A Journey into Mindful Communication
In the complex dance of human interaction, balancing meeting our personal needs and maintaining our relationships is a delicate task.
When used correctly, assertiveness can be a powerful tool in achieving this balance. It allows us to communicate our needs and opinions clearly and respectfully, fostering understanding and mutual respect.
This article delves into the concepts of mindfulness and prosocial assertiveness and how they can significantly enhance our communication skills at work and overall quality of life.
This article is part of our live webinar series - register for our next webinar.
Prefer to watch this article? It's based on a recent live webinar with clinical psychologist Dr Alice Shires
Embracing Mindfulness: The Key to Effective Communication
Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present. It is about observing our thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad. Instead of letting our life pass us by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to our current experiences.
It is a concept that has roots in Buddhist meditation, and it has been popularised in the West through practices like mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT).
In communication, mindfulness can help us manage our emotions and reactions, enabling us to stay calm and objective during conversations. This is particularly important when the discussions are intense or high stakes. A common technique to practice mindfulness is focusing on our breath. Focusing on one's breath anchors us in the present moment and can significantly reduce overthinking and stress.
Prosocial Assertiveness: A New Approach to Expressing Yourself
Prosocial assertiveness is the ability to express our needs and opinions in a way that respects both our rights and the rights of others. It is about clear, respectful communication, free from emotional reactivity.
This means that even in the face of disagreement or conflict, we aim to stay calm and objective, managing the conversation in a way that assists the other person to hear us. This is crucial because if the other person feels blamed or attacked, they are less likely to listen to our perspective.
Nonverbal communication is equally essential in assertiveness. Our body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions communicate much more than words. To ensure you use assertive nonverbal communication, keep your voice calm, the volume normal, the pace even, maintain good eye contact, and keep your physical tension low.
Setting the Stage for Assertive Conversations
Before attempting a conversation that involves assertively expressing ourselves, choosing an appropriate time and place is essential. This is because the context in which the conversation takes place can significantly impact its outcome.
It's often helpful to schedule a meeting or ask the other person when they would be available for a discussion. This ensures the other person is timely, focused, and relaxed, creating a conducive environment for a mutually positive meeting.
The Seven Pillars of Assertive Communication
Assertive communication involves several vital components. Here are seven main aspects of assertiveness that can guide you through an assertive conversation:
- State the Facts: Stick to the actual events or situations without exaggeration or assumptions. Facts are indisputable and provide a solid foundation for the conversation.
- State How You Feel: Use "I" statements to express your feelings without blaming the other person. For example, "I feel angry when I have to do the housework when I am so exhausted, and you are watching TV."
- State What You Think: Explain your thoughts and beliefs that led to your feelings. This helps you take responsibility for your emotions and avoids blaming the other person.
- Acknowledge the Other Person: Acknowledge that you might be wrong and that the other person might have a different perspective. This prevents assumptions and promotes understanding.
- State What You Want: Be sure to be clear about what you want from the conversation. Remember, it's okay to ask for what you want, but it's also important to accept that the other person might not agree.
- Provide a Reward for Listening: Thank the other person for their attention and cooperation. This can motivate future collaboration and keep the lines of communication open.
- Negotiate a Win-Win Solution: If there's no immediate cooperation, try to find a compromise that benefits both parties.
Mastering Assertiveness: Practice Makes Perfect
Before engaging in real-life assertive conversations, it's beneficial to practice these steps.
Writing out a script or role-playing with a friend can help build confidence in expressing yourself calmly and clearly.
Start with more minor issues and gradually work towards larger ones. This will give you confidence in your ability to express yourself calmly and clearly.
The Road Ahead: Embracing Mindfulness and Assertiveness in Everyday Life
Mindfulness and prosocial assertiveness are powerful tools for effective communication.
By practising these skills, we can express our needs and opinions clearly and respectfully, fostering healthier and more fulfilling relationships. Remember, the journey to effective communication is continuous, filled with learning and growth.
So, keep practising and stay open to new experiences. Your efforts will surely pay off.
If you'd like to join our next webinar, look at the topics we have coming up.
Welcome to today's "Pro-social Assertiveness: How to Do No Harm" webinar by Dr Alice Shires.
Greetings, everyone; my name is Stacy, and I am the General Manager of MiTraining. We are a dynamic, future-focused registered training organisation that strives to empower individuals and workplaces to meet the shifting challenges of our work landscape. We take pride in leading the way in enhancing workplace mental health and organisational wellbeing. Our key focus is to enable individuals and leaders to thrive within their organisational contexts by fostering emotional intelligence, career development strategies, and workplace psychological safety.
