"Everybody's talking at me.
I don't hear a word they're saying
Only the echoes of my mind."
Harry Nilsson wrote these famous lyrics in 1968. Albeit not his original intention, this stanza often describes the state of communication in our modern workplace. We often sit in meetings, half listening, half plotting what we should say next, judging ourselves and our peers, while feeling resentful to be attending in the first place. Caught up in our thoughts and emotions, we forget the importance of skillful listening and communication. It escapes us that communication is a multi layered effort; at times it is best to speak up, while often better to listen with intention. Mindful communication means we listen with empathy and acceptance, and state our opinion without disparagement. With practice, we can learn to use language to bring out the best in others, and become an emotional anchor during tumultuous times.
Language, when used thoughtfully, can promote a calm and productive workplace. First, recognize that listening is a large part of communication. When your colleagues are speaking, rather than actively formulating an opinion of agreement or disagreement, listen with acceptance. Show that you are open to new points and ideas. Support what sounds correct and positive in what the other person is saying. For some, this might seem like a dramatic shift, and might even feel inauthentic. However, even the greatest cynic will rapidly reap the benefits of thinking the best in others. People are naturally drawn to calm and open minded listeners. Earning the trust and respect of your peers has tremendous benefits.
Of course there are times when constructive criticism is essential. Remember, you need not be brutal to be honest. When giving negative feedback, wait for the correct circumstances. Make certain that you are not commenting for your own self-interest. Criticism should be communicated with compassion and in a timely manner that benefits the listener. Whenever possible, do not use text, email, or other forms of electronic communication. These channels add a layer of distance and create fertile ground for confusion. Speak one on one, so as not to elicit shame or humiliation. Use words that serve a constructive purpose, and make sure you have the time to listen openly to the other person's point of view.
Skillful communication is easier when you have the ability to monitor your own internal state. One way to enhance this skill is to take time each day to sit silently with yourself while focusing on your breath. Engaging in 10 minutes of meditation allows you to be an observer of your own thoughts, and creates the space to feel your emotions, rather than thoughtlessly reacting when triggered by what other people say or do. Over time, you will grow deliberate with how you respond and listen to others. Being aware of your emotional baggage removes a layer of self-preoccupation, and allows for fuller personal and professional connections.