Practicing Mindful Communication

In my last post, I wrote at (too) great length about setting and keeping your intentions by committing to yourself. To continue our theme of Mindfulness, we need to talk about how it factors into our relationships. I warn you now, you’re not going to enjoy this:

We’re all a bunch of flakes.

There. I said it, and once you get past your initial “not me” you’ll realize that you have/ had flakey tendencies. Some common scenarios:

  • Committing to things and not following through.
  • Agreeing to plans on the spot without considering the timing.
  • Telling someone we’d like to catch up, even if we aren’t actually interested.
  • Promising each other that the next time we do (mutual interest activity) we’ll call each other.

Very often, we’ll forgive each other the next time we talk. Then, we form a trade system in our heads where that last broken commitment justifies the next one. Before you know it, it’s been months since you’ve seen your friend and it’s starting to get awkward to initiate the “let’s hang out” conversation.

You owe yourself a solid reputation.

I’ve worked really hard to be mindful of what I say to people and while I am not perfect, I know that I’ve come a really long way. You may recall from this blog post that I’m a recovering over-planner, and that I’ve spent a lot of time examining my schedule to understand what a realistic commitment is. In last week’s newsletter, I shared some of my favorite scheduling tools to help keep track, but the most important thing is to log all of your commitments in a single place. Whether that means purchasing a planner small enough to carry daily or setting an alert to check your calendar every morning, a quick (and complete) overview is critical to a foundation of mindful communication.

Centralize your commitments.

Part of the problem is that we have so many lines of communication open at all times. You may get a “miss you let’s get together” snap, quickly followed by a Facebook invitation from someone else (yes, people are still active on FB), and then a text message from your mom inviting you to dinner.

For me, messages “live” wherever I receive them. Once I close out the app, I forget about it until the next time I open it. Am I alone in this? (I suspect not 😉) To get around my own forgetfulness, I take the communication to the “next level” by suggesting a phone call or starting a text message to work out details for when and where. Once you’ve made that contact and established details, put it in your calendar.

For example, formal invitations go into my calendar immediately if the date is free and I know I want to attend. Once I’m certain that I’ll make it, I tell the host or send in my RSVP. Your schedule belongs to you, and part of communicating well with others is being aware of your own commitments and limitations. Don’t feel obligated to say yes on the spot if someone invites you in person. Being face to face with someone who is excited to spend time with you is equal parts wonderful and awkward. Many of us don’t want to disappoint, but we don’t want to commit either. Instead of the immediate yes or the very awkward “maybe” (which almost always means no) be honest. Try saying something like:

  • “Thank you! Let me check my schedule and get back to you by tonight/this weekend.”
  • “I may have conflicting plans, can I get back to you later today?”
  • “No thanks, I can’t that day, but are you free [insert real date here]”

Don’t agree to anything without checking your central calendar first. This doesn’t make you rude, it makes you genuine. And of course, don’t forget to actually check your calendar and get back to them later!

Lead with honesty when you volunteer.

One of the best (and most overlooked) gifts is your time. Offering your skills or knowledge is a wonderful gesture, if you follow through. I know this is something I struggle with, because my first instinct is almost always to offer my help.

Jumping in is a great way to learn new skills, but it only works if you’re interested and invested.

When I was younger, I’d even offer help for things I didn’t know how to do! This got stressful and time consuming. Not only are you spending time helping with the task, you’re likely spending some extra time researching and testing how-tos.

Give mindful responses when someone needs your time.

When presented with an opportunity to help (whether you were asked directly or not), a mindful response is key. There are three components to a mindful response:

  • Honesty
  • Clarity
  • Genuine Curiosity

The goal is to provide a response that is true and achievable, and the best place to start is to ask for more detail and be open about your limitations. For example:

  • If you want to help, but don’t know what you can do, ask how you can contribute.
  • If the task falls out of your skill set, but you’re still interested, ask if the person is willing to teach you (and if there’s time for that.)
  • If you can’t commit to the timing, offer a specific date and time window that works for you.
  • If you’re not interested or unavailable, politely decline. Bonus points if you can connect them to someone else who could help!

Even if the person seems upset that you can’t help, they will get over it (I promise.) We can’t allow ourselves to be driven by guilt. Committing your time to spare someone’s feelings is a shortcut to resent. Speaking from experience, when outside projects take an unexpected turn or go longer than anticipated, it gets harder to remind myself that I agreed to this. There are so many stressful, awkward conversations that I could have avoided had I simply said “Thanks for thinking of me, but I can’t take this on right now.”

Always follow through, especially if it’s late.

On top of being flakes, we also have a hard time admitting fault. Get ahead of the urge to be evasive by being upfront. This is another thing I’ve struggled with and continue to work on. I’ve played the “oh crap I forgot, maybe they forgot, too” game, and it never ends well. You end up carrying around a nagging feeling until you work up the courage to admit that you haven’t done the thing, or (worse), until they find another way and let you off the hook.

This is where a mindful response is most valuable. Ask questions up front, find out what resources are available, and consider the impact to your schedule. If I’m asked for a personal favor, my default response is now “when would you need this.” If they don’t have a specific timeline, I lead with honesty and a polite disclaimer that it may take me a long time to complete.

For example, I’ve done countless graphic design projects for my family (from new business logos to save-the-dates), and I’ve learned the hard way how long these “little” things can take. Now, while I’m happy to still support my amazing group of entrepreneurial cousins, they know to approach me with a generous timeline.

TL;DR – How to be a mindful communicator (i.e. The Best)

Disappointment and frustration are a direct result of the difference between expectation and reality.

Being the best doesn’t mean doing everything for everyone – it means setting and meeting realistic expectations. That quote we’ve seen about excellence being rooted in consistency is true – we become known for what we consistently do. We often worry that if we mess up once, our entire reputation is a stake, but I believe the opposite: Going above and beyond for your family, friend, or employer one time won’t matter if you’ve established a track record of false expectation.

The next time you’re asked for something or invited somewhere, follow these steps:

  • Be honest – with yourself and with others. If you don’t want to do something, don’t.
  • Be considerate – flaking is much worse than saying ‘no’ outright.
  • Be organized – find your favorite way to keep track of your time and stick to it.
  • Be committed – see it through.

Talk to me!

  • How do you manage your commitments?
  • Do you find yourself saying yes or no first?

Header Photo by Alejandro Escamilla on Unsplash