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Compassionate Communication; How Do we Practice?

I believe that compassion is the pillar for effective communication, and is essential in growing your emotional intelligence. Compassion arises from tender acceptance centered in non-judgment and can also be thought of as an empathetic, conscious effort to relieve the suffering of another.

One of they keys to practicing compassionate communication is to recognize the emotions of others and to see ourselves in another. This is the power of a special type of cells we have in our brain that neuroscientists call "mirror neurons."

Mirror neurons allow us to experience one another in our minds. Mirror networks in our brains are at play in our emotional understanding and in communicating with others. They fire when we see another in pain. They are essential to our experience of empathy. These networks help builds our social connection. Through our brain networks of mirror neurons, we see one another, ourselves, reflected in each other’s smiles, frowns, eye rollings--in all that we do, we mirror one another.

In my work, I have identified five principles for compassionate communication that can help you bring those mirror neurons in your brain online. They are:

1. Practice Mindful Listening: Oh boy, this is a challenge for all of us! Much of the time as someone else is talking we are preparing what we are going to say. Listen, and don’t plan what you will say. When you listen fully, you may be joyfully surprised how much more "in sync" you really are with others.

2. Open Your Mind: Be open to “try on” new concepts and ideas. Embrace an openness to thoughts and experiences that may challenge your usual way of doing things. Expanding out of your habits can really expand your thinking and boost your empathetic brainpower!

3. Practice Focusing on Yourself: This doesn't mean to be selfish... recognize that your experience of the world is personal to you, while others may have different experiences, thoughts, feelings, background, or perspective. When you speak, acknowledge that you are speaking only from your perspective, experiences and behaviors. Importantly, do not speak for others or make assumptions about others' experiences. Try leading with phrases like: "I feel..." or, "In my experience..." By acknowledging your perspectives as personal to yourself, you make room for others to speak and encourage connection. You might even learn something!

4. Patience: Have patience when others respond, and let them ponder the why. Allow someone to respond within their own time frame. Being patient is crucial. No two brains are alike, and processing speed of emotional information is unique to every person.

5. 24-Hour Rule: If I am experiencing a challenge with someone and it seems we are at an impasse, I practice the 24 hour rule. I give myself a good night's sleep to allow time and space to offer me clarity. Next time you and someone may hit a roadblock give yourself and them 24 hours. Then, come back and see if you can find ways to find peace or at least some common ground. Finally, recognize that sometimes you still may not see eye to eye -- and that’s okay! You can experience differences peacefully with space and time.

I hope that these principles and practices of compassionate communication will be of benefit to you and your loved ones.

Our task must be to free ourselves... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.”

― Albert Einstein


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