Mindfulness is a topic many associate with solitude, stillness and silence, conditions that can be immeasurably helpful in becoming more self-aware. But mindfulness is not a practice limited to your hours alone; it can be carried into how you comport yourself with others. Through solo practice, you can learn to be more poised when communicating with others — and the more in control of yourself you are, the more likely you are to have constructive conversations. This is useful whether you’re in low-stakes conversations, such as routine interactions in which you might find yourself tired and slouching, ergo inadvertently communicating disinterest, or high-stakes conversations, in which there’s potential or unexpected tension that may lead to aggressive body language.
In your solo practice, it can help to visualize a conversation beforehand or reflect on it afterward, and a journal can prove a helpful tool with which to think things through with the written word. Don’t dwell on hurt feelings or defensive justification, but concentrate on what you can learn and use for the future.
Rehearsing the following techniques can help you return to a home-base when you feel yourself slipping out of mindful engagement. First practice them when alone, then when in low-stakes situations, then move on to high-stakes situations. You can remember them as A, B, C.
As you transition into present-moment awareness in order to “fully arrive,” adjust your posture to be alert yet relaxed. It keeps you in the present and communicates attentiveness to others.
- Place the soles of your feet on the floor, hip distance apart.
- Lengthen your spine and neck, and keep your shoulders relaxed and arms resting at your sides.
- Keep your face open and responsive.
Once you’ve arrived, take stock of your breath. Keep in mind that inhaling brings oxygen into the body, so if you need energy, breathe in deeply. Likewise, exhaling ejects carbon dioxide, so if you need to relax, breathe out deeply.
- Observe your breathing for clues about your inner state.
- Breathe in curiosity about your companion’s experience and what may unfold.
- Breathe out stability and feel grounded in your alert-yet-relaxed position.
When an interaction meets some sort of resistance, either from your feelings, your companion’s behavior or something external, like a time crunch, it’s hard to stay connected to your intentions, the other person and the moment, and our instincts may narrow to focus on self-preservation. It’s difficult but important to shift from your stress response to a generous interpretation of what’s happening; we practice because this is counterintuitive — but constructive.
- Re-center in alert-yet-relaxed posture and grounded curiosity breathing.
- Visualize a circle around you and your conversation partner to represent the story you are both creating.
- Soften your chest and imagine a generous interpretation of what is going on in that story in the moment — and respond to the situation as if it is the case.
Ultimately, if you can remain curious, grounded and act with generosity, you will come off as self-possessed. Chances are your own behavior will encourage your conversation partner to mirror your self-regulation and maturity, all leading to constructive communication.
Learn more about techniques with which to cultivate generous and productive conversations in Professor Lili Powell’s Mindful.org article “Can We Talk?” The article first appeared in the June 2016 issue of Mindful magazine.