An Instruction Manual for Clear Communication
The most well known Buddhist teachers on the planet all have something in common: they are excellent communicators. This is not by accident, as the Buddha taught what are called the four elements of right speech over 2,600 years ago.
In this one-of-a-kind book, certified meditation and mindfulness instructor Cynthia Kane has taken the four elements of right speech and developed them into a modern practice based on mindful listening, mindful speech, and mindful silence.
Beginning with an illuminating self-test to assess your current communication style, this book will take you through the author's own five-step practice that is designed to help you:
- Listen to yourself (your internal and external words)
- Listen to others
- Speak consciously, concisely, and clearly
- Regard silence as a part of speech
- Meditate to enhance your communication skills
If you have ever felt misheard, have trouble stating how you feel, or long to have more meaningful and genuine conversations, this book can help. The simple steps outlined in this book will have a huge effect on how you communicate with others and yourself.
Communication is essential to being human, and when you become better at it, your personal truth becomes clearer, your relationships improve, and the result is that you experience more peace and harmony in your life.
Fans of Thich Nhat Hanh will appreciate the simple, clear instructions for how to transform everyday communication into “right speech.”
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How to Communicate Like a Buddhist
By Cynthia Kane
Hierophant PublishingCopyright © 2016 Cynthia Kane
All rights reserved.
What's Your Communication Style?
Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.
To move beyond your routine patterns and begin to communicate differently, you first have to identify what kind of communicator you are. Like many spiritual traditions, Buddhism advocates meeting yourself where you are, realistically assessing your strengths and weaknesses, and plotting where you want to go. It's important to know what your communication style is right now so you can see how it evolves over the course of the coming weeks and months. The following quiz will help define your communication style and also identify how this book can help you on your journey to healthy communication.
A few words of advice to start: it's possible that you may take this quiz and discover that you are already a proficient communicator; even if this is so, try to enter with a curious mind, as there is bound to be something new to you in these pages. Don't rush through the quiz. Take your time and contemplate to what extent each question may apply to you. This is an opportunity to be open and honest with yourself about your past communications. Finally, record your answers in the margin or in your journal, as you'll be tallying your responses at the end of the quiz. Please answer each item with the following: Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Often, or Always.
1. If you feel attacked or criticized, do you criticize back?
2. Do you think you know what others are thinking?
3. Do you roll your eyes or make other physical gestures to demonstrate that you don't agree with something?
4. Do you compare yourself to others?
5. When someone shares a problem with you, do you immediately offer ways to solve it, or give advice?
6. Do you feel responsible for other people's feelings?
7. Do you say yes when you want to say no?
8. Do you take what others say personally?
9. Do you lie?
10. Do you exaggerate?
11. Do you gossip or talk badly about people behind their backs?
12. Do you talk down to people?
13. Do you pretend everything is fine when it's not?
14. Do find yourself interrupting others when they're speaking?
15. Do you make fun of others?
16. Do you use words to exert your dominance or superiority over others?
17. Do you approach conversations with a sense of right or wrong?
18. Do you expect to get what you want by controlling situations?
19. When you're listening to others, does your mind wander?
20. Do you find it difficult to express your feelings and needs?
Add up your answers: Always = 1 point; Often = 2 points; Sometimes = 3 points; Rarely = 4 points: Never = 5 points.
Score 78 and Up: Clear Communicator
You understand that clear communication requires empathy and understanding. You're aware of the give-and-take within a conversation and how to handle criticism without taking it personally. You believe that for there to be good communication you must be honest, use helpful language, and not gossip about others. You're aware of the value of your words, and at the same time you understand that everyone you talk to is an equal; they want the same as you: to be heard, seen, understood, and acknowledged.
Use this book to refine and perfect your communication skills. Practice applying the techniques to your day-to-day life, and in so doing nurture and support your communication style while helping others become better communicators as well.
Score 63–77: Partly Cloudy Communicator
While you're on the right path, there are still some blockages that get in your way, making it feel like you sometimes can take two steps forward and two steps back. Your drive and passion is there to learn to overcome what's holding you back, but it's time to step up the practice. The more you turn paying attention to your speech into a habit, the more you will be able to express how you feel, ask for what you want, listen to others, and respond to situations instead of react to them.
This book is going to help you with all of the above. What I've found is that those who self-test at this level benefit immensely from the first section, where you will learn how to release old stories of lack you've been telling yourself and instead see yourself with kind eyes. Many in this category also benefit from the section on listening to others, as how you interpret information can shift when you implement this practice. Finally, learning how to consciously choose your words and express yourself with clarity will take your communication skills to the next level.
Score 62 and Under: Cloudy Communicator
This was where I started: often closing off instead of sharing how I truly felt, reactive rather than responsive to the words of others, and passive-aggressive instead of assertive and clear. I would judge others and compare my insides to their outsides, which always resulted in a tirade of negative self-talk. While this was a hard place to start from, it also meant that I had the most to gain by changing my communication habits. The fact that you have picked up this book means that you too are ready to make a change. You want to learn how to communicate so that it feels good to you, so that you interact with others in a way that leaves you feeling satisfied and calm. Finally, you want to learn how to articulate yourself, knowing that you are capable of meeting your own needs.
