Last Updated: November 4th, 2019

SAY WHAT YOU MEAN: A Nonviolent Approach to Mindful Communication

Oren Jay Sofer

[Shambhala, 304 pages]

Say What You Mean: A Nonviolent Approach to Mindful Communication is an informative book offering guidance as to how to use a mindful approach to nonviolent communication—with the goal of listening and being heard—in order to create a true sense of connection and understanding, even while having difficult conversations. 

The author, Oren Jay Sofer, is a certified trainer of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner who works with those who are healing from trauma. With a degree in comparative religion from Columbia University, and after spending 18 months living as a renunciant Buddhist monk, he uses his knowledge to help the reader conduct more wholistic, collaborative and meaningful dialogue with others.

Communication involves not just verbal exchanges, but also mental, emotional and body language nuances that can complicate the messages we’re trying to relay. But through three streams of practice—mindfulness, NVC and somatic experiencing—the author guides the reader to approach conversation with the intention of finding their authentic voice, conveying their truth and listening deeply.

The structure of effective communication in Say What You Mean is summarized through the principles of leading with presence, coming from a place of curiosity and care and focusing on what really matters.

Leading with presence


To lead with presence is to bring an open mind and heart to dialogue, recognizing the significance of mutuality—that we accept the other person for the unique individual they are, instead of as an entity to be molded to our liking.

To be present is also to acknowledge that the unknown is a natural element of life. In fact, we can embrace the possibilities that the unknown might serve in our communication.

Leading with presence takes practice, as we aren’t necessarily used to it and the sense of vulnerability it may cause can also feel uncomfortable.

When we’re able to be present in a conversation, we can engage without blame or prejudice and strike a balance between listening and speaking, modulating the pace of the conversation to allow it the time it needs to become more meaningful.

Coming from a place of curiosity and care


When we’re able to enter into a dialogue with presence, we make room for ourselves to focus on coming from a place of curiosity and care. We’re able to be interested in what the other person has to say and learn something new, without assuming we already know all the answers.

This open-mindedness also helps remind us to practice empathy with others, to listen with respect and to value every perspective, regardless of how different it may be from our own. Being mindful and committed to this type of goodwill allows us to truly hear what the other person we’re speaking with is saying.

Focusing on what really matters


In Say What You Mean, the author also lays out a wonderful interpretation of what often gets lost in translation when we’re communicating with one another. The conversation’s subject may relate to what we think we want, or to the strategies we use to cope, when actually, there’s an underlying need that we inherently feel is not being met.

Acknowledging that every difficult conