How to Practice Mindful Communication (15 Exercises)
Ever found yourself nodding along to a conversation like these dashboard dolls you can put in your car, only to realize you’ve no idea what your conversation partner has just said?
Or perhaps you’ve been the talker, passionately explaining your favorite hobby, only to see glazed eyes staring back at you like a Windows bluescreen?
We’ve all been there, and it’s kind of awkward.
Mindful communication is like having a secret superpower in chit-chat, business meetings, and heart-to-hearts with your grandma.
It’s about being present, attentive, and genuinely connected with the person before you.
But how do you go from conversational klutz to communication ninja?
This is where today’s article comes in, covering…
- What is mindful communication (a short recap)
- 15 Exercises & activities to practice mindful communication
- The two mindful communication exercises that rule them all?
What Is Mindful Communication (A Short Recap)?
According to the American Psychological Association, mindfulness is “awareness of one’s internal states and surroundings…It can help people avoid destructive or automatic habits and responses by learning to observe their thoughts, emotions, and other present-moment experience without judging or reacting to them.”
So when you apply these characteristics of mindfulness to communication, you get mindful communication.
This segways into the 13 principles of mindful communication I’ve discussed in my article “Mindful Communication at Work: The Definitive Guide.”
- Active listening
They all foster the observation of thoughts, emotions, and other present-moment experiences without judging or reacting to them during conversations.
But how can you practice mindful communication?
15 Exercises & Activities to Practice Mindful Communication
So, logic dictates we just need to practice the above 13 principles of mindful communication.
However, practicing these 13 principles is not a small feat.
Each principle can go pretty deep, and you could easily publish a book on each.
Therefore, the following exercises and activities will scratch only the surface.
You will also find overlaps, the practice of one principle nurturing or requiring another one, and exercises that pop up more than once.
I will discuss how you can apply some minimalism to this in the final section of this article (it’s a potential shortcut).
1) Practicing Empathetic Responses
Practicing empathetic responses is as simple and complex as walking in someone else’s shoes.
Not as easy as it sounds.
Practicing empathetic response means diving into the feelings of another and swimming alongside them, not just watching from the shore.
You’ve got to listen, validate, and respond without judging.
It’s like a dance, and the steps include mirroring emotions, asking open-ended questions, and being present, like, really present.
And this dance has its tricky turns.
What are they?
Your biases and emotional walls.
How to overcome this?
It’s with self-awareness, patience, and a genuine curiosity about others.
You can practice this by role-playing conversations.
And during these role-plays, you want to experience different perspectives or practice mindfulness.
In addition, you can jot down your thoughts in a journal afterward.
Will you become an empathy guru overnight? Nah (well, who knows).
But like any good dance, it gets more enjoyable with practice.
You’ll forge deeper connections, and people likely will notice.
2) Non-judgmental Communication
Non-judgmental communication is not just about nodding your head while thinking, “I wouldn’t have done it that way.”
It’s a step beyond; it’s actively listening without forming opinions.
Sounds easy, right? Not exactly.
Our minds are like those overenthusiastic courtroom judges, banging the gavel at the drop of a hat.
The challenge? Silencing that gavel.
The good news is that you can tame it with practice.
The trick is to become an attentive observer, like Sherlock Holmes minus the judgment.
Focus on the ‘what’ and ‘how,’ not the ‘why.’
Ask questions without the hidden agenda. It’s all about the facts, not fiction.
Activities to hone this skill?
Try reflective listening exercises or mindfulness meditation to calm that inner judge.
Even a simple daily reminder to “hold your judgment” can work.
In the end, non-judgmental communication opens doors.
You’ll find people more open, more honest, and conversations more enriching.
3) Active Listening
You could also consider active listening, the rare art of actually hearing what someone’s saying and not just planning your next witty comeback.
It’s more elusive than a cat in a game of hide-and-seek but pretty valuable in communication.
Distractions, wandering minds, and the relentless urge to jump in with our thoughts.
How to overcome them?
Unfortunately, it’s all about discipline and practice.
Time-tested methods include leaning forward (body language), maintaining eye contact, and nodding in acknowledgment.
Throw in verbal cues like “I see” or “Go on,” and you’re cooking with gas.
