Mindful Communication: How to Have More Empathic & Compassionate Conversations


November 23, 2021
Filipe Bastos

Mindful communication involves applying the principles of mindfulness to the way we communicate with each other. By being mindful about how we interact with others, we can become more empathetic, compassionate, and honest, while simultaneously training ourselves to recognise and resist negative or aggressive reactions to those around us. Just like most mindfulness-based practices, mindful communication involves labelling our thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and using this enhanced awareness to make better decisions and enhance our emotional intelligence. This article will introduce you to the fundamentals of mindful communication, exploring how an active process of mindful speaking and listening can lead you towards skilful communication. We’ll outline the advantages of bringing this kind of contemplative practice into your daily interactions and conversations with others, as well as introduce you to some methods and techniques that can strengthen your interpersonal communication style.

How to Be a More Mindful Communicator 

Mindful communication can often be practised as part of an educational program such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction; however, integrating it into your everyday life is a much easier place to start. Let’s begin by addressing some of the most common aspects of mindful communication that people struggle with.

Signs that you’re not being mindful in your communication

In Your Own World

It is widely accepted that paying attention is one of the most important aspects of mindful communication. This core concept may seem obvious – surely paying attention is a given in any interaction? However, if you take a moment to consider the last conversation you had, you may find that you weren’t paying as close attention as you thought. Have you ever wondered about your own problems while your friend told you about their bad day at work? When you have conversations with others, do you listen closely and respond accordingly, or do you simply wait for them to finish so that you can make your point? We all do this from time to time, and it doesn’t make you a bad person. However, it does highlight why it’s important to be mindful when interacting with others.

Mindless Talking

Skilful communication isn’t just about listening and paying attention when the other person is talking; it is also important to be mindful when you are speaking. Often, uncomfortable or tense situations can cause us to speak without thinking, or talk for the sake of talking. This kind of mindless speech reduces communication quality and takes the substance out of conversations. But being mindful when you speak doesn’t mean endlessly mulling over every sentence before you speak; its about thinking on your feet and considering what you are saying while you’re talking. It is important to be able to adapt mid-conversation by picking up on the other person’s non-verbal cues and considering how they are reacting to your words.

Thinking Ahead

Another classic conversational mistake is trying to predict what the speaker will say next or thinking ahead while the speaker is still talking. Quite often, we don’t even let the other person finish talking before we butt in and respond. We’ve all experienced this, but you may not notice at the time; unfortunately, butting in or thinking ahead are classic examples of poor communication. Thinking ahead can stop conversations from getting into a rhythm, or prevent people from expressing their points properly. It can lead to mindless communication in which neither person takes in any information or understanding from the other. So how do we overcome these obstacles? Let’s look at some techniques designed to help you communicate in a more mindful way. 

mindful communication
Bringing mindful communication practice into your daily life is a simple way to get the benefits of mindfulness meditation, which include increased calmness, focus, and self-awareness.

The 3 Components of Mindful Communication

Bringing mindful communication practice into your daily life is a simple way to get the benefits of mindfulness meditation, which include increased calmness, focus, and self-awareness. But what exactly does mindful communication involve? Broadly speaking, it can be broken down into three main areas.

Mindful Listening

Listening is probably the most important element of mindful communication, although it can be difficult to integrate conscious and active listening into our daily routine, as it often goes against our instincts. So how can you improve your ability to mindfully listen during conversations? A good place to start is by implementing mindfulness practices in your daily life.

  • Put Your Phone Away – Pay full attention to others during conversations, and don’t check your phone while talking to someone. This should be a pretty easy rule to stick to if you want to improve your communication style. Letting go of the constant stream of thoughts running through your brain and focusing solely on the conversation you’re involved in can be more difficult – but we’ll get to that.
  • Eye Contact – In order to maximise your engagement in a conversation, practise making eye contact with your companion. This gives you a physical point of focus that can stop your mind from wandering and let the other person know that you’re interested in what they have to say. However, don’t become too fixated on this point of focus and lose sight of what the speaker is saying. Use it as a starting point to eliminate the stream of thoughts in your brain, before focusing on the information they are communicating.
  • Let Them Finish – Letting the other person finish speaking before you respond may sound easy, but it can require practice. As previously discussed, many people have a habit of jumping ahead in conversations and butting in. Allowing the speaker to finish talking will give you the chance to take in as much information as possible, allowing you to give more informed and insightful responses. 
  • See Things from Their Perspective – Try to be less reactive, and make an effort to see things from the other person’s perspective. Often, we’re too quick to react to what the other person has said. It’s natural to hone in on particular words or phrases that catch our attention; however, when this happens, some messages can be lost. Give yourself a couple of seconds to process what the speaker has said, and try to understand their own personal experiences and perspective. This will help you achieve empathetic, non-reactive, nonviolent communication.

