adapt to using more complex ways of expressing our needs-- passive aggressively for example--where we often neglect to state what we need simply by stating “I need,” followed by an honest expression of that need. Instead it often is cryptic or comes with the expectation that one’s mind should be read—something we have all been guilty of at one point or another.

A colleague of mine often referenced Maslow and she would always say, “needs by definition must be met.” As adults we all have needs and an important one is to feel understood and heard. How might we go about getting this need met? Much depends on how we express that need.

Why would practicing compassionate speech be good for mental health and how do we practice it?

Based on the nature of our lifestyles we often do not take the time to listen and process what others are communicating. Exercising compassionate speech and listening can allow us to improve relationships, reduce stress, set boundaries, and gain more insight and understanding of ourselves and others. Compassionate speech is both internal and external and it is very much like a living thing that transfers and grows. Practicing this speech provides us with an opportunity to engage more productively allowing for one to explore the issues of self in relation to the rest of the world.

My goal here is not to define mindfulness, but rather to present the idea of owning and taking control of what goes in and outside of you via words, or non words (e.g. feelings, sensations, expressions, ideas, reactions or activations of any kind)--all the verbal and non verbal stuff. Being mindful of our own communication can allow for more meaningful dialogue, ultimately enabling us to meet our own individual need of feeling heard and understood.

Thich Nhat Hanh said that “we communicate in order to understand ourselves and others.” In his work, The art of communication, Hanh discusses some key concepts to practicing compassionate communication:

Deep listening -when we listen to someone with the intention of helping that person suffer less and reminding ourselves in that moment, that is why we are doing it.

Loving speech- Communicating to another "I want to listen to you when I am at my best. Would it be okay to talk at a later time?"

In addition to deep listening and loving speech; here are some additional tips to assist in exercising mindful-compassionate communication with the self and others:

Take a moment and really think about what you are trying to say. Often people feel the need to fill space due to discomfort and this often results in expressing the opposite of what they actually mean.

Be patient with yourself. If you do not know what to say, explain just that and if you are uncomfortable or confused, practice stating that.

Be aware
Acknowledge and note your frustrations, fears and anxieties and forgive yourself for feeling uncomfortable. Take note of any physical sensations you are feeling in any encounter, be it an intimidating one or a stimulating event. Notice yourself in this process and identify changes you would like to make.

Ask yourself: What do I need right now? Can I wait for when I am calm? Ask others what they need.

Look for a need
Ask: What can I offer this situation to make it more productive?

Be honest with the person you are speaking to. This practice can offer a lot of relief however, may cause anxiety because we are often encouraged to tell others what we think they want to hear, which can become messy and loaded with expectations.

State your needs
Verbalize what you need by stating, “I need.”

Practice just listening. Listening can provide many answers and allow you to better assess the needs of the person you are listening to and allow you time to process your feelings.

Because we spend a large part of our lives at work or interacting with others in some way or form we will always be presented with the opportunity and need to communicate. We ALL need to feel heard, and in the process of achieving this, it is helpful and important to recognize our own limitations and relational capacities. Communication in the workplace and in relationships can be difficult which do pose unique challenges. However, I encourage any person reading to address and assess their own communication style and see what may come by way of bringing more peace to one’s self or possibly others.

Adapted from:
Nhất, H. (2014). The art of communicating. New York, NY: HarperCollinsPublishers.

Author: Heidi Schmelter, LCPC</div

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