Our presenter today, Dr Alice Shires, is a highly accomplished clinical psychologist, senior lecturer, and UTS Psychology Training Clinic director. With over 25 years of experience, she specialises in teaching cognitive behavioural therapies whilst seamlessly incorporating mindfulness into her practice. Dr Alice is widely recognised for her expertise in mindfulness-integrated cognitive behavioural therapy, and she has established herself as a leading trainer in this field, both nationally and internationally. Her contributions to the field include co-authoring books, developing assessment tools, and active involvement in policy development and governmental reports. As an esteemed practitioner, researcher, and advocate for mindfulness, we warmly welcome Dr Alice to the microphone to lead our webinar today.
Overview of Mindfulness
Hello there, and welcome, everyone. Today, I will delve into mindfulness, particularly its application in the realm of work. Over the past decade, the world of work has mostly stayed the same, thereby underscoring the necessity of incorporating mindfulness into our lives and workspaces.
To begin with, I would like to give you a brief overview of what mindfulness is and what it is not. Mindfulness is deeply rooted in a long science lineage steeped in Eastern religious and Buddhist traditions. It has been present for much longer than we could imagine, and its modern re-emergence within psychology is notably intriguing. However, it's essential to acknowledge its rich history.
Historically, mindfulness was deployed to integrate natural laws into everyday decisions and actions. Practising mindfulness was not an isolated activity; instead, it was designed to be incorporated into life, providing guidelines for how we live, conduct ourselves, and make decisions. Therefore, it's fair to say that it is a more comprehensive tool than it's often perceived.
There's compelling evidence that mindfulness and mindfulness meditations have effects beyond merely inducing relaxation or promoting 'a little mindfulness.' These practices can lead to long-term changes in personality traits and instigate quite fundamental changes. This transformative power of mindfulness has been documented in the literature for a considerable time.
I think it's crucial to understand that mindfulness isn't synonymous with relaxation. There's a growing trend of commercialisation, producing a deluge of 'mindfulness' products, such as mindfulness of colouring, mindfulness of chocolate, and even 'mindfulness.' Such products are often designed to generate profit and represent a misuse and misunderstanding of mindfulness. Mindfulness may lead to relaxation, but that's not its primary purpose or its only effect.
Be aware that if you undertake mindfulness training, some offerings might charge a hefty sum for what is ostensibly relaxation. While there's nothing inherently wrong with relaxation, it won't bring about the transformative changes that genuine mindfulness practice can achieve.
So, what, then, is mindfulness? It's a means to an end—a strategy or mind training that facilitates an investigation into our objective reality. Meditating makes us more attuned to what's happening in our minds and bodies. Mindfulness is a tool for investigating this aim of truth, and I stress the word 'objective.' As soon as we notice thoughts or feelings in the body, our instinct is to make judgments about them, which can lead to various problems. Mindfulness teaches us to observe ourselves objectively.
For this, we need sustained attention. Much is written about mindfulness and its impact on engagement, which helps train our attention to focus where we want it to. However, the objective is not merely to train attention but to use it to explore the objective reality within our mind and body.
As we delve deeper into mindfulness practices, the need to stabilise and somewhat restrain our minds becomes apparent, similar to controlling a toddler. It's a challenging task, but the first step in this direction is the practice of mindfulness of breath. The goal is to use our trained attention to explore our inner reality and move towards more progressive pools of meditation practice.
When we practice mindfulness, such as paying attention to our breath—which we will discuss later—we are not only training our attention but also cultivating a state of non-identification. This means that while we experience thoughts and sensations, we learn not to attach our identities to them. Part of our brain, the default network, is constantly analysing experiences concerning ourselves—what they mean for us. This function is vital for our survival and comprehension of the world. Still, overactivation can lead to problems like rumination and worry, where every thought is taken as a profound reality.
Practising mindfulness enables us to perceive thoughts as transient phenomena that come and go without needing our identification. We learn to observe thoughts just as they are. As we practice mindfulness, we develop acceptance and non-reactivity—or what we call stability—towards our internal experiences. This is the ability to accept what is objective without reaction.
A suitable definition of mindfulness might be the ability to remain unperturbed by experiences within the framework of one's body and mind due to objective observation. Equanimity, or non-reactivity, relies on awareness of thoughts and bodily sensations. By being aware but not entangled or identifying with them, we create a chance to observe objectively, accept, and manage these experiences, remaining unperturbed. The ultimate goal of mindfulness is this state of serenity.
