Practicing Mindfulness & Empathy

New Year’s resolutions are a time honored tradition; the new year signals a new start for many of us.  One of my annual  vows is to take steps to be a better communicator, with others and with myself.  One method I employ to communicate with myself is practicing mindfulness. The editors at Psychology Today define mindfulness as ” a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”  Practicing mindfulness helps me to be a better construction manager.

The ability to observe without judgment gives me a clearer perspective on my thoughts and feelings, as well as the thoughts and feelings of the people on my team.  Communicating with others involves two parts, speaking and listening.  Through observation I can listen to what others are saying with their body language, which experts estimate expresses 65% of our communication.   A team member’s facial expression, hand gestures, posture , eye gaze and even their hair style offer many clues as to how they are feeling.  When I listen with my ears as well as my eyes I am what Marshall Rosenberg refers to as empathetically listening.   Rosenberg believed that if we can guess what others are feeling we can in turn guess at what they may be needing. A simple example is I observe a carpenter throwing a tool into his tool bucket accompanied by vocalizing a few colorful adjectives: I can guess he is frustrated because he is needing  some understanding.   I like to think that empathy is more than understanding, it is acting compassionately with that understanding in mind.   In other words rather than responding to the carpenters frustration and calling him out for throwing his tools or asking him why he is frustrated I instead can chose to say, “It looks like you are frustrated , is there something I can do to help you with what you’re working on?” By acting compassionately I form a connection with my team member rather than possibly pushing him away.  If I connect I have a chance of helping him meet his needs and at the same time have opened up a path to get my needs met as well.  In this case I have a need for safety and harmony, needs which are not getting met by the carpenter’s actions.   With a connection established I can make a request, “I have a need for safety and harmony on the job, I understand you are frustrated , but would you be willing to place your tools back in the bucket and express your frustration out of earshot of the client and other workers?”

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What I have described is a communication model called NVC, or compassionate communication. The model consist of two parts; Honest expression and empathetic listening through the 4 steps of listening, identifying feelings, identifying needs, and making requests. Any day is a great day to make a resolution to be a better communicator. When I  practice mindfulness every day is a new start for me. For more information on learning and practicing compassionate communications  visit my website or read the first chapter of Dr. Rosenberg’s  book at  Enjoy the new year. I wish everyone peaceful and productive communication with themselves and others.