Mindful Communication and the Power of Vulnerability

The past week held many lessons in letting go and required the willingness and courage to be vulnerable. Every day I was given the opportunity to come face-to-face with people and circumstances that, if I were to approach them with mindfulness and Non-Violent Communication (NVC), would ask me to give up my agenda and be open to outcome.  While I can be fairly attached to my agenda, experience tells me it is not often shared by others and it works better if I open to other ideas.

Both mindfulness and NVC ask us to approach every situation without judgment. In other words, instead of saying “You never help me do anything around here.” You would say “This morning you did not take the trash by 10:00 a.m.” The first statement would probably not lead to a very meaningful discussion and the second statement is just stating a fact. Stating a fact leaves less room for disagreement or defensiveness.

The second thing to remember (which is actually two things) is to “lead with presence” and to come from a place of “curiosity and care.”  These two ways of being in conversation are powerful because they make you slow down and listen from your heart and they help the other person feel acknowledged and understood. Remembering to be curious and to connect with care have been the most effective touchstone as I enter into difficult conversations.

Notice I haven’t said anything about how these techniques help you get your way. That’s the thing about mindful communication and NVC, you have to be willing to give up the idea that there is a “my way” and be willing to consider that our shared interaction will produce an outcome that is good for both parties. It is more concerned with the way we come together and, when that is caring and kind, it creates an interaction that is more likely to produce a strategy that meets both of our needs. And, if we dig deep, we really prefer that everyone be happy than just getting our way.

In one particular situation, I had two options. (1) Force “my way” upon someone (which part of me really liked a lot!) and (2) Be curious about what the other person needed first as a way of coming up with solutions that would meet both of our needs. I find it helpful to actually write down what I’m feeling and needing in any particular situation (See NVC website for a list of feelings and needs) and to guess at what the other person is feeling and needing before a conversation begins. You can and should, of course, ask the person during your conversation what they need and how they feel.

So, I opted for #2 and started the conversation with curiosity and care about what the other person was thinking, feeling and needing. It became really clear to me that when I did this, my heart opened to her and what she was hoping for.  And, secondly, because I had showed her concern and given her space to discuss what was happening for her, she became interested in meeting my needs as well.  While we came up with a solution that was different than what I first thought I needed, I was happier because I knew that we were both being respected and understood. As an extra bonus, I actually got a lot of positive feedback from the other people involved in the situation at the way I handled it.

While this might sound like it was easy, I can guarantee you it is not. My stress response takes me up into my head and into a fear reaction. Feeling that clinch of fear (and sometimes attack) is my bell of mindfulness. It feels vulnerable to let go of the desire to defend. But, it helps to pause and breathe as I reflect on my feelings and needs and begin the journey into my heart to connect with my care for the other person. I call this being authentic and vulnerable—connecting to myself and letting myself be seen by the other. It also means I allow the other person to do the same.

If you’re not familiar with Non-Violent Communication, it is a model of communication developed by Marshall Rosenberg many years ago, as a way of helping us to approach other people with the desire to connect and relate as opposed to demand and control. Non-Violent Communication is in its third edition and is a good place to start if you want to learn more. Then read Say What You Mean by Oren Jay Sofer which I have found extremely useful as it combines mindfulness, non-violent communication, and somatics in a perfect blend.

While doing the work of opening your heart before or during difficult conversations can require time, energy and courage, the results can be truly profound. Sometimes I have even found that when I do my own heart opening work ahead of time, the energy shifts so much that the difficulty is gone before you even start the conversation.

Try it and enjoy the miracle of connection!