These 4 Daily Practices Will Make You a Better Communicator

Chase Jarvis in action.
Chase Jarvis in action.

Do you ever feel like people just aren’t listening to you, or that you’re speaking but no one’s listening? It could be that you’re the one who’s not listening.

Buddhist teacher and New York Times bestselling author Susan Piver specializes in communication tools, and often finds her Buddhist practices relevant within everyday situations, like relationships and the workplace. For example, mindfulness in communication, or what it really means to be a listener — and how good listening can help others listen to you more effectively.

“Here’s a great definition of listening, which a friend of mine told me: Listening is when you stop thinking your thoughts, and start thinking mine,” explains Susan.

Want to start thinking someone else’s thoughts — and maybe help them to start thinking yours, too? Here are four communication tools, borrowed from Buddhism, to help you achieve more mindful conversation, and maybe feel more listened to.

Listen with empathy: When you’re talking with someone, are you just planning what you’re going to say next, or are you actually trying to understand what point they’re trying to get across? Susan calls this “maximizing,” a name she attributes to her friend, author Michael Carroll, who wrote  Awake at Work, a book about bringing mindfulness into the workplace.  Michael, says Susan, first told her to “always seek to maximize the other person’s position.”

In conversation, says Susan, “we often sit down with our first notion being ‘how can I get what I need out of this?” Instead, she advises, it’s smart to look at what both sides hope to achieve.

“When you’re trying to negotiate something or talk about something, and your attention is on ‘how do I help this person what they want?’ — not instead of what you want — this is the meaning of win-win.”

Listening like this is also a gesture of power and confidence; when you’re focused on what the other person has to offer, you’re more relaxed and less hung up on your own anxieties.

Time it right: When you’re bursting to make a point or share information with the person you’re talking to, you may want to just blurt it all out. But, as with most things in life, timing in communication is important.

“What you have to say may completely intelligent and accurate and right, but if you say it at the wrong time, which means at a time when no one will hear it, then it doesn’t matter how smart it is.”

How do you time your sentiments correctly? By listening, says Susan, and paying attention what she calls “the space between you.”

“There’s a third thing; there’s you, me, and the ‘us’ that’s happening right now,” and reading into what’s going on with that “us” is incredible important to ensure you’re getting heard, and the person you’re talking to is being listened to.

Be agenenda-less: “Agendalessness” may be a made-up word, but its positive consequences to communication are very real. Susan says having an agenda when you sit down to talk with someone is completely normal and natural, but the ability to let go of it is important to mindful communication.

“Letting the agenda go and actually being present in the conversation,” she says, is key.

Be comfortable with discomfort: “To do these things…these are uncomfortable things. And if, in our conversations, we’re just trying to be comfortable, we’re going to miss the real communication.”

A tolerance for discomfort, says Susan, will allow you to dive deeper into conversations and communication, and be able to listen more closely and accurately.

“Discomfort is like one instrument in a great symphony that’s going on inside of you at all times…when we can expand our mind and hear the greater composition, we have a lot of options.”


Want to learn more about communication? Susan’s course, Become a Better Communicator, is available now. 

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Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.