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  • Writer's pictureHiro Saito

Listening & Speaking

Introduction


Friends and family play an important role as socialization agents. Through socialization, we gain many shared experiences with our families and friends. These collective experiences help with cognitive, emotional and social development (Dunn & Brophy, 2005). As such, it is important to understand the way others think and feel for proper functioning of relationships (Dunn, 2004).


The Grant Study conducted by Harvard (2017) found a strong association between happiness and close relationships like spouses, family, friends, and social circles. To foster closeness within such interpersonal relationships, good communication is vital. Communication patterns are found to be highly correlated with relationship satisfaction (Noller & Fitzpatrick, 1990). Mindful communications have been found to have benefits such as improved conflict management, increased emotional intelligence and helps individuals to make better decisions. Our group decided to focus on two mindful communication practices – mindful communication and speaking.


Mindful Listening 


a. Description and Rationale


Mindful listening involves actively listening with one’s full attention and without any judgment. This can also include compassion for the person speaking and an emotional awareness during the person’s speech. Our team has integrated a perspective-taking approach into our practice of mindful listening in order to reap further benefits.

The integrated framework to approach mindful listening (Smookler, 2019) can be found in the appendix.


The principles of mindful listening have been shown to be associated with measures of happiness, mental health, and even behavioural outcomes. A correlational study showed moderate negative correlations with parental depression and stress, and child behavioural problems, as well as moderately moderate positive correlations with parental mindfulness, happiness, and mental health. Perspective-taking (using comparable situations to the one the target was experiencing in some important way) as part of mindful listening is also important because a perspective-taking study (Gehlbach & Brinkworth, 2012) reported participants being better able to understand the other person.


b. Our Consolidated Experiences


In our practice, we found that mindful listening allowed us to take more objective perspectives in our conversations which in turn allowed us to transform the conversations into more productive and fruitful sessions. It also allowed for improved clarity of meaning and increased empathy for the speaker as well.


c. Strengths and Limitations


The main strengths of mindful listening are that it slows the pace of the conversation and prevents interruption, premature problem-solving, or discounting of feelings. In addition, it is important to note that one’s non-defensiveness does not equate to one’s agreement with the ideas communicated.


Mindful Speaking


a. Description and Rationale


Mindful speaking is the act of having awareness of what you are saying and responding to others in a mindful and effortful way without getting caught in reactive judgement (Goldstein, 1993). It involves breaking away from our immediate reaction which are often framed by our emotions as what we say may be upsetting to our family and friends. In practicing mindful speaking, it is important to state only what is true and useful in an objective manner.


The integrated framework for Mindful Speaking can be found in the appendix.

As mindful speaking focuses on reason-based communication as opposed to emotion-based, it allows for more effective conflict management (Burgoon, Berger, & Waldron, 2000). Furthermore, negative emotions are reduced and there is an increase in more positively-toned communication (Huston, Garland, & Farb, 2011). Overall, it was found that the practice of mindful speaking led to an increase in communication effectiveness (Goldstein, 1999), and aid reconciliation and harmony within family and friends (Nhat Hanh & Cheung, 2010).


b. Our Consolidated Experiences


Summing up our practice of mindful speaking, our group felt that mindful speaking allowed us to have better self-regulation of our emotions during conversations which led to better expression of needs and enhanced connection with family and friends.


c. Strengths and Limitations


As mindful speaking focuses on reason-based communication rather than emotion-based, it cultivates a more emotionally safe environment for communication to take place. While some difficulties were faced initially in trying to regulate emotions rather than suppressing it, this issue can be resolved through more practice of mindful speaking and we can grow to be more adept at it.


Complementary Practices


a. Mindful Breathing (George)


Mindful breathing helps an individual to focus the mind and bring their attention back to the present moment. Broderick and Metz (2009) research on learning to breathe was a mindfulness programme for adolescents. The primary goal of the program is to support the development of emotion regulation skills through the practice of mindfulness. The study was conducted with a group of students between 17 years to 19 years old. Their research found that mindful breathing increased individual’s calmness, self-acceptance and clarity in the participant’s life, while decreasing the negative effect.


