July 14, 2014

A Hot Tip for (More) Mindful Communication.

communication elephant write speak listen

It is a privilege and honour to be an editor here at elephant journal.

Part of why I love my job so much is that I get to spend some of every shift reading through submissions from writers from all backgrounds and from all over the world.

(Seriously—and I’m quoting a dear and fabulous friend here—how can it get any better than this?)

A part of our job is to (sometimes) ask for revisions. And when we’re accepting or (not really) rejecting pieces, one of the things that we often ask writers to change is the use of ‘you’ in their articles.

Here’s why:

Using the word ‘you’ isn’t bad in itself; it can be used in a in a storytelling way, or in a mindful (soft) message kind of way.

But sometimes using ‘you’ represents a certain tone or mode of communication: instead of inviting the reader (listener) into our world—taking them on a journey with us that they will then experience in their own way—we (can sound like we) are telling them what to do.

We can come off as if we are assuming certain things about the other / our audience

This can create a hierarchical tone, a ‘you-me’ or ‘self-other’ (dualistic) split; it can sound prescriptive, as if we are offering ‘expert’ advice.

(We have some knowledgeable experts that we are lucky to have as regular writers, so we give them some more leeway than some others. But I digress.)

Here’s the deal with ‘you’:

Have you ever felt judged when someone has tried to offer you ‘advice’? Have you ever felt like you were being talked down to—as if the other person thinks they know what is best for you?

Since I don’t know you, I can’t answer that. But speaking from experience, I know that I’ve felt this way. And at times—especially those times when we may already be feeling fragile or vulnerable—It can be disempowering.

I’ve also been on the ‘advice-giver’ end a thousand times—likely completely unaware of how patronizing or pretentious I may sound—because, of course, the intent behind it is golden.

But what I’ve come to learn is that, when we are offering advice (no matter how well-intentioned) we can project an assumption that ‘we’ know something that the ‘other’ person doesn’t—and therefore they are somehow below us in knowledge or capacity, aptitude or ability.

When we give advice, teach or offer information, we need to make sure that this is coming from a place of genuine understanding, rather than ego. When we speak from ego, we can end up speaking from a pedestal, rather than being on equal ground.

In contrast, when we aim for a tone of inclusiveness, our messages are communicated in a more compassionate, egalitarian way.

One of the reasons I love our (elephant) community so much is that it is focussed on the sharing of personal experiences, ideas, purpose, actions. Our writers bring so much of themselves to the forefront.

We want to teach, help, encourage others to be mindful in their own lives and in their own ways in order to empower them. Yet it’s important to remember that a part of our mindful mission is mindful communication. This means we don’t tell them what to do or what to think, as if ‘our way’ were the be all and end all. Telling someone something is disempowering; letting them choose is what true empowerment is about.

If ‘our way’ were the be all and end all, there would be no evolving dialogue with which to learn and grow from.

We need to bear in mind that communication is a two-way street: It’s not only what one person is (I am) saying, it’s also about how the person on the other end is listening and interpreting it. In the interest of mindful communication, it’s important to frame things as an offering, a sharing, an invitation.

On the flipside, it is also important to remember how we are listening and interpreting information as we receive it from others.

A mindful exchange continues back and forth at a pace that works. We can’t push our own agendas on anyone else or expect them to communicate in a certain way back to us, either. It’s not mindful to push or pull. Nudge, maybe. Ask. encourage. coach.

But not push.

It is through this space that we establish real Dialogue.

The communication process doesn’t end with us putting words on this page; it continues on the other side, with the reader, and what they are left with. So at elephant as we ask for revisions, we often ask: what is the overall message that you want to leave the reader with? How do you hope that the reader sees or feels differently?

What is the takeaway or call to action?

The point in sharing our stories is that we hope to get through to another in an authentic way. We want to add meaning to the lives of others.

That is why we are here.

We must remember that we can’t make a person do something or feel differently. But when we are (however unintentionally) framing our ideas in such a way that the other person feels looked down upon, they may be less open to receiving said information.

We can’t make another take our bread—all we can do is offer sustenance. We shouldn’t even assume that they are hungry at all, just because they may be skinny or have holes in their clothes. We can’t assume that they want or need something from us—as if we know more or are somehow better than them—because we will have something to learn from them too.

“A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.” ~ Jack London

It’s so wonderful to have an open, honest, safe space to express ourselves, here. And beyond telling our stories, we need to be able to read between the lines, to listen at the next level, too. And to open into the next level is to ask questions, to establish dialogue, to have the two-way communication that is an integral part of personal (spiritual/commmunity) growth.

And this is a huge part of the compassion, grace, peace that many of us here at elephant believe so deeply in.

So here is my question: are we willing to be at this next level of communication together, not just at elephant journal but in small, everyday ways too?

I know I am…and I believe that you do too.


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 Editor: Renée Picard

Image: Jacob Botter at Flickr


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