In my work, we've developed measures like the Equanimity Scale to evaluate the outcomes of mindfulness interventions. As we progress, we'll touch upon mindfulness of breath, which is an essential part of the mindfulness-integrated cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) course we offer. This course combines sophisticated forms of meditation aimed at cultivating objectivity, non-reactivity, and equanimity with powerful cognitive and behavioural therapy strategies.
Interpersonal skills also play a significant role in this program, as applying equanimity in real-life scenarios is a common goal for all participants, regardless of their reasons for undertaking the course. As a brief introduction to this practice, I'd invite you to close your eyes, place your hands on your knees, sit upright, and focus on your breath coming in and out of the nostrils.
When practising mindfulness, the first step is acknowledging when a thought has taken over your mind, diverting you from simply observing your breath in the nostrils. You can use the simple technique of raising a finger of your right hand whenever you recognise a thought distraction and lowering it once you regain focus on your breath in the nostrils. The goal is not to eliminate thoughts but to train your mind to notice when studies have taken you away from your target—breathing through the nostrils—and bring your attention back.
Upon starting this exercise, it's pretty standard for your mind to wander to various places, past or future, making focusing on the breath challenging. This exercise aims to train your mind to recognise distractions, detach from the thought, and refocus on the breath, repeating this process repeatedly.
It's interesting to note that our thought distractions often follow patterns, such as the recency effect, where recent events are more likely to surface in our minds. Similarly, thoughts about significant or frequently occurring events also tend to hijack our attention. Recognising these patterns, we can start weakening these neural pathways by not engaging with these repetitive thoughts. However, remember that the aim here is not to eradicate beliefs. Just like the heart beats continuously, the mind always thinks; our task is to observe and gently guide our attention back to the breath.
Now, let's do a brief mindfulness of breath exercise. Start by finding a reasonably comfortable chair, sitting upright to remain alert and relaxed. Position your knees slightly lower than your hips to maintain a straight back and neck. When you're ready, gently close your eyes. Feel free to open your eyes if you're uncomfortable at any point. So, when you're ready, with your eyes closed, neck straight, back straight, and sitting comfortably, let's start developing a practice in mindfulness of breath.
The key to mindfulness is accepting unpleasant experiences within the body and mind as they occur and observing them objectively. We can't always evade unpleasant things, so developing a capacity for acceptance is crucial. This acceptance allows us to feel more relaxed and escape discomfort.
The practice we're about to learn is about objectivity and observing things as they are, not how we want them to be. Start by focusing on the breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils, paying careful attention to the sensations without trying to control them. You might feel warmth, movement, cold, or perhaps no sense. Simply be aware of the air flowing in and out, noting if it's fast, slow, deep, shallow, or more prevalent on one side than the other.
When you're fully conscious of each breath, your mind has no room for the past or the future; there is only the present moment. It might be challenging since our minds are more accustomed to wandering into the past or future rather than staying in the present moment. Whenever your mind strays, acknowledge the thought for what it is, just a thought, and redirect your attention back to your breath.
See thoughts as they are, without engaging or identifying with them, maintaining a degree of detachment. Stay focused on your breath, observing each inhale and exhale without attempting to count, label, or apply any mental strategies. These strategies may divert your attention from your breath. Instead, observe what happens rather than thinking about it, learning about your mind from moment to moment without judgment.
The more you practice, the more changes you'll notice. Regular practice can lead to enhanced focus over time, less susceptibility to intrusive thoughts, and growth in self-confidence and self-control. So, continue practising, maintaining a steady focus on each incoming and outgoing breath, and remember, if your mind wanders, don't be disheartened or defeated.
Could you bring your attention back to the awareness of respiration at the entrance of your nostrils? I want you to please maintain your focus on the incoming and outgoing breath, sustaining your attention there for as long as possible. In the final moments, simply observe your last breaths, and when you're ready, you can open your eyes and rejoin the group. If anyone has questions about this practice, we'll discuss them at the end.
This session introduces mindfulness practice, termed MICBT, performed daily, leading to further procedures. This exercise hopefully gives you a taste of the type of focus and instruction that mindfulness practice should include.
Let's focus on applying mindfulness and equanimity to our interpersonal relationships, specifically through assertive communication. Although often perceived as a ruthless corporate tactic, assertiveness, when exercised mindfully, is an essential skill for expressing our needs and, hopefully, getting them met. The goal here is not harming oneself or others, following ethical principles derived from Buddhist teachings.
