Knowing how to communicate effectively is important for our success, health, and authenticity as individuals, partners, families, businesses, communities, and nations. Effective communication can transform relationships for the better. Problems in relationships—whether between lovers, partners, families, businesses, community members, politicians, or nations—can often be traced back to a failure to communicate effectively. In my teachings and consultations I reveal that the purpose of effective communication is to help each other to stay present to each other and to increase understanding of authentic needs and values, so that we can cooperate and maintain healthy boundaries. Learning how to communicate effectively requires the learning and practice of mindfulness-based skills; the commitment to authenticity, self-development, and wellness; and the responsibility to honour our authentic needs and values.
Learn how to communicate effectively and build successful relationships with the following mindfulness-based skills.
When we communicate without being fully present, or without full attention, our communication will not be very effective, and we can say the wrong things and send out the wrong signals, as well as fail to hear and understand the other person. In some cases, arguments can ensue at cost to the relationship and the individuals involved, damaging trust and the potential for cooperation. With mindfulness we can let go of stress, reactivity, and distraction, and maintain our focus on the here and now to be a more effective communicator.
Being present with mindfulness teaches us to let go of the egoistic patterns of trying to be right or better than the other person, which can often lead to resentment and conflict. Such patterns stem from a reactive, competitive, and often insecure ego. When we are fully present in our true self, we do not need to be better than anyone or anything: we just need to be more our true selves.
Mindful communication enables us to choose our words wisely. Words can inflict pain in one moment and uplift the spirits in another. They can confuse and they can clarify. They can alienate and they can unite. We need to be actively choosing our vocabulary as we speak, based on our awareness of the needs and values of the people we are speaking to. Building rapport through mindful presence helps us to choose the best words, as well as the best tone and body language.
Mindful communication is important for mindful relating. For more on this, see my post The Skill of Mindful Relating.
Effective communication is not just a rational need, but also a physical, emotional, and spiritual need. It takes place with our whole body and being. This is why nonverbal communication—such as eye contact, body language, voice tone, touch, and feeling—is as important as verbal communication, and why it is preferable to have conversations with others in person, than by texts, emails, or phone. The propensity in the modern communications age for communications to be reduced to texts and emails when they could be conducted in person or at least by phone is a trend that may further our dissociation from full physical living.
Making effective use of the full range of communication levels ensures that we do not miss out on understanding the messages of others. We can often pick up on another’s state by being mindful of their nonverbal cues, even if their words are not conveying this information. This is clearly a critical skill to have when trying to communicate effectively with a person who is unable or unwilling to speak. It is also useful when trying to understand animals.
If we want to increase our performance as a leader, manager, or role model, we need to learn how to communicate on multiple levels at once to maximise our impact—without being overwhelming. The best motivational speakers will always incorporate body language and hand gestures into their communication: I do it myself. To learn this process, practise in front of a mirror or record yourself on video to see what works best.
Making use of the full range of communication levels also ensures that we can use the most effective means of communication for a given instance. Some people are more visual in how they process information and benefit from communication styles that use gestures and other visual cues and aids. Some people prefer a certain mode of communication over another, either in general or in different situations. They may, for instance, prefer a hug when they are upset, rather than rational words. Mindfulness enables us to learn each other’s preference for communicating in the moment.
Emotional awareness is necessary for the ability to communicate effectively: it enables us to understand what we and the other person are feeling, and why. We can then address the issues behind these feelings, and develop empathy and compassion as bridges for support. By being mindful of these feelings, we can ensure that we do not react to them and say the wrong thing in our communication.
Emotional awareness also enables us to effectively express how we feel, and helps us to address our needs. When we are out of touch with our feelings, we will find it difficult to address what really matters, which can lead to misunderstanding, frustration, resentment, and conflict, as well as to unmet needs. It can make us less effective communicators, and only makes our suppressed emotions stronger and at risk of being distorted—by coming out as explosive or vindictive anger, for example.
To communicate effectively we also need to be genuine. Communicating with genuineness means saying what really matters to us, and expressing how we really think and feel. Ultimately, though, it is about communicating from our true self, rather than our persona—the image that we project to others that is not necessarily who we really are.
To be able to speak our truth—even if we think that it may not be accepted by others—is a powerful test of our authenticity and effectiveness as a communicator. As well as increasing our authenticity, genuineness will also strengthen our relationships by building trust. We are not likely to trust people who are not being true to us, and people are not likely to trust us if we are not being true to them. Trust builds commitment and therefore strong relationships, partnerships, and community.
Deep and Active Listening
Learning how to communicate effectively requires us to understand that listening is as important as speaking, and that it is not necessarily a passive act. Deep and active listening means listening mindfully with our full attention and presence in order to understand the other person. Rather than listening passively, soaking up the words without necessarily understanding what is being said, we instead use all of our ability and resources to make sure that we are hearing and understanding the other person. We give our full attention to the other person, letting go of our own agendas and concerns for the conversation. This means that while listening we are not planning what to say next or trying to jump in or interrupt.
This is mindful listening. Our mind is kept clear and our attention focused on the other person. If thoughts start to pop into our head, including judgements and opinions of what is being said, we simply let them go and continue to listen.
When we are heard and understood by another, a deeper, authentic connection is built between us and them, as well as an increase in trust and satisfaction. By increasing mutual understanding, it also reduces the chances of frustration, resentment, and arguments.
Deep and active listening is essential for community building, conflict-resolution, and peace-building as we seek to understand the needs of all parties and find ways of meeting them for mutual advantage.
Responsibility to Communicate Effectively
Taking the responsibility to communicate effectively is the cornerstone of a successful relationship and partnership. Taking responsibility for communication means letting the other person know what is important to us. This includes our authentic needs and values. People are not necessarily mind-readers, including the people closest to us.
It is our responsibility to let the other person know the things that are important to us, and not to assume that such things are obvious to the other person. Sometimes we simply need to check out if the other person understands or remembers what is important to us. For this reason it is also good practice to show the other person that we understand them when they have communicated to us—even if we do not agree with them. The practice of not answering someone or of putting forward a different view when we do not agree with what we have heard, is not effective communication because it does not show them that we have understood them, and does not encourage us to try to understand them or empathise with them. It may only create further division.
Taking responsibility for communicating effectively means that when somebody is talking to us, we are doing our best to listen. We should not assume that we have heard them or understood them correctly. This is why the best leaders, the best support workers, the best counsellors, the best partners, and the best parents always take responsibility for understanding the message that they receive, and check out with the other person that they have heard it correctly.
When we communicate our needs or feelings, it is important that we are taking responsibility for our experience, rather than blaming it on the other person or demanding something from them as if they are responsible for our state of being. When we blame the other person for how we are, we are not owning our responsibility and power, or realising that how we feel is our own creation. Blaming others for our own state of being will only create guilt and resentment, and damage the relationship.
One of the skills of effective and responsible communication is the ability to communicate clearly and positively, with an awareness of our impact on others. Just as negative self-talk can place us in unresourceful states, so too can negative communication place others in unresourceful states. While we are not responsible for the psychological states of other people, we are responsible for creating the information and messages that we pass on, and for doing our best to live with compassion and integrity. When we reframe a negative experience into a positive one, we are removing the distortions of thought to communicate more clearly and to walk more lightly in this world.
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I am available for consultations on mindfulness and authentic living, which include coaching on how to communicate effectively to improve relationships, build community, or resolve conflict. To schedule a talk, workshop, seminar, or interview, click here.