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6 Steps to communicating with more compassion

Lindy has been leading a research project for her doctoral studies in partnership with Leadership Victoria that seeks to understand how compassion and courage support a leader to become more effective. Whilst it is too early to reveal any research findings, we want to share with you things we are learning along the way that have application for all of us – whether we see ourselves as leaders or not. So here goes…..

When you use compassionate communication in your conversations, something quite surprising occurs: both your brain and the brain of the person you’re talking to begin to align themselves with each other. This special bond is a phenomenon referred to as ‘neural resonance’, and in this enhanced state of mutual attunement, two people can accomplish remarkable things together. Why? Because it eliminates the natural defensiveness that normally exists when people casually converse.

Here are 6 areas to work on to become a more compassionate communicator.

Step 1: Stay Present

When you focus completely on something as simple as your breathing, you can more easily tune in to the subtle things that are immediately happening around you. When you bring this ‘present-ness’ into a conversation, you will hear more clearly the nuances in the speaker’s voice and this gives greater emotional meaning to their words.


Step 2: Cultivate Mindfulness

With practice you can allow your inner thoughts to come and go without pulling you from the present moment. The more consciously you practice being mindful of the present, as a daily exercise, the more you will be able to manage your brain’s spontaneous cascade (you know, those annoying voices/thoughts that cycle, that distract us from the here and now!). Mindfulness helps us give our full attention to what other people say.


Step 3: Access a Pleasant Memory

It’s best to enter a conversation with an inviting expression that conveys kindness, compassion, and interest. You can’t fake this, but you can cue yourself in by tapping into a pleasant memory, one that involves people you love or respect. This memory will actually soften the muscles around your eyes and evoke a gentle half smile on your face. Although it might sound a little weird, this facial expression stimulates a feeling of trust in the other person’s brain, and releases pleasure chemicals throughout your own body and brain, making for more compassionate communication.


Step 4: Observe Nonverbal Cues

It’s essential to keep your eyes on the individual you are speaking with to detect the nonverbal messages that are being exchanged between you. I am continually amazed when I facilitate groups how often team members neglect this simple yet critical skill of communication. Maintaining good eye contact, however, does not mean that you should gaze unceasingly at the other person, that could feel creepy! Eye contact is important however, as it stimulates the social-network circuits in your brain. It decreases the stress chemical cortisol, and it increases oxytocin, a neurochemical that enhances empathy, social cooperation, and positive communication.


Step 5: Speak Briefly

Our conscious minds can only retain a tiny bit of information, and for thirty seconds or less. Then it’s booted out of working memory as a new set of information is uploaded. Speak in a few sentences and then pause and take a small deep breath, to relax. If the other person remains silent, say another sentence or two, and then pause again. This allows the other person to join in whenever they feel the need to respond or to ask for clarification. If you must speak for a longer period of time, forewarn the listener. This will encourage them to pay closer attention to you and to ignore their own intrusive inner speech.


Step 6: Listen Deeply

To listen deeply and fully, you must train your mind to stay focused on the person who is speaking: their words, tone, gestures, facial cues–everything. It’s a great gift to give to someone, since to be fully listened to and understood by others is the most commonly cited deep relationship or communication value. When the other person pauses, you’ll need to respond specifically to what they just said. If you shift the conversation to what you were previously saying, or to a different topic, it will interrupt the neurological ‘coherence’ between the two of you, and the flow of your dialogue will be broken.


Adapted from Fast Company online article by Andrew Newberg, M.D.