This practice is about taking experiential ownership, acknowledging our emotions and thoughts as our own instead of blaming the outside world. By doing this, we learn to control our internal world - our thoughts and where our attention goes. The goal is to apply the calmness developed through mindfulness when communicating assertively. It enables us to relay our needs or resist inappropriate requests without losing the message in emotional reactivity, such as arguments, conflict, or avoidance.
The stages of assertive communication include reinforcement, where we can encourage the behaviour by offering a reward. We need to get the other person's attention before initiating a discussion, whether to ask for a pay raise or request more help at home. Ensuring they are ready to engage prevents irritation and sets a positive tone for the conversation. We should also express gratitude for their time and attention, which encourages them to be more receptive in the future.
Next, we must state the facts precisely, avoiding generalised statements like "you always" or "you never." Instead, we provide specific instances, reducing the chances of an argument over the validity of the facts. Finally, we express our feelings, stating clearly how the situation makes us feel. This approach to communication allows us to address our needs effectively without harming ourselves or others. This is assertive communication within the context of mindfulness.
I invite you to bring your attention back to the awareness of respiration at the entrance of your nostrils. You can focus on the ebb and flow of your breath, keeping your watch there for as long as possible. In the final few moments, simply observe those last breaths. When you're ready, open your eyes and return to the group.
If anyone has questions about this practice, we'll set aside time to talk about it at the end. This introduction is a glimpse into the mindfulness practice within MICBT, a daily routine that leads to further forms. This should give you a taste of the kind of focus and instructions that mindfulness practice should contain.
Please take a few seconds to move around, stretch yourself, and prepare for the second part of our discussion. We'll delve into applying mindfulness and equanimity to our interpersonal relationships, specifically focusing on assertive communication.
Assertive communication, a component of the MICBT program, has often been misunderstood as a corporatised, ruthless method of getting what you want regardless of others. In the mindfulness context, it's very different. We must express our needs for mental well-being and lead fruitful lives. Assertiveness is one way of doing this, but it must incorporate the principles of not harming self or others. These principles stem from Buddhist ethical (not religious) teachings.
We've established this practice to aid in expressing our needs without harming others. It overlays with some of the principles you're learning through the program, like experiential ownership, where we take responsibility for our own experiences and feelings. Assertive communication also includes applying equanimity, the calmness developed in our mindfulness practices, to relay needs calmly and firmly, avoiding emotional reactivity, arguments, and conflict.
Let's explore these assertive statements and guidelines to express our needs effectively. We use psychological principles like reinforcement to reward positive behaviour during this practice. The first step is to get the other person's attention, thank them for their time, state the facts of the situation, express your feelings, and acknowledge their perspective. Next, you note what you want, thank them for their cooperation even if they disagree, and consider a win-win, middle-path solution.
In my work, I encourage individuals to script a situation using these steps, rehearse it, and eventually internalise these statements. It's vital to maintain poise and calmness throughout this process. Take some time now, let's say five minutes, to reflect on these statements, thinking of a situation where you need to express your needs or set a boundary. Make notes under these headings, or close your eyes and reflect on the situation.
I'll switch off my camera momentarily and rejoin you once this time has passed, okay? I hope the break provided you with an opportunity to reflect. If you have any questions, please feel free to input them into the chat box, and I'll be more than happy to address them.
I'd like to take a few minutes to highlight some resources for anyone interested in mindfulness training. As shown on the slide, several books concerning Mindfulness Integrated Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (MICBT) have been developed. The pale blue self-help book is an excellent resource for individuals keen on exploring or working through the program independently. It includes a section on interpersonal work.
On the other hand, the book on the right, which I co-authored, serves as a clinical handbook for mental health professionals to administer the program to clients. The MICBT website also offers audio instructions for various mindfulness practices, including mindfulness of breath, which you got a taste of today.
While MIC is one of the mindfulness interventions available, you might also want to look into others, like Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), provided by therapists as part of therapy or wellbeing programs. Traditional mindfulness and meditation centres in most cities offer similar training, sometimes in more intense formats like Vipassana's ten-day, ten-hours-per-day program. However, such low forms may only be suitable for some.
It's heartening to observe the increasing enthusiasm for mindfulness, particularly in the workplace. It's beneficial for improving attention and enhances overall wellbeing and interpersonal relationships. It has proven a valuable tool for managers and dealing with difficult work situations.
Thank you very much for lending me your attention. I'd now like to hand it over to Stacy to see if there are any questions that she can field.
Thank you, Alice, for introducing us to the mindfulness of breath technique and the seven crucial assertive statements. We have gathered some questions from our online participants today. The first query is just to clarify if the 'acknowledging errors' part of the seven assertive statements pertains to potential inaccuracies in my thought process or...
