Mindfulness and Interpersonal Effectiveness

Increasing awareness in interpersonal situations can help you access information that you were previously not attending to. This could help to increase your options for responding effectively, reduce the intensity of conflict, lower the arousal of the person with whom you are interacting, and help you do some problem-solving. While being effective is complicated and can include a variety of other skills such as acceptance and tolerance, there are a few tips that may be useful if you are the type to react quickly and regret what you said later. Please remember that a key component in mindfulness is doing what is effective. Across contexts, different interactions may be read differently and may not have differing degrees of effectiveness. So take these suggestions as ideas rather than concrete advice:

 1)      Pay attention to urges to interrupt, respond with intense emotion, or abruptly disagree. If/when you notice these urges, focus on your breath. While you focus on your breath, keep your face relaxed. Try a gentle half-smile (page 172, skills manual) and inhale and exhale slowly. You may be able to simply slow down an interaction by inhaling and exhaling every time a person expects you to speak.

2)      If you are caught off guard, are shocked, or can’t think of anything to say, summarize what the person said. Sometimes summarizing will prompt them to clarify or explain more fully, which allows you more time to regroup.  It also gives you an opportunity to make sure you heard them correctly.

3)      If there is an intensity on the other person’s behalf to get you to respond, break eye contact and look thoughtful. If they insist on your response, tell them that you are thinking about what they just said. If it is an option, you may want to say that you are going to think about what they said and get back to them at a later time (once you have regulated your emotions and are more clear about how to respond!)

4)      The clearer you are going into a potentially difficult situation, the better off you are about your own expectations and what you may do if they are met or not. Consider filling out pages 129 of the skills training manual (based on page 116) before you even go into the interaction.

5)      What do you notice the other person doing that makes the interaction difficult? They may glare, interrupt, insist or demand an answer, fail to make eye contact, or present in a stoic or non-responsive manner. While this may be enough to increase anyone’s anxiety about an interaction, observing how it increases your anxiety may help you prepare for the interaction.

6)      Pay attention to your own tone of voice, rhythm of speech, intensity of volume, and posture. Increasing the pitch at the end of a sentence can make your statements sound like questions and minimize an intensity of a request. Speaking quickly or loudly may be overwhelming to another person, and a failure to make eye contact can be interpreted in many ways.  Practice changing your non-verbal behavior in a mirror before the interaction and see if it changes how you feel about the interaction.