One of the things that attracted me to alcohol was it seemed to improve my ability to communicate with others. It didn’t do this by magically transforming me into a charismatic speaker and ‘good listener’ – instead it gave me a false sense of confidence (or at least made me numb me enough not to care what other people thought of me).
I never actually developed my ability to communicate, and the same seems to be true for most of us who have used alcohol or drugs as a substitute. This means it is usually something we need to work on in recovery. Mindfulness can be of great help in this regard:
How to Speak Mindfully
In the playground we learn that ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me’. It may be a nice ideal, but for the majority of us, this saying is more like wishful thinking than actual experience. We can feel hurt by what others say to us, and the things we say can potentially cause a great deal of harm to others.
It is irresponsible to just expect people to accept the things we say without taking offence or feeling hurt. A verbal attack can cause as much damage as a physical attack – especially if the other person is vulnerable. Here are some suggestions for how to speak more mindfully:
• It is often the stuff we say to break the silence that is most likely to be harmful (e.g. we might use gossip to fill the void)
• Observe the person’s body language to get an idea about how our words are being received
• It might be best to avoid conversations when you are overwhelmed by an emotion like anger – get this emotion under control first because otherwise you may say something you later regret
• When we speak from an attitude of openness and authenticity, we are far more likely to communicate skillfully
• Check your motives before you speak (e.g. are you being manipulative or deliberately hurtful?)
• Ease up on the self-promotion – it can make people less interested in us rather than more
• Increase your awareness of any patterns in how you speak such as frequent negativity – once we become aware of these habits, we can begin to let them go
How to Listen Mindfully
I once believed being a good listener was all about keeping my mouth shut until it was my turn to speak. As the other person was talking, I would be having a conversation in my head about what I was going to say. This was a very ineffective way of listening, and it frequently meant I got the ‘wrong end of the stick’ or ended up saying the completely wrong thing. It was probably also obvious to the other person that I wasn’t really listening.
Mindful listening means giving a similar amount of attention to what the other person is saying as we do our own thoughts. It means being genuinely interested in the words of others so we are willing to give the appropriate amount of attention to these words.
In order to listen mindfully, it is suggested that you:
• Be aware of your body language (e.g. do you appear distracted or uncomfortable?)
• Give your full attention to what the person is saying
• Plan what you are going to say after the person has stopped speaking
• Withhold judgement until you have heard the full story
• Avoid speaking unless it is to demonstrate your attentiveness (e.g. “I see”) or to seek clarification (e.g. so you went there because…)
• Try not to speak right away when the person has stopped speaking as they may not have completely finished (this is particularly important if it is a serious conversation)