Implementing these basic techniques within your daily life can significantly improve your mindful listening skills. Supplementing these conversational techniques with other mindfulness methods will enhance your ability to be present in all areas of life, making the transition from mindless to mindful listening much easier. For more guidance on how meditation can improve your life, check out our brand new Real Happiness course.

Mindful Speaking

Mindful communicating doesn’t just mean being a great listener – you must also be a mindful speaker. Try to be aware of the impact of your words and take time to assess what you’re going to say before you speak. Additionally, you should be able to gauge how others are reacting to what you are saying while you’re speaking and adapt, using this information to navigate your way through interactions. This aspect of mindful communication is often referred to as mindful speaking or mindful speech. Next, we’ll look at some techniques you can use to improve the way you speak to others.

Think Before You Speak

Give yourself time to consider what you are going to say before you speak. Earlier on, we established that it is natural for us to be reactive or jump ahead in conversations. Thinking before you speak means fighting this urge and becoming a more measured communicator. By giving yourself a moment to contemplate your next statement, you avoid irrational, reactionary statements and possible misunderstandings. This will help you practise clear, insightful, nonviolent communication. This technique is strongly linked to previous tips, like allowing the speaker to finish speaking and taking time to process what they’ve said before responding. This is why it is important to be both a mindful listener and speaker; you can’t do one without the other.

Think As You Speak

Perhaps the most difficult part of mindful communication is thinking on your feet as you speak, assessing how your words are being interpreted, and adapting appropriately. Perfecting mindful listening and thinking before you speak should provide you with a good foundation for mindful communication, making it easier for you to regulate your words mid-sentence and learn to interpret people’s non-verbal communication. Assessing non-verbal cues is key to navigating conversation, but it’s something that us humans usually do subconsciously; however, to become a mindful speaker you must become more aware of body language and what it can tell you. You can find out more about body language and non-verbal communication in this Ted Talk.

Cultivating Compassion

Mindful communication allows you to be more empathetic and compassionate, which in turn leads to the development of more meaningful and genuine connections with others. Although cultivating compassion is a separate component of mindful communication, it is heavily dependent on your ability to mindfully listen. Compassionate care and behaviour is all about sympathising with others and seeing things from their perspective, an aspect of skilful communication that revolves around mindful listening. A good way to improve your ability to understand and relate to others is to ponder; “what would I do/think if I was in this person’s position?”. This gives you a sneak peek into other people’s points of view, which should help you to better understand your peers and enhance your ability to show compassion and achieve successful communication.

The Three Light Method: Mindfulness in Conversation

The Three Light Method, which uses traffic light symbolism to highlight changes in conversation patterns and emotional states, is a technique that can help bring awareness, insight, and compassion into our communication with others. In the Three Light Method, each light represents a different state of communication:

  • Red Light – The red light refers to what is known as toxic certainty, symbolising when our communication system shuts down. When in this state, we are very closed-minded and prone to shutting people out, which risks harming our relationships and well-being.
  • Yellow Light – Meanwhile, the yellow light represents a state of confusion or anxiety. This state usually occurs when we don’t know how to respond to unexpected change. The yellow zone is very precarious, as high levels of anxiety can drive you into the red zone. However, if you can get better at dealing with anxiety and uncertainty, you can learn to transition from here to the green zone, the ideal state of communication. 
  • Green Light – The green zone allows us to use our natural communication system, which consists of an awake body, a tender heart, and an open mind. In this state, we are less judgemental, and more vulnerable, curious, and empathetic, which allows for much more effective communication. Becoming more present and mindful in your daily interactions by practising the techniques detailed above can help us achieve this state of communication.

The Three Light Method is great for keeping track of how you’re communicating with others. Use this system to help you recognise when you are shutting down (red zone) or feeling anxious (yellow zone), and use it to get back to a better state, i.e. the green zone. You can read a more detailed outline of the Three Light Method here.

Why is Mindful Communication so Important?

Becoming well-versed in mindful communication can be challenging, as it requires a lot of practice. There are many different considerations; mindful listening, non-verbal communication, mindful speaking, compassion, and empathy all contribute towards developing successful communication skills. As we’ve discussed, communicating mindfully allows you to be more empathetic and compassionate, causing more meaningful and genuine connections with others. A lot of our daily conversations are relatively surface-level interactions, hindered by mindless communication. Mindful communication allows these interactions to become more engaging, as well as enriching current relationships and enabling you to form new ones. Aside from enhancing your social and personal life, mindful communication can also help you in your career or business. You make more of a lasting impression on people when you are mindful and present in conversations, which gives you an edge in situations such as job interviews or business meetings. Other professions can also benefit from adopting an integrative model which brings mindful communication into daily procedures. According to research within the medical practice, an educational program in mindful communication can substantially improve the quality of care given by doctors. The key to all of this is to be able to apply the principles and techniques we’ve explored in this article to real-life conversations. While it’s necessary to understand the theory behind mindful communication, the best way to improve in this area is to practice it as much as possible in your daily interactions. So good luck, and stay mindful!

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