Activities to sharpen this skill might include exercises like the mirror game, where partners repeat the exact words back to each other.
You can also try to engage in a conversation where you only ask questions, no statements allowed.
In the end, active listening is like being a conversational detective, fully engaged in unraveling the mystery of someone’s thoughts and feelings.
4) Openness Through Open-ended Questions Practice
Suppose you try to unlock a treasure chest.
But instead of a key, you’ve got questions; instead of gold, you’re seeking understanding.
Open-ended questions are those magical inquiries that can’t be answered with a mere “yes” or “no.”
They’re the “Tell me more about…” or “How did that make you feel?” kind of questions.
Challenges? We sometimes fall into the trap of asking leading or closed questions, steering the conversation our way.
And this way of asking doesn’t foster openness. But there is a solution to that.
Just ask questions that require thought, feeling, and perspective.
You want to focus on the “what,” “how,” and “why.” Steer clear of “do you” or “are you” if you can.
What activities could you do to practice this?
How about role-playing a conversation between a talk-show host and a guest?
Here you want to make it a rule only to ask open-ended questions.
5) Practicing Patience
You may have heard the saying, “Patience is a virtue.”
And practicing it might sometimes feel like trying to catch smoke with your bare hands.
Challenges in practicing patience stem from our fast-paced, instant-gratification world.
We want it all, and we want it now.
However, rushing through conversations or decisions often leads to misunderstandings and mistakes.
So how can you cultivate this rare quality?
Here are some time-tested methods:
Mindfulness: Start by being present. Feel your feet on the ground and take those deep breaths.
Set Realistic Expectations: Understand that good things often take time.
The challenge here, however, is that you will often need some life experience to set such realistic expectations.
So that’s why often older people have more patience than younger ones (?)
Practice Empathy: Try to see things from the other person’s perspective. How would you feel in their shoes?
Here we have one overlap, for example, tying into the first practice of this section.
As for activities, how about adopting a plant and watching it grow?
Plants don’t hurry; they simply grow at their own pace.
Or you may want to engage in slow, deliberate practices like meditation, painting, or even cooking a complex meal.
These activities not only require patience but also nurture it.
And ironically, mastering patience isn’t something you do in a few hours. It requires, wait for it, patience.
6) Compassion Practices
Compassion isn’t just a passing feeling. It’s also a practice, a skill, and something learnable.
Sometimes it can be hard to feel compassion when overwhelmed, stressed, or dealing with “difficult” people.
So our pain and bias can get in the way.
What can you do to practice it?
Self-Compassion: Start with yourself. Treat yourself kindly, as you would a dear friend.
Empathize, Don’t Sympathize: Place yourself in others’ shoes. Feel what they feel without drowning in it.
Active listening (again, an overlap of an earlier point): Truly hear others without judgment.
Which activities could you use to practice it?
Volunteering: Help others without expecting anything in return.
Mindfulness Meditation Focused on Compassion: Plenty of guided practices exist.
Random Acts of Kindness: Just for the joy of it.
7) Practicing Vulnerability and Humility in Communication
When hearing “vulnerability” and “humility,” you may think of a wise old sage.
But you don’t need a beard that touches the ground or a mountain-top cave to practice these.
Before you start the practice, you may have to deal with these challenges.
Fear of Rejection or Judgement: This can hold you back from being open.
Pride and Ego: Sometimes, they don’t like to play nice with humility.
And how do you deal with these?
Embrace Imperfection: Understand that it’s okay to be wrong or not know everything. I know, easier said than done.
As you may notice by now, the different practices I’ve discussed so far may open up various cans of worms when you stumble upon obstacles showing you that you may have to do some additional self-work.
Share Personal Stories: It shows you’re human too.
Ask for Feedback and Listen: It helps in personal growth.
Which practice activities can you do?
- Journaling: Write about your thoughts and feelings.
- Role-playing: Practice being vulnerable and humble in communication.
- Mindful Reflection: Pause, breathe, and reflect on your interactions.
8) Exercises for Humility in Communication
The obstacles you may face in practicing humility in communication can be the following:
Pride’s Swagger: Yes, that overconfidence can be a real party crasher.
Fear of Being Overlooked: Sometimes, people don’t hear the music when you’re not blowing your own horn.