This book is going to challenge you, maybe take you outside of your comfort zone. All I ask is that you are gentle with yourself throughout the process. This is a practice, which means you can take it slow and develop these new habits over time. I encourage you to do all the exercises and really make room for these steps in your life. It isn't easy to let yourself be uncomfortable, but I promise the discomfort will lead you to a new view of yourself and your ability to communicate.
No matter where you fall in the above breakdown, one of the basic tenets of Buddhism teaches that you're exactly where you're supposed to be. When I first got clear on my own communication style, I felt depressed and confused. I remember sitting on my couch thinking, Geez, what do I do now? I'd been interacting the same way for thirty-plus years, and it suddenly seemed like everything I'd been saying and doing or not saying and doing was what had been holding me back. That realization was all well and good, but where in the world was I to begin interacting with others and myself differently? How was that going to happen?
Serendipitously, I received what I thought at the time was a rather random e-mail from a friend about a writing and meditation workshop at the Shambhala Meditation Center of New York. For some reason I was moved to sign up, and it was there that I discovered the four elements of right speech. When I heard them listed and explained I knew I'd found a guide for communication that I could use. It became a way to easily see what I needed to get rid of, to keep, or to add to my communication routine.
Every interaction we have can be seen through the lens of these four elements. In the next section I'll explain what they are and go through each of them in detail.
The Four Elements of Right Speech
In March 2011, I sat on the floor of my apartment in New York City, fumbling for my tissues. My best friend had passed away unexpectedly. He was kayaking and got caught in a swell on a river in Costa Rica. For months all I could do was lay or sit on my floor, cry, and blow out the pain into tissues or (most of the time) toilet paper. There I was, on my floor, when I read about what in Mahayana Buddhism is known as a bodhisattva: essentially an enlightened person who's dedicated to alleviating others' suffering.
I put the book to the side, lay on my back, and looked up to the ceiling. Where was my bodhisattva? Where was the person who could help alleviate my suffering? I thought on this for a while, as most of my life I'd hoped for someone to come along and make me feel better or somehow make me feel worthy and deserving, good. And even though I'd put the responsibility in others' laps all my life and had never found anything but disappointment, here I was doing it yet again. I sat up.
Maybe I didn't need to find an enlightened being, but rather learn what made someone enlightened. If I could understand the way of the bodhisattva, maybe I could incorporate some of their qualities into my own life to take away my suffering. So I read. And I read some more. And soon I formed an image in my mind, a kind of mental map of what a bodhisattva embodied. I jotted down words, actions — all the things I associated with a bodhisattva.
There are many definitions of a bodhisattva that are more detailed than mine, but what I concluded was that a bodhisattva sees clearly, speaks honestly, understands pain and suffering, practices compassion, sees everyone as equals, and, most importantly, wants to help others. It is a way of being that aims to eliminate suffering, and I saw how mindfulness and right speech are primary practices used to help reach this goal.
Mindfulness means paying attention to what we're doing while we're doing it — without judgment. In Buddhism, there is what's known as mindful speech. Mindful speech is the practice of bringing our attention to our words. It means we are aware of what we're saying while we're saying it. It is a practice of observation and not evaluation. It is paying attention on purpose, with a moment-to-moment awareness. We'll start applying mindfulness practices when we get into the five steps to change how we communicate.
While various teachers and schools of Buddhism translate the four elements of right speech in slightly different ways, there is one thing they all agree on: right speech is a guideline for communicating in a loving, compassionate, and authentic way. I teach the elements of right speech as the following:
Tell the truth.
Use helpful language.
I'll explain all of these in greater detail in a moment.
Another tool we will utilize are three questions, and they act like a litmus test as to whether or not our words are following the principle of right speech. When in doubt about any statement, if you can answer yes to all of the following questions then it's likely your words are consistent with the principles of right speech:
Is what I am about to say true?
Is what I am about to say kind?
Is what I am about to say helpful?
We'll come back to these four principles and the above three questions again and again, as they act as filters from which all our speaking and listening pour through. If we can incorporate these principles into our day-to-day interactions, we not only learn how to speak and listen in a way that helps others and ourselves suffer less, but we also have a checklist to make sure we're clearly communicating.
Tell the Truth
If I asked you if you are reading a book right now, you would say yes. If I asked you what color your shirt is, you'd likely tell me exactly what I see. These are easy truths to express. But what about the harder truths, like when a friend asks if you like her partner and you say yes when you really want to say no? Or your boss asks if you want to take on another project and you really don't but you do it anyway? How do we state those truths?