That's a great question. In essence, acknowledging errors refers to the possibility that the other person may not share our perspective. For instance, if we express our feelings like, "I feel angry because I think you don't care," we immediately follow that up by acknowledging the other's viewpoint, such as, "You may not feel the same way; you may see it differently." This is our way of expressing interest in their perspective. It doesn't mean we agree with them; it's just an acknowledgment that their viewpoint may differ from ours.
This strategy maintains an open conversation even if the other person feels blamed. Even when we are careful with our language, the listener may still interpret our words as blame. Acknowledging the difference in perspectives, we help draw them back into the conversation. For instance, even a factual statement like, "For the last week, you haven't done any washing up," can be received as blame. We can mitigate this by following up with, "You may not see it that way."
We aim to keep the emotional tone down to avoid "fusion", in which both parties react emotionally. We may still feel a certain way during these discussions, but we must not let our emotions dictate our reactions. Staying calm helps to defuse the situation, reducing the other person's reactivity. The saying "it takes two to tango" is fitting here; controlling our reactions, we help to maintain calm in the conversation.
Rehearsing these conversations beforehand can be beneficial as it allows us to express our thoughts and feelings precisely, leading to more effective communication. I always advise people to start with more minor, less significant issues and gradually build up to bigger ones as they gain more practice. Incorporating mindfulness practice can further help prepare us for difficult conversations. I hope this answers your question, and thank you for asking it.
Thank you, Alice. We have more questions. One of them concerns the practice of the seven assertive statements. Is it advisable to seek a trusted friend to rehearse these statements with before actually implementing them in the situation that necessitates their use?
That's a fantastic question. Practising is indeed beneficial, especially when dealing with significant issues. One helpful strategy is to script the interaction, considering what factual statements you'd make and how you'd articulate the seven assertive words. If you have someone you trust, you could engage in a role-play where you try out the script, even incorporating potential complications. This person could then provide feedback on their perception of your approach. You could even switch roles to get a feel of the interaction from the other person's perspective. This practice could help you anticipate how the actual conversation might unfold.
However, it's crucial to remember that only some situations perfectly align with the seven assertive statements, and things might go differently than planned. If the conversation becomes conflictual, it's possible to shift towards seeking a win-win outcome and suggest postponing the discussion if necessary. It's also important to express gratitude to the other person for their attention and time, even if the conversation becomes challenging.
Role-playing can be particularly useful for people who often experience interpersonal difficulties. In our program, we work with these individuals in session to help them feel more confident handling such situations.
Thank you, Alice; your insights are both fascinating and beneficial. During the scripting exercise, I found it quite helpful to articulate my feelings and thoughts. It compelled me to be more precise with my language. However, in that moment of vulnerability, I felt a bit hesitant. I wonder if there are techniques to overcome this barrier, to muster the courage to initiate such a conversation without succumbing to fear.
Indeed, the first approach to overcoming vulnerability in such emotionally charged situations is to try using these techniques in less emotionally intense scenarios. It allows you to get used to the method so you can take it for granted in situations where you may feel more vulnerable. Additionally, having done some practice will enable you to acknowledge your vulnerability without necessarily having to react to it.
Often, we encounter these feelings of vulnerability when scripting or role-playing, giving us some exposure to these sensations or emotions before actually getting into the actual situation. Hence, we're not taken by surprise in the actual conversation because we have already experienced similar sentiments in the scripting or role-playing phase. When this feeling arises, be prepared to sit with it and not react, as reacting might deviate the conversation down a less helpful path.
In some cases, it might be helpful to include your feeling of vulnerability in the discussion, taking responsibility for it. But remember, don't rush into it. For instance, it's not advisable to plunge immediately into a critical conversation that has been brewing for years. Start with minor situations, build your confidence and practice.
It's also helpful to read more on the topic, particularly chapters on how it integrates with mindfulness. The advanced mindfulness practice includes much work on the body and the ability to observe experiences within the mind and body without becoming perturbed. Keeping vulnerability as an emotion and identifying its manifestation in the body allows us to sit with it, viewing it as a sensation.
However, be gentle and kind to yourself. Remember, the goal is not to harm oneself or others. Pace yourself, get support from others, and then start with gentler scenarios to build your confidence.
Indeed, I'd like to conclude today's webinar by expressing my sincere gratitude. It has been an insightful session, and we hope that the resources we will provide will help you put into practice what you have learned. Until next time, goodbye!