Facilitator The Development Company Limited
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Mindfulness for trainers: mindful speech

In part eleven of this content series on how to become a mindful trainer, Kay Buckby, facilitator at The Development Company, explains why approaching other people’s problems requires the skill of mindful speaking.

4th Nov 2019
Facilitator The Development Company Limited
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I was having a coffee with a fellow facilitator recently, who told me a story of a verbal battering she had received from a delegate. I often find coffee and chats turn into supervision sessions, and she suddenly changed as she said, “oh, something awful happened to me in a session recently”.

Her body, tone and facial expression all changed in an instant. I felt my stomach tense as she said it, and softened my breathing as I rested back to hear her story.

The situation she told me about was one I could relate to, and I noticed how my own body and mind contracted as she told her story.

Sometimes there’s an urge to fill silence, when actually silence is what is needed.

She had used a management styles type indicator as part of a supervisory skills workshop. No one shared their ‘results’ to the group, and the objective of the session was to explore how different management approaches may affect the individual, task, and team.

The facilitator (I’ll call her Jane) explained what an extreme version of each style might behave like. The delegate, instead of hearing ‘what the 100% type may behave like’ instead heard it as ‘you are like this’ – with a subtitle of ‘you are rubbish’.

During a tea break, in front of everyone in the room, the delegate asked Jane to go with her into a vacant office to talk, whereby Jane was confronted with a verbally violent tirade of abuse. Words such as “you had no right…” and “you violated my human rights there…”. She said, ”I will be complaining about this..” and a lot of emotion was hurled Jane’s way.

As Jane talked through her story, her face contorted, she leaned forward, her jaw tensed, and she stuttered. Our bodies are the blueprints of our lives, and how we soften or tighten can be habitual responses to how our body manages uncomfortable situations.

Being mindful of my own body’s response, I breathed into my discomfort, and was aware of the strong desire to share my own story with her, or attempt empathy by saying something like ‘gosh I relate to this…let me tell you a story of my pain’.

I was also tempted to offer some offer some advice ‘…and what I did to get over it was…’. The discomfort came from past memories, emotions and sensations that had been triggered by similar situations that Jane was telling me about.

A moment of intimacy

Mindful speech is very difficult to practise, as we often lose our self in emotion, ego and our own mind chatter. We blurt stuff out, say harsh words, give advice, or discount the person’s right to tell their story in their own way (‘I know exactly what you’re going to say here…’).

Through breathing into my own discomfort, I found my mind started to relax, and as I shared her suffering more fully, I was able to let go of the temptation to respond with stuff about my suffering. If I am returning to my own suffering, I will share suffering. How will me sharing my past suffering help Jane?

At one point, Jane said, “she’s obviously a complete screw up. What a nightmare to have to work with”. Her hurt was spilling over. I maintained my breathing, and was aware of the tendency to speak – choosing instead to embrace her suffering, and be mindful of any thoughts, emotions, and sensations that were rising in me.

Suddenly, she said, “I am so grateful for you listening to me like this. I must sound so silly. I can’t imagine why I’ve let her get to me like this. What do you think?”

I paused, and smiled as I continued to breathe. I said what emerged. “It sounds like there was a lot going on for you”. She then thanked me for being there for her.

It was a moment of pure intimacy as I resisted speaking, and instead joined her in her suffering.

Silence is needed

Sometimes there’s an urge to fill silence, when actually silence is what is needed. It took effort to breathe into my body, and relax my body’s urge to tense. I found it powerful to watch my emotional desire to ‘make it better’ for Jane with advice, diminish and soften as I listened to her pain, and didn’t add to it with my story.

When we resist the urge to speak, it can be powerful. Digesting what people say, before responding, is key.

As I softened, I saw Jane’s body soften, and as we sat sharing her suffering in a caring silence, she visibly softened. After what seemed a long time, but was probably no more than a minute, she seemed to relax back into her chair and talked in a less emotional, softer tone. Suddenly the kind, compassionate and caring person had returned – the storm had passed, and I was glad that I had sailed alongside her.

Words create worlds

I studied psychology, and discourse analysis is the theory that our words are action. Our words create our world, and so being spiteful to another human being is the world we are creating.

  • Judging another person for their actions is merely an opportunity to take on the action you are judging for yourself.
  • Offering advice when it is not requested is unmindful speech.
  • Blurting things out, like ‘you look awful’ when someone has just returned to work after being poorly, is unhelpful, and unmindful speech.

The waiting game

When we resist the urge to speak, it can be powerful. Digesting what people say, before responding, is key.

I saw this on social media the other day, and it resonated: W.A.I.T (Why. Am. I. Talking?)

Mindful speech is worth working on.

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