One of the most difficult parts of skillful communication is also the simplest: remaining present.
We are distracted by other people walking by, other things happening in the environment, even by our own thoughts or judgments about the other person. We can have all the conversational skill in the world, but if we cannot mindfully engage, none of it matters. Here are a few tips you might consider next time your mind starts to disengage:
Get curious. When you approach others with a sense of authentic curiosity, your mind engages, hungry for more information. This approach requires you to approach every new interaction as a student, observing the unique social nuances, thoughts, or behaviors of others, always learning about what makes people tick. When you get curious, everything becomes a new learning experience, making the most mundane situations seem novel.
Remember that everyone has their reasons. This is particularly useful when confronted by what we may interpret as ignorance, rudeness, or hostility. When conversational violence occurs, most people react, reflecting back the violence they receive. As skillful communicators, we can choose to act rather than react. When we remember that everyone has their own reasons why they behave the way they do, we don’t take their words personally, giving us the necessary emotional distance to engage the person with a spirit of empathy.
Pay attention to the other persons reactions. Mindfulness practices are not simply based in presence. This is a common misconception. If this was the case, one could blunder through life, but would be vindicated so long as they did it while remaining in the present moment. At its root, mindfulness demands more than just presence, it requires one to be aware of actions and reactions. What this means is an awareness beyond oneself, allowing one to notice the subtle causes and effects of ones own behavior and the behavior of others. This could mean noticing how your shocked facial expression may be a reaction to the persons story. In turn, you may notice how this reaction may lead to a reaction in the other person who stops sharing, not wanting to be a burden. Being aware of reactions helps us engage in more mindful conversations, understanding how we are affecting others, as well as how others are affecting us.
The spirit of mindful conversations is both the simplest, yet most difficult and important. Without the spirit of mindfulness, the most technical conversational skills cannot be effective.