When seeking therapy, couples often have a common issue: “Communication is a problem.” Elaine Fantle Shimberg even suggests that allrelationship problems stem from poor communication. Communication is also one of the most typical complaints on the job. Tonya Slawinski, quoted by the National Business Research Institute, says, “Poor communication is a big problem in the workplace. Communication is an ongoing process rather than a static event.”
Since human beings have been given the rare gift of language and speech, it seems like we should be really good at communication. So why is it so difficult? The other side of humanness – in many cultures – is a conflict between wanting to express our individuality and wanting to belong. Our society often promotes individual freedom and individual choice above all, which has many benefits but can also make it more difficult to form the connections we need and desire.
Making connection an individual practice
Thankfully, developing better communication skills is possible. Being human also gives us the special ability to change the way we think and act. How do we do that? Through practice and exercise. For example, it’s very possible to transform from a sedentary lifestyle to an active and healthy one by making the choice to go to the gym, eat well and stay disciplined. Changing your mindset and behavior leads to positive outcomes and a greater sense of well-being. In the same way, you can develop good habits when it comes to communicating with your friends, colleagues and loved ones.
If you’re not familiar with the practice of mindfulness, it’s an empowering starting point for improving communication because it starts with those things that you have the power to control. The Greater Good Science Center defines mindfulness as “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.” More simply, think of it as the discipline to pay attention and accept things for what they are. The great thing about mindfulness is it sets a baseline for communication that reduces anxiety, stress and distractions while increasing factors like compassion and empathy.
Mindfulness can be a lifelong discipline, but it is instrumental in helping you transform your thoughts and actions and make the following practical communication tips seem a more natural part of your interactions:
Listen. Many of us look like we are listening, but listening is actually very difficult. It requires total attention, from eye contact to genuine interest and commitment. Perhaps most importantly, to listen and understand requires putting aside your own thoughts, ideas and emotions for the moment. You need to process, accept and empathize with the person you are talking to, and ruminating over your own issues is a big barrier to real communication.
Reflect. We often have a tendency to speak quickly and maybe even impulsively, thinking we “have to get a word in.” Instead, take time to reflect on what the other person has said. A practical way of doing this is starting your response by repeating the main points that you heard. Not only does this practice make sure you have heard correctly, it also allows you time to comprehend and address what is most important.
Be present. Related to the idea of giving the situation your total attention, it’s important to stay anchored and focused on the conversation or conflict. Letting your perceptions of things that happened in the past or your expectations of a potential future can get in the way of matters at hand, create misunderstanding and misinterpretation, and escalate uncomfortable situations.
Be vulnerable. Researcher Brené Brown defines vulnerability as facing up to the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that we may fear. She writes, “When we shut ourselves off from vulnerability, we distance ourselves from the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives and our work.” What experiences do most of us desire more than healthy relationships? Reduce the distance between each other by welcoming love, empathy and joy, even in instances where it seems like the only thing going might be fear, grief and disappointment.
Be careful of social media and e-mail. Face-to-face conversations are the most complete way to communicate since they allow for verbal and non-verbal (body) language to be received and understood. Social media and e-mail give us a sense of distance and safety, but also lead to impulsive statements. If you need to communicate through these methods, be sure to think before you write, follow the communication tips previously mentioned, and always imagine the other person is sitting right across from you. And it can’t hurt waiting a few minutes before you send the message to make sure that your emotions didn’t get the better of you.
Don’t solve the problem. What? Isn’t that the point? Okay, let’s put it another way… let the problem solve itself. John Gottman, speaking about couples in a state of distress, suggests, “the goal of an intimate conversation is only to understand, not to problem-solve.” How many times have you thought you were helping a situation by offering advice? Sometimes, the other person simply wants to be heard, or know that everything is okay. If you have the urge to give advice, instead try asking an open-ended question that keep them talking. It might put him or her on the empowering path to resolve their own conflict.
More ways to be mindfulness
Mindfulness can give you the strength to open new doors to communication, but it also contributes to the health and well-being you experience in many areas of your life. Practicing mindfulness is not unlike a martial art or even learning a musical instrument: as you grow your skills, not only will your technique improve, but it will blossom into something even more beautiful. Try these methods to make mindfulness and connection part of your daily living:
Meditation. There are many techniques to engage in meditative practice. Beginners often start with a sitting meditation that focuses on attention and breathing.
Yoga. Yoga is also very attentive to breathing and attention, with the discipline expanding to use the mind-body connection to overcome physical challenges.
Floating. Floating allows you to experience a rapid transition from the bustle of everyday life to a serene environment enabling mental relaxation and a heightened sense of self-awareness. Many meditative practices can be enhanced through floatation, from attention to breathing to body scan and more. Sensory deprivation can serve as a “fast lane” to a state where you can reconnect with yourself and those things most important to you.
Communication isn’t always easy, but healthy relationships are transcendent. So are float sessions at Metta Rest Spa in Vancouver. Call (604) 235-2529 or book an online reservation. We’re always available to answer any questions you have and to ensure your time with us best meets your personal wellness goals.