Article by: Mariana Henriques Martins
It is not always easy to be completely aware when we communicate with others. There are moments when we don’t think about what we say, and that’s when the age-old adage of ‘thinking before you speak’ comes in. Speaking honestly, listening deeply, and navigating the inevitable twists and turns of a conversation all require a high degree of self-awareness.
Whether one’s aim is strategic (to achieve a certain end) or relational (to connect), communication involves a meaningful exchange that leads to understanding. There are three important ingredients to master conscious communication: to be present, to come from curiosity and care, to say what we want.
Leading with presence is a fundamental practice to conscious communication. If we are not aware we may end u running on automatic or consumed by an inner narrative of judgements, criticism, mind wandering. Mindful communication asks of us to be present, to be mindfully embodied in the conversation, to observe ourselves. That will allow us to choose when to speak and when to listen.
After all, the conversation is a dynamic interplay between each person’s choice to speak or listen. The more we are aware of ourselves, the more we are aware of the other we speak to. In other words, presence opens the door to mutuality.
Coming from curiosity is probably the hardest of all. Our intention can determine the whole tone and trajectory of dialogue, the motivation behind our words, and, sadly, rarer than often, our intention is far from this. Where are we coming from? Which strategies are we using? Do we tend to avoid conflict?
Do we want to win an argument, being right is more important than understanding the other’s perspectives? Or are we passive-aggressive, meaning we express our displeasure about a situation in an indirect way?
Do you manipulate, meaning you intentionally on unintentionally ask questions or say things, with an answer or response in mind? Recognizing our patterns in conflicts is the first step to transforming them. Mindfulness can allow us to choose a different course of action when in conflict.
However, to fully understand our strategies, and to have the tools to change them, there is something primal and fundamentally human that we need to acknowledge, that is, our needs. All our actions are motivated by an intrinsic need. When we finally choose to come from curiosity and care, we have to be willing to learn about our needs. So let’s ask ourselves: What do we want the other person to do? And, “What do I want their reasons to be for doing it?”
Identifying our needs and developing a balanced relationship with them form the groundwork for being able to express ourselves and engage effectively in dialogue. At the same time, identifying others’ needs allows us to make heartfelt connections across differences.
When we become aware of our needs our heart opens; something will soften inside as we understand intuitively what matters to someone else. Needs are universal, they connect us. Becoming conscious of them can help us evaluate our actions and strategies of communication, and make different choices: transform patterns of blame and judgement into understanding each other; finally, they prompt us to collaborate, if both share each other’s needs, it can bring the opportunity to find solutions together.
Identifying the needs can be quite triggering. When needs are not met, emotions arise. Unpleasant ones can lead us to either reactive expression of a feeling or suppression of it. Either way, harm is made. Emotions can be very powerful, blinding us, and at times, they can get the better of us. If on the other hand, we suppress them, we lose touch with ourselves.
Emotional recognition (observation, mindfulness), being aware of what we are feeling, naming them, understanding where is it revealing itself in our body. That will help us to regulate our emotions, balance them, and, more importantly, take responsibility for them by connecting them with underlying needs or values, and not blaming others for that.
And now, after all this, self-expression: how do we say what you mean? Stating clearly what happened (being as objective as possible), without judgement or evaluation, makes it easier for someone to hear us and to work toward a solution. The clearer we are about what we want and why the more creative we can be about how to make it happen.
In sum, the key principle of conscious communication is making it as easy as possible for another person to meet your need by asking for the specific behaviour that would fulfil it, without demanding, judging, or blaming.
Intimacy is born in conflict. Differences can bring us together and help us know one another. Friction can be creative and synergistic, leading to new ideas and perspectives. These kinds of conversations are characterized by very different intentions than our unconscious communication behaviour. Let’s understand each other.