In the book, Words Can Change Your Brain: 12 Conversation Strategies to Build Trust, Resolve Conflict, and Increase Intimacy, authors Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Waldman offer 12 steps to implement Compassionate Communication – a strategy that will change how you speak, listen, and collaborate with others.
Table of contents
What is Compassionate Communication
Through their research, the authors started to see a pattern emerge. Using brain scans, data from MBA students, couples in therapy, and caregivers, they discovered how what they coined Compassionate Communication could drastically change the conclusion of any difficult conversation. Essentially, it’s a strategy they lay out in 12 steps that equips you to have effective discussions and rich connections with others.
Training Your Mind
The authors explain the first steps like training for a marathon. You don’t sign up and count down the days until the race without training, hoping for the best. You prepare yourself physically. Communication is the same way, except you train your mind. The first three steps are foundational in that aspect.
The first step of Compassionate Communication is calming your mind. We’ve all had moments when we snap at an innocent person while stressed, so we know how our mood can influence our communication. We cut back on the risk of derailing conversations while in a bad mood by calming our minds.
Relaxation is key. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to take something like a 60-minute massage to calm your mind. Even 60-seconds of breathing exercises before having conversations can activate areas of the brain that control mood, social awareness, and communication.
Presence and Inner Silence
Learning to be present and cultivating inner silence are the next steps in the authors’ communication strategy. On top of being relaxing, breathing can also help bring you back to the present moment. Distractedness can negatively impact conversations, but presence can increase your attentiveness to their words and emotions.
But staying present is a challenge. Everyone’s experienced a racing mind, with one thought coming right after the other. When your internal chatter is too noisy, it can easily take away your ability to focus on what the other person is trying to say.
Cultivating inner silence is a powerful way to be intentional in your communication. The authors recommend ringing a bell that resounds for 15 to 30 seconds and focusing on the sound until it completely fades. Once it fades, concentrate on the silence. It’s an exercise that helps you practice attentiveness and tame your inner speech.
The Power of Positive Thinking
The way you think makes a huge difference. That’s why the fourth step in Newberg and Waldman’s strategy is increasing positivity.
Every time you think and say a negative thought, your brain and the brain of anyone who hears you release stress hormones. Those hormones cause anxiety and irritability and negatively impact your ability to work with and trust the people around you.
Positive thinking improves your relationships and communication with others and improves your long-term brain health, too. It’s a win-win situation.
Identify Your Inner Values
There’s definitely a pattern of self-awareness in what the authors offer as strategies for meaningful and effective conversations. The fifth step is no exception – reflecting on your inner values. Your inner values are the map that guides how you communicate, and when you share them with the other person, it’s how you stay connected.
Research from a 2005 study out of the University of California, Los Angeles, revealed that thinking about inner values can make people less susceptible to stress. It’s another example of how doing the inner work improves your health and enriches your relationships.
Facial Expressions and Body Language Speak Volumes
Step six involves thinking of a happy memory. Our facial expressions are just as important as the words we use. Typically, we’re not even conscious of our facial expressions, so we can unintentionally be sending messages through our expressions that set people on edge. That’s why the authors recommend thinking of a happy memory to generate an inviting expression. As a plus, it also makes you more empathetic and open to honest communication.
Step seven is being aware of your body language. Similar to facial expressions sending the wrong message, your body language can unintentionally tell others you’re closed off or uninviting. It’s essential to be aware of what you’re saying when not verbally speaking.
The Tone of Effective Communication
The eighth and ninth steps of the Compassionate Communication strategy are: to express appreciation and use a warm tone. Expressing genuine appreciation by ending and beginning conversations with compliments makes people more receptive to what you have to say, making it a positive interaction.
A warm tone is effective in the same way. No one responds well to harsh or argumentative attitudes. You set others at ease when you speak in warm tones, keeping the conversation open and friendly.
Speak Slowly, Speak Briefly, Listen Deeply
The final three steps are speaking slowly, speaking briefly, and listening deeply.
Speaking slowly has a comforting effect and helps with understanding. Fast speaking can often make others feel anxious, afraid, or miss our meaning entirely.
Speaking briefly is a technique often used by public speakers, actors, and even teachers. It helps retain the listener’s attention and helps them better understand what you’re trying to communicate. The rule of thumb is not to speak for more than 30 seconds without pausing.
Listening deeply involves practicing some of those earlier steps we talked about. When you have a calm mind, are present, and are not distracted by inner chatter, you can truly hear what someone is saying and thoughtfully engage with them.
The key takeaways from this title are that it’s possible to learn how to communicate thoughtfully by combining skills and techniques like mindfulness, self-awareness, and intentional choice of words and expressions.