Let's face it. A lot of the time we don't tell the truth. In a word, we lie. Sometimes we lie because we don't want to offend anybody, or come off as needy, mean, demanding, or even confrontational. Other times we lie because we are afraid of what people will think of us if we tell the truth, or that if we tell the truth then we won't get something we want, or we will lose something we already have, whether that be a material possession or an image we have created and are trying to maintain. If we look at the majority of our lies, the root behind them is desire and fear.
Perhaps we tell ourselves that the issue we're lying about isn't that important. Plus, it can be scary to reveal how we truly feel without knowing what others' reactions may be. On the other hand, maybe we've tried to be honest many times but nobody's getting it, and so we choose to tell people what they want to hear instead of the truth. But by burying the truth of how we feel, what we're really doing is being dishonest with ourselves. If we hide the truth one time, and then another, and so on, it compounds over time to create a life of dissatisfaction and resentment.
I understand that sometimes telling the truth is hard — especially when our goal is to protect someone's feelings. That begs the question, is there a way we can be truthful and also mindful of how our words will likely be interpreted? Are white lies acceptable when our aim is to serve the greater good? Questions like these are difficult to answer, and my experience is that very few people are able to give up speaking untruths altogether. But if we can become mindful of when, where, and most importantly why we lie, we have taken the first step toward eliminating or at least minimizing them from our communications.
Personally, I have a habit of lying to others about my own wants and needs, especially when it comes to intimate relationships. I like to pretend everything is hunky dory when it really isn't. Why? Because I want to avoid conflict; I want to be able to go with the flow. But here's what happens when I do that: I don't honor my own truth. I keep myself in the same position of lack. I suffer, and in turn so does my partner. Let's look at a quick example.
We will talk more about this graphic in a later section on the language of silence and passive-aggressive behavior. But for now, just notice it as a little example of not being truthful.
When we say what we mean, we signal to ourselves that we believe our truth; that we are capable of taking care of our own needs; that we are ultimately responsible for turning our desires into action. By being clear about our needs, we accept the reality of how we feel and can choose to alleviate our own suffering. If we choose to ignore or hide the truth, this almost inevitably leads to us acting in ways that promote hurtful interactions. The times when it's difficult to be honest are generally the moments when honesty is needed most — to help clear tension, to release our feelings, to gain acceptance of ourselves and others, and to liberate us from resentment and shame.
Depending on the situation, being honest can be uncomfortable, so we get comfortable with it by learning how to tell the truth in an effective way. If we aren't careful, saying what we mean can come across as hurtful, attacking, criticizing, or judging. This is not effective communication. But if we focus on our own needs and not the actions that provoke them, we make it easier for the person we're speaking with to hear us. If we come from a place of observation without judgment it's likely the person we're with will feel safe enough to respond instead of getting defensive, shutting down, or even running for the hills. We will look at effective ways to do this throughout the book.
The next three rules come out of the first rule.
Before I learned the second rule, don't exaggerate, many things in my life were a big deal. I'd take one critical remark and interpret it to mean that I was the worst person in the world. Or, in the other direction, I would take a positive remark and think I was better or knew more than those I was working with. When I'd want to sound important, I'd talk about how much I had going on and how there was no way I could go out for dinner because I was way too busy. And when I was in catastrophe mode, I would typically collapse on my couch with boxes of Chinese food, wallowing in negative self-talk and thinking the worst-case scenarios in all areas of my life.
The second element of right speech is related to the first, as anytime we are exaggerating, we aren't telling the truth or seeing the situation for what it is — we're lying to others and ourselves. When we fall into a habit of exaggerating, we often alternate between either being horrible people or perfect saints; we never see others and ourselves as equals.
This second rule of right speech can be related to another Buddhist principle: equanimity. Equanimity, or the art of staying balanced, is one of four principal virtues that the Buddha encouraged his disciples to cultivate. These virtues are referred to as the four immeasurables. The others are metta (loving-kindness), compassion, and sympathetic joy. Any time we exaggerate, we are by definition out of balance.
When it comes to exaggeration, many people can spot the obvious examples, such as when someone exaggerates to seem more "important" (Buddhism is clear that no one is more important than anyone else), or wealthier than he or she actually is. But it's the more subtle examples of exaggeration that many of us miss, likely because we don't see them as exaggerations. Take a look at the following statements:
"This is the worst day of my life."
"You always do that to me."
"This is taking forever."
"I will never get out of here."
"I can't believe you would do/say that."
"This place has the worst service on the planet."
"He/she is always late."
"That was a complete waste of my time."
"Someone like him/her would never be interested in someone like me."
Excerpted from How to Communicate Like a Buddhist by Cynthia Kane. Copyright © 2016 Cynthia Kane. Excerpted by permission of Hierophant Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
What's Your Communication Style?,
Step 1: Listen to Yourself,
Step 2: Listen to Others,
Step 3: Speak Consciously, Concisely, and Clearly,
Step 4: Use the Language of Silence,
Step 5: Meditation,
Thought Process of Communicating Like a Buddhist,