The following is how you can overcome these obstacles:
Recognize Others: Spend time appreciating the success and effort of those around you.
Admit Mistakes: Admitting mistakes is not easy, but it’s a liberating experience.
Activities to practice humility:
- Gratitude Journaling: Write about something or someone you’re thankful for daily.
- Active Listening: As discussed earlier, in conversations, focus on understanding others without planning your next brag.
- Volunteering: Serve others without expecting anything in return.
9) Integrity Exercises
Integrity, the shining armor of character, might sound like something from a chivalry tale.
But in the daily hustle, it’s as essential as your morning coffee.
And as always, in all of the practice exercises of the mindful communication principles, there are challenges:
Temptation’s Siren Song: Sometimes, the easy way is tempting, but not the integer one.
Fear of Judgement: Doing the right thing might not be popular.
Here’s what you can do about it:
Clear Values: Know your core values and stick to them like a knight in his code.
Accountability: Surround yourself with those who value integrity too. They’ll cheer you on.
Activities for your integrity training:
Daily Reflection: Reflect on your decisions and actions each day. Did you uphold your values?
Role Modeling: Find examples of people who demonstrate integrity and learn from them.
Community Service: Help others without expecting recognition.
10) Self-awareness Exercises
Self-awareness is similar to an inner mirror. However, it can easily get a bit foggy.
And the journey to understanding ourselves is both thrilling and sometimes a bit uncomfortable.
The challenges you may have to deal with regarding self-awareness exercises are the following:
- Acknowledging the ugly bits: It’s easy to focus on strengths, but weaknesses? A tad harder.
- Information overload: With countless self-help resources, where do you start?
How to practice self-awareness?
- Mindfulness meditation: Spend a few minutes each day just breathing and noticing your thoughts. No judgments, just observing.
- Journaling: Pen down your thoughts, feelings, and reactions.
- Feedback from trusted friends: Sometimes, you need someone else’s mirror.
Taking personality quizzes or attending self-awareness workshops can also boost your journey.
When taking personality quizzes, only do the science-based ones.
It’s called the Big 5.
All others, including the well-known Myer Briggs, aren’t better than reading your horoscope.
11) Acceptance Exercises
Acceptance, the art of embracing life’s ups and downs, sometimes feels like trying to hug a prickly cactus. It’s easier said than done.
And you may face challenges such as resistance to reality (especially true when unpleasant) and misunderstanding acceptance as agreement.
The latter doesn’t mean you like or agree with a situation.
It’s more in the spirit of Stoicism that you should accept the things you can’t change yourself.
You can practice acceptance by the following:
- Mindfulness meditation: Observing thoughts and feelings without judgment can create a welcoming space for acceptance.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Techniques: These help you recognize and change patterns of thinking that block acceptance (inspired by Stoicism, by the way).
- Gratitude journaling: Focusing on the positive can ease the path to accepting the negative.
Activities like attending acceptance-based therapy or practicing affirmations may help too.
12) Observance & Attentiveness Exercises
Practicing observance and attentiveness is akin to sharpening a mental lens, allowing you to see more clearly.
But as with any lens, smudges, and distractions can cloud your view, such as phone pings (check out my digital minimalism guide), someone’s talking, a bird flies by, etc., and mind-wandering.
The following three are time-tested methods to hone your observational skills:
- Mindfulness Practice (again): Sitting quietly and focusing on the breath can develop attentiveness.
- Regular breaks: If your mind’s drifting, take a break. Refresh and return with renewed focus.
- Active listening exercises: Focus solely on what’s being said without formulating a response.
Activities like joining mindfulness groups or taking concentration-enhancing exercises can aid this practice.
So, the observance practice isn’t about spotting a needle in a haystack on your first try; it’s about training yourself to notice the haystack, the barn, the field, and, eventually, the needle.
13) Non-verbal Communication Exercises
Non-verbal communication, the unspoken dialogue through gestures, facial expressions, and body language, often conveys more than words.
It’s an essential yet challenging skill to master.
- Misinterpretation: Cultural differences can lead to misread signals.
- Inconsistency: Your words say one thing, but your body says another.
- Lack of awareness: You might not even know what your non-verbal cues are saying.
Here’s how to face these challenges:
- Observe others: Watch how people interact and note their non-verbal cues.
