There are many benefits to being mindful about what we say and how we act, such as regulating our emotions and decreasing stress. Mindfulness helps us find balance within ourselves. As a result, we create awareness of our environmental impacts and understand how we’re feeling in our head, heart, and body. With this alertness, we can stay present in the moment rather than looking backward or forward with judgment.
Thich Nhat Hanh asserted that:
“If you don’t communicate well with yourself, you cannot communicate well with another person.”
Based on this insight, I’ve focused my checklist on supporting you in keeping your communication approach in check. As you prepare to enter into conversations and meetings, pause and ask yourself:
1. Am I present?
When you’re present, you can actively listen and not think about what you’re going to say in response to someone else. You show that you’re interested in the other person and not just focused on your goals and what’s important to you. If you need to speak up or clarify a point, probe with kindness. Give someone the benefit of the doubt that they did their due diligence and prepared their perspectives before sharing. If you’re someone who likes to ask many questions to pinpoint gaps or play “devil’s advocate,” choose your words wisely and give the other person a heads up that your questions help you process information and understanding.
2. What’s my energy level?
Often, we’re not aware that our energy can shift the dynamic or atmosphere of an interaction. That’s why it’s a good idea to check in with how you’re feeling at that moment. Are your emotions and body calm and at peace? Have you picked up negative energy from another meeting and feel nervous, anxious, or angry about something else? If so, and if it has no place in the conversation you’re about to join, recognize and process this negative energy so you don’t bring it to your next interaction. If you don’t have the time, alert the person that you’re feeling a bit off, and you may not be at your best. If you’re too high-energy, you may come off as intimidating or scattered. Make sure to read your audience and how they react to you. Dead silence could indicate that they may not believe or trust what you’re saying or are afraid of how you may respond at any given moment. Alternatively, if you come off guarded in information sharing, people may be afraid to speak up and assume that it’s unsafe to share themselves. Whether you’re in person or on camera, remember to smile often as it makes you more approachable and puts you at ease.
3. Am I passing judgment?
What seems right to you may seem wrong to someone else and vice versa. If you find yourself saying, “But you should…,” this is a tell-tale sign that you’re passing judgment and may have unrealistic expectations. There are many right ways to do things. Just because someone takes a different approach or values something else doesn’t mean it’s wrong. If you find yourself arguing or trying to prove your point, take a step back and decide whether or not it’s vital for the success of your relationship or project you are working on together. Often, it’s just our preference, not a matter of right and wrong, and that’s where being open to finding common ground with others is crucial if you want to foster the connection.
4. Do I see the cup half-full or half-empty?
There are many ways to view this question. Some articles focus on whether one takes a positive or negative outlook on life. Others highlight the value of having your cup half empty to innovate and think freely. Likewise, people see, communicate, and present information differently. Do you know how you tend to take in information and make decisions? Do you evaluate pros and cons or favor one over the other? Are you able to see both the positive and negative when considering what’s being shared versus blurting out exactly what you think at any given moment? Being balanced is vital when communicating with someone else, especially when their feelings or hard work are displayed. Customize your approach to the individual and find a workable mix of expressing enthusiasm and giving constructive feedback.
5. Am I confident?
Suppose you’re someone who tends to go with the flow to create harmony and please others. In that case, you may want to spend time outlining your priorities and creating boundaries to safeguard your interests before joining a conversation. Process and understand how you feel so you can share your point of view and expectations. Put an equal value on what you offer and express your opinions and needs. Others can’t read your mind and may not know if you don’t agree or aren’t on board with a decision. You give your power to someone else when you enable them to make decisions for you, rather than holding your ground on what you value most and aligning your actions to what you’re saying. For those who are self-assured and like to be in control, be mindful of how you may come across to others. If you’re looking to build and strengthen rapport, ask open questions to engage others who may be stifled by the power you exert.
6. Have I taken in perspectives from others?
Asking others for their thoughts and perspectives helps nurture relationships. Being inclusive and proactive in your collaborations will enable you to develop your network by showing how you value another person’s contributions and ideas. You benefit by having another person critique your beliefs or work from their vantage point, allowing you to take a more objective look at whatever you’re creating or doing. Be vulnerable and share information about yourself to make space for others to do the same. Be straightforward about what you’re unsure about to guide people to how they can help you most.
Letting go of what’s outside of your control can be quite uncomfortable.
Meeting people where they are at takes considerable effort and intention, particularly if you’re working outside your preferences where you may be triggered by other people’s words and actions. However, taking the time to be objective and process your feelings and emotions before entering into conversations will improve how you show up and come across to others.
I recently had a prickly tête-à-tête with someone where I needed to stand my ground.
I’m one of those people who would rather keep harmony. However, I know the other person had no clue about how I was feeling. Being direct with kindness takes considerable effort. Before speaking my mind, I made sure I was conscious of my motives. In this case, I realized that my frustration kept resurfacing, which was a sure sign that I needed to let it go or no longer play small. I chose to no longer play small and addressed the issue. I acknowledged my shortcomings while pointing out areas where they were stepping on my toes from a work perspective. To some, this may seem like no big deal, but for me, it was huge. I valued myself and my contributions and shared how the other person was triggering me based on overstepping their boundaries, and we moved toward a resolution.
There are many ways we can join a conversation. We need to be mindful of the energy and forcefulness we bring or lack thereof, which can exhibit complacency. Learn to flex and adapt constructively. Ask people how they feel and what they may need. Keep yourself in check and express appreciation and gratitude. People are often more sensitive than they appear.
As a next step, here are five mindful practices to further balance your communication style and a way to make sure you’re not sending mixed messages between what you say and do. The six ways I note above are a mix of behavioral aspects from each of the nine Enneagram types. To learn more about the Enneagram, an invaluable framework for growth and development, watch this brief overview.
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