What Mindfulness Is: Healthy Communication
Have you ever taken time to notice the communication styles in your home? Perhaps you have a quiet spouse, an outspoken teenager, or a sensitive preschooler. Each person communicates their own experiences and responds to stimuli in ways that are unique to their own nature—whether it be through acts like raising their voice, withdrawing to a quiet place, or even crying. Healthy communication is fundamental for a strong family life and creating a healthier space for individual personalities to work together as a unit is key.
This doesn’t mean scheduling repeated family meetings or enforcing new and complex rules on how people communicate. You can ensure more positive interactions and healthier, more effective family communication by modeling three simple ingredients: intention, tone, and words.
Our intention creates our reality.—Wayne Dyer
Your intention can set the stage for healthy communication. Start each day with an intention to care and to understand, knowing that everyone prefers peaceful, joyful, and compassionate interactions and that such an intention can enhance engagement for all parties. You will be in a better position to read verbal and non-verbal cues and to respond to words and actions rather than to react to them. This intention alone will shape your interaction differently than any previously learned patterns of behaviour and how it will flow into the shared communication experience.
Be present in each new moment and experience rather than being shaped by preconceived judgements (even from just the day before!) based on similar situations. When you make each moment a fresh start and are able to look at any family member with a new set of eyes, even when you see them speaking or behaving in a familiar and undesirable manner, you give them an opportunity to communicate in a newly positive way too.
This takes some practice but it will become a part of your everyday interactions when you keep the goal at the forefront of your mind. To stay on track, begin each day with a mindful reminder like post-it notes left in spots where you’ll see them or by keeping a gratitude journal that reminds you of the goals of your communication, whether with other family members or even with yourself. Then pay attention to how you speak and see whether you are keeping up with your own desired intention.
Set the Tone
We often refuse to accept an idea merely because the tone of voice in which it has been expressed is unsympathetic to us.—Friedrich Nietzsche
What is the tone you use when you speak in challenging situations? Is it kind, nurturing, and welcoming for positive communication? You may notice you will easily speak lovingly to a young child who has had a misstep but you may speak harshly to the partner that came home later than promised every day this week. Become mindful of this. Most people allow their tone to show displeasure when someone has disappointed them, but a change in tone can shape any communication that follows. Using a gentle voice instead may create the opening for less resistant conversation and more positive results.
You may have noticed that tone plays a large role in how receptive someone is to an idea. Take the example of a teenager directing a parent in a car about how to get to the intended destination. If the teen speaks rudely, the parent will not want to listen, or will treat them dismissively assuming that, as the parent, they know better. Often in such times, both are expressing some aspect of control and the tones of their voices will reflect this. One of the simplest ways to avoid adding to this tense energy is to stay present to the information (or directions in this case) and be mindful of your own tone. If you can maintain awareness of your tone, such conversations will not escalate into two harsh tones battling each other. Remember that an angry tone is giving a clear message in the same way eye rolling or the silent treatment clearly demonstrate displeasure, all of which can shape further harsh tones, and none of which will give the desired results of healthy communication. When we are mindful of our own tone, we become aware of our own tendency to either react or respond to a situation. Responding in a healthy manner will take into consideration that the tone from another need not shape one’s own response. Be mindful of the tone of your own responses. This will make a world of difference in your communication.
The same strategy applies at home. Focus on the original intention for everyone to have kind and caring interactions. What kind of tone would such interactions have? You only need to be mindful of your own. Even if the conversation or discussion is not easy, you can literally “set the tone!” and shape family communication.
The words you speak become the house you live in. —Hafiz
Words really do matter. The current culture around us shapes the communication within our homes, encouraging an environment of blame and shame, and breeding guilt and regret, emotions that do nothing for healthy communication. As we do this with politicians, health care, and education, we also may often express resentment and frustration towards those at home using unflattering words. No one likes to hear hurtful words, whether they convey an accurate fact or not, and once spoken, they cannot be taken back. Before lashing out verbally, we want to keep our sights on the goal of peaceful, joyful, and compassionate interactions.
Pay attention to the words that come most easily to your mind. Are they curse words? Or negative self-talk? The negative patterns we engage in will often be the same ones we use to speak with others. And these patterns can be difficult to change. If you catch yourself speaking unkindly with a family member, know that you are likely speaking this way to yourself too, and vice versa. Come back to the awareness that no one likes to hear unkind words.
Further, avoid placing blame on others for the way you feel. Saying, “You make me so angry!” for example, directs blame to another person and implies it is okay to be angry because it’s the natural consequence of what the other person did. Anger is a normal experience, but we do not need to add blame to the feeling. Instead, choosing to say, “I feel so angry/frustrated when this happens,” is probably a more accurate way of describing how you feel since these situations often stem from experiences where the other did (or didn’t do) something you wanted them to. Take time to understand your own wants and desires, then take a moment to understand what the other person might want. This will build your ability to show compassion. When family members can take the time to try to understand the other’s wants, desires, and needs, it creates a beautiful, shared energy. When you prioritize understanding the words you are using and their impact on others, you will allow yourself to speak with the kindness that is truly desired from all sides.
If this has become part of the culture of your home, know that healthy patterns of communication can easily be established with mindful attention to do so. Come back to the goal of the healthy communication that you know is shared by all: peaceful, joyful, and compassionate interactions.