- Mirror exercises: Practice in front of a mirror or record yourself to become more aware of your expressions.
- Active engagement: Engage in activities that require non-verbal communication, like charades.
To practice successfully:
- Join a drama club: Acting can sharpen your non-verbal skills.
- Take a dance class: Dancing is a form of expression without words.
By understanding that your non-verbal communication is a continuous dialogue that supplements your words, you can consciously align your verbal and non-verbal messages.
14) Managing Difficult Conversations Exercises
Managing difficult conversations requires skill, empathy, and clarity.
It can be a challenging aspect of communication, but you can master it with practice.
Common challenges you may face are emotional responses when both parties become defensive or emotional, and misunderstandings occur due to a lack of clarity.
How to overcome these challenges?
- Plan ahead: Know your main points and the desired outcome.
- Stay calm: Maintain an even tone and keep emotions in check.
- Active Listening: Show that you understand the other party’s point of view.
And here are two time-tested methods you can use for difficult conversation exercises:
- The Harvard Negotiation Project: A technique that emphasizes interests, not positions.
- Nonviolent Communication: Focuses on observations, feelings, needs, and requests, and again active listening.
- Role-Playing: Engage in role-playing exercises that simulate difficult conversations.
- Workshops: Consider workshops or courses that specialize in conflict resolution.
15) Practice Integration Into Your Daily Routine
Integrating multiple practices and exercises into a daily routine resembles cooking a gourmet meal.
How is that?
You’ve got to balance the ingredients, use the proper techniques, and sprinkle in a bit of love and care.
Here’s a recipe to help you blend all those discussed practices and exercises into a delicious daily routine:
Identify your main ingredients: What practices resonate most with you? Those are your key components.
Chop it down: Break each practice into bite-sized pieces. Trying to gobble everything up at once could lead to “indigestion.”
Time to simmer: Allocate specific times in your day for these practices. No need to rush; a slow-cooked stew is always tastier.
Seasoning and spices: Mix it up with variations and challenges. Boredom is the stale bread of routines. You want to keep things fresh.
Taste and adjust: Regularly review your progress. Maybe add a little more of this, and take out a bit of that.
Serve with a side of flexibility: It’s okay if your routine shifts daily. Every meal doesn’t have to be a five-course banquet.
Dine with friends: Share your routine with friends or colleagues for accountability. It’s always more fun to eat together, isn’t it?
Don’t forget dessert: Celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Treat yourself.
Clean up thoughtfully: Reflect on what’s working and what’s not. Adjust the recipe as needed.
Repeat: Like any great chef, keep experimenting, learning, improving, and enjoying the process.
The Two Mindful Communication Exercises to Rule Them All?
As I have mentioned in my article about mindfulness communication at work, this type of communication can be an important helper in achieving minimalism in communication.
It can help in decluttering the usual communication.
However, sometimes you must apply minimalism principles even to things that foster minimalism.
And this is the case with the above exercises and practices. They have some “declutter potential.”
How is that?
I estimate that you can cover 80% of these exercises by focusing on mindfulness meditation and active listening.
Practicing both, especially mindfulness meditation regularly, will develop the qualities and skills you need for the various exercises over time.
They are both cornerstones in the practice of mindful communication.
Mindfulness meditation encourages you to be present and fully engaged with the here and now.
It can train your mind to focus, reduce distractions, and increase awareness.
These skills are transferable to almost all aspects of mindful communication, enabling you to be more attuned to others’ feelings, open, and compassionate.
These two are the 80/20 of mindful communication, should you, as a minimalist, want to focus on the essential.
However, while these two practices may cover a significant portion of the landscape of mindful communication, they might not encapsulate every nuance.
Other practices, tailored to specific areas like compassion, vulnerability, or managing difficult conversations, may add complexity and depth.
Speaking in culinary terms again, mindfulness meditation and active listening might be the flour and eggs in your recipe – essential and foundational.
Still, depending on your baking, you might need some unique ingredients to complete the dish.
So, a holistic approach may also include targeted exercises to cultivate the full spectrum of these valuable skills.
It’s a rich and varied field, and exploring different practices and exercises can enrich your understanding and mastery.
This article has been reviewed by our editorial team. It has been approved for publication per our editorial policy.