Diaphragmatic breathing is a type of breathing technique used in mindfulness practices to help one breathe better and live better. Several studies have demonstrated that it is an effective relaxation technique that reduces anxiety and heart rate. Physiological evidence also shows that diaphragmatic breathing significantly reduces blood pressure and increases heart rate variability (HRV) and oxygenation.


The “3-2-4: Breath From Your Core” is a simple, relaxing breath technique that can be practiced anywhere. This technique can be used anywhere, anytime whenever one needs a quick energy boost or to improve focus and the mind. This 3-2-4 breathing technique uses diaphragmatic breathing so as to ensure that the person would fully be calm and relax.


The instructions are in Appendix 2.


b. Journaling (Ruth)


Incorporating mindful journaling into one’s day allows one to perform self-tracking, self-monitoring and self-care. Previously, journaling involves writing one’s thoughts and reflections on a book with a pen. In modern day, Ayobi et al (2018) illustrates a new form of journaling- bullet journaling which entails customising small square blocks according to one’s needs and preferences. In bullet journaling, there are many components such as convenient recording, area for short sentences, colour-coding emotions on a picture and many others. Figure 1 shows various examples in which bullet journaling can help one to navigate emotions and relationships mindfully.


Figure 1: Examples of Bullet Journaling (Ayobi et al., 2018)


Mindful journaling has several benefits such as enhancing emotional and physical well-being, encourage self-regulation and aiding one to orientate day mindfully. A section of the journal can be dedicated to having a list of things one is grateful for. With the establishment of a gratitude list, one can become more aware of the significance of small moments of the day and be more appreciative of the people around them and both strengthen and renew existing relationships. Simultaneously, one has the option to share one’s list with loved ones and allow it to be a platform to show appreciation.


Conclusion


Through this project, our group gained insights on how to practice mindful communication in our daily lives. We found that following the framework for both mindful listening and mindful speaking did change the way we communicated with our family and friends, leading to better quality conversations or less damaging arguments. Interestingly, while communication is two-way street, the person’s ignorance of mindful communication does not deter the benefits of mindful communication. Instead, it inspires them to learn more about these methods once they noticed the difference from you. These findings were consistent with what we have found over academic research, and it was intriguing for our team to witness this phenomenon practically in our lives.


By Isabelle Lim En Yu, Lee Jin Yang George, Lee Li Ling, Lee Yun Rui Sheryl, Ramavendan S/o Viarakanu, and Thien Hui Juan Ruth


Appendix 1


a. Mindful Listening Framework


H: Halt everything and set intention to offer full attention

E: Enjoy a breath and accept whatever is being communicated, without judgment, interruption, or discounting. Examine how your body is reacting and what that could signify.

A: Ask clarifying questions and strategic questions to aid the exploration of feelings and intent. Adopt the perspective of the speaker by recalling a time that you faced a comparable situation to further empathise with the speaker

R: Reflect back the content of what was said via paraphrasing and validating.


b. Mindful Listening Experiences


George: Recently, while I was having a picnic with a group of friends, I realise that most of us were always on our phone and thus, I remembered about mindful listening. I decided to start a topic with one of my close friends. We started talking on what is our plans after graduation and i remember HEAR. I offered the full attention to what my friend has to say and pay attention to my breathe and how my body is reacting. After hearing what are the plans, I decided to ask some questions to clarify certain things that I am unsure. For example, the company that my friend wanted to go to. After he had completed what he wanted to say, I tried to paraphrase and conclude to ensure that whatever I heard, I understand correctly.

I feel that by practicing HEAR, it made our conversation more fruitful and i feel much closer to my friend. I feel much more relaxed and at the same time, away from technology is something we should often practice.


Sheryl: I found that with my experience with HEAR, it has allowed me to take a more objective perspective when dealing with conversations that are usually more emotionally charged. This has also allowed me to better understand the true message behind what the speaker is saying and helped me to later steer the conversation in a more productive direction to produce better emotional outcomes for both parties.


Li Ling: I tried to integrate mindful listening into my daily interaction with friends. At the start, I found that it was very hard and unnatural to me. However, after trying this out for a few days, I found that the conversations with friends were more genuine and more open as there were no worries about being judged. Overall, I feel like listening without judgement and speaking without letting our emotions take over are 2 things that we often neglect and we never realise the impact that it had on our social circle. To me, mindful listening was useful in allowing me to have a deeper and more meaningful conversation.


