by Cynthia Kane, author, How to Communicate Like a Buddhist
Before you speak,
let your words pass through three gates.
At the first gate,
ask yourself, “Is it true?”
At the second gate,
ask, “Is it necessary?”
At the third gate,
ask, “Is it kind?”
— Sufi saying
When it comes to communication, speech is the number one tool we use to express ourselves. With our words comes great responsibility. We can use them in an attempt to create harmony, or we can use them to try to create suffering.
When we use words without thinking, we can easily fall into the habit of lying, exaggerating, gossiping, and using language that isn’t helpful. But when we take ownership of our speech we see the great responsibility we carry; we understand that how we speak to others and ourselves has the potential to lessen the suffering of others as well as change our lives and the lives of those we interact with for the better.
Because the words we choose are our responsibility, our goal on the bodhisattva path is to find ones that create a feeling of calm and foster a sense of goodwill. Furthermore, we take great care in expressing these words in a way that others can hear and understand. This includes choosing and speaking our words in such a way that others don’t feel criticized, judged, or attacked. What I’ve found is that this can all be accomplished if we learn to speak using the three Cs: consciously, concisely, and clearly.
By being aware of the words we choose, using only the words we need, and expressing ourselves with clarity, we will vastly improve our communication, and this applies to everything — from our day-to-day interactions to those sensitive, tenuous conversations.
We’ve all been in situations in which we’ve said something we later regretted. Whether it was during an argument, in response to criticism, or even a joke that went too far, not only do we feel bad for what we said, but we also see the hurt we’ve caused someone. It’s in the aftermath of these situations that we see how powerful our words can be.
If we start to pay conscious attention to our word choice before we speak, then we can choose wisely before it’s too late. Every moment presents an opportunity to consciously choose how we express ourselves. We can choose to use words that encourage a sense of openness, understanding, and peace, or words that create stress, make others feel unappreciated, and provoke anxiety.
The first step to conscious speech involves slowing the conversation down.
The other day I slept over at my sister’s place. In the morning she walked in and asked, “How did you sleep?” Without thinking I said, “Well, it was hot in here, but after some tossing and turning I was fine.”
“I’m so sorry,” she said.
“Oh, no. It’s fine, really. I slept fine,” I said again. I didn’t want to create a situation that made my sister feel bad, but because I didn’t take it slow and actually think about what I was saying, my words affected her. This could have been avoided if I had thought before I spoke.
When I talk with clients about slowing down, they often say, “Are you asking me to stop myself before I say something?” And the answer is yes. Why? Because a lot of what comes out of our mouths isn’t helpful, necessary, or kind. When we slow down, we give ourselves the time to assess whether what we’re about to say would enhance or improve the situation. If the answer is no, then we should likely choose to say nothing. If the answer is yes, then the pause gives us a chance to think of the best way to express ourselves. This may sound like a lot to do before you speak, but the more you practice the more natural it becomes. Soon, it becomes second nature to take your time before you express yourself so that you avoid blurting out something that you’ll regret and that serves no helpful purpose.
Discerning what is worth a response and what is worthy of a simple acknowledgment instead means we have to change the rhythm of the conversation. We can slow the beats of the conversation down by drawing out the space between our thoughts and our words. Doing so helps us choose our words consciously. I like to think of it like this: we pause, take a breath, and then ask ourselves these important questions: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it helpful?
The process would look something like the following:
Try using the pause, breathe, and question process before you say something. Remember, the point here is to slow down before you speak. Notice if doing so makes a difference in your communication with others.
Adapted, and reprinted with permission from Hierophant Publishing, How to Communicate Like a Buddhist by Cynthia Kane is available wherever books and ebooks are sold or directly from the publisher at www.redwheelweiser.com or 800–423–7087.
Cynthia Kane is a certified meditation and mindfulness instructor. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Washington Post, Yoga Journal, and the Huffington Post. She lives in Washington, DC, and offers workshops and private programs.