Here’s a suggestion: can we meditate to communicate better? The benefits of meditation have been widely documented. Chief among them is perhaps its ability to cultivate greater awareness.
And awareness is everything… especially if you wish to communicate more effectively.
Being without awareness is like being blind. We aren’t able to see where we are, and where we can go. We cannot choose, or at least, cannot choose well. If you aren’t aware of how things currently are, you won’t be able to decide changes might be useful.
Awareness of both parties
Effective communication requires your ongoing awareness of both parties – you and the other – from the beginning to the end of the interaction.
Good communication is obviously not just about sending out the message – its also about how the message is received. Being aware of how you might be ‘coloring’ the message – through your choice of words, tone of voice, physical posture, facial expression, and even physiological aspects, such as your breath – can greatly increase the chances of your message being received accurately… and favorably.
These aspects of us are often invisible to us, and thus we don’t even consider how others may be picking them up. We can find this out the hard way, as we interact with others through trial and error, or accelerate our learning by working with a coach. What better outcomes might you create, if you tried on a different way of being? All these are possible only if you’re first aware of what you are like right now.
The ability to hold space
My favorite benefit of meditation is less-commonly mentioned: the ability to hold space. You can call it ‘mental space’ or ’emotional space’, if you like. It has been described in a myriad of ways, but in the most practical sense, the ability to hold space is how able we are to be present in a conversation, without rushing to judge or ‘fix’ the person or the situation. If this sounds abstract to you, imagine it’s like patience plus attentiveness.
Recall a difficult conversation you’ve been in. As the interaction went on, wasn’t there a sense of you ‘filling up’ with an emotion or urge?
Maybe it was an urge to defend yourself.
Or, an overwhelming desire to point out an obvious solution.
Or maybe, imagining being over and done with the interaction.
If you can relate to this, you’ve experienced what trying to hold space feels like.
Our ability to hold space can affect our communication in critical ways. It determines how safe the other party feels about airing their thoughts, owning up to their mistakes, as well as asking for what they need. In other words, how well you’re able to hold space can affect peoples’ sense of trust and possibilities with you.
Your current mood, past experiences, expectations and insecurities are just some of the factors that affect our ability to hold space. So, you’ll hold space differently from day to day. But the point is this: holding space is a choice, and you can practice to get better at it.
Last but not least, regular meditation can also build up self-awareness.
In any meaningful conversation, you will have needs and thoughts to air as well. The emotions and feelings that come up for you can only be useful if you are familiar with them, and if you can recognize them in the moment. You stand a chance of avoiding your logical fallacies and biases only if you’re aware of them, and the filters that might be hindering your understanding. This awareness can be intentionally cultivated through meditation, because it is essentially a practice of holding space for your emotions, thoughts and physical sensations, which will inevitably come up when you allow youself silence and stillness.
It is in these moments – when you sit with your emotions, thoughts and physical sensations, without trying to judge or get rid of them – that you get familiar with them. So if they come up during conversations, you know what they mean, and what sort of needs they might be signalling. This type of self-awareness is especially valuable in high-stakes conversations, such as conflict resolutions or negotiations.
There are various ways to improve your communication, depending on which aspect you’re are looking at. Vocal classes, negotiation courses, personality profiling and even image consulting are useful. But if you wish to create truly transformational impact in your relationships, meditation might just be that fundamental practice that will improve the way you communicate for the long term.