Ruth: The integrated HEAR framework has been rather impactful in helping me manage interactions with my mother-in-law at home, especially negative ones. Instead of focusing on the initial anxiety upon the start of any interaction, I focus on my breath and am then able to collect my thoughts and move on from the initial anxiety. Gradually, I became more aware of my own faults and failings and areas I can self-improve on. Also, I develop a better understanding of my mother-in-law’s personality, needs and wants and it helps me to better empathise with her when she exhibits negative behaviours.


Rama: It has been an interesting and eye-opening experience practicing HEAR. Oftentimes, I try to just acknowledge what my mum says when she is speaking without giving much thought to it. Upon utilizing this strategy, I have been able to better listen to what she is saying. The first time I tried listening carefully with full attention, it was a little unaccustomed to. It was actually awkward trying to look at my mum properly and listen to what she was saying. In that moment, I realised that I have not been giving her the attention she deserves. I tried asking clarifying questions to better understand instead of recalling a situation (she is obviously more experienced than I am). I must say that it has been effective using this as it makes interactions more meaningful. I still do not practice it for every conversation but it only gets better from now on.


Isabelle: As an extrovert, I am always more inclined to take control of the conversation and speak more than I listen when engaging with my friends, for the fear of awkward silences. When I was first exposed to the HEAR framework while embarking on this project, I thought that it would be interesting to try it out and to see how it would change the way I communicate. During a dinner with a friend I had not met for a long time, I practiced mindful listening according to the framework, and I noticed that I managed to discover more about my friend than I ever did in the many years I have known her. This changed my perspective of communicating and became a reminder to me that listening mindfully is more important than speaking mindlessly to fill up the silence.


c. Mindful Speaking Framework


Pause and take a deep breath before you speak to disconnect from autopilot mode and respond in a less impulsive and more mindful way.

Speaks only the truth to prevent misrepresentation of the situation.

Use “I” statements when expressing and explaining emotions to take responsibility for what you are feeling and to prevent the passing of judgement onto someone else.

State only what is useful and refrain from harsh speech and other unnecessary comments which might spiral out of control and might not even be true.


d. Mindful Speaking Experiences


Rama: It was an eye-opening experience. Literally. It was a little awkward at first talking to my mum in that way. It was rather effective and meaningful.


Sheryl: Mindful speaking allowed me to slow down my thoughts and ensure that the true meaning of what I wanted to communicate was heard.


Ruth: I became more and more aware of the words and the tone of my words when responding to different family members.


George: I am more aware of myself and it allows me to ensure what I speak is coherent to my thoughts. I was able to express myself better too.


Li Ling: Mindful speaking was very helpful to me as it allowed me to express myself better and I was able to hold conversations without letting my emotions take over which I felt was important in a tense situation. Although I struggled with mindful speaking at the start, I was able to get used to it after more practice. However, I still find difficulties in trying to be aware and regulate my emotions instead of suppressing them.


Isabelle: Mindful speaking helped me to express myself more accurately, especially during heated conversations with my family. I realized that I tend to be more careful with my words when talking to my friends, but with my family, I let myself loose and just utter whatever I feel like saying, which sometimes lead to devastating consequences. There was this time where a conversation with my mother almost escalated to become an argument, but practicing mindful communication at that time helped me to avoid the potential conflict as I grew conscious of the words I am using and intentionally chose words that could express my emotions, without blaming or offending my mother. It was an interesting and positive experience for me.


Appendix 2


3-2-4 Breath From Your Core Steps:


1. Rest your tongue lightly along the ridge of tissue located behind your front, upper teeth. Allow it to rest here throughout the exercise.

2. Exhale completely before you start a new cycle of breath.

3. Close your mouth, inhale quietly through your nose as you count to three. Let your belly and chest fill up with breath.

4. Pause. Hold your breath for a count of two.

5. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a ‘whoosh’ sound, as you count to four. Let your belly and chest release.


Steps 3-5 make one full breath cycle. Repeat four more times for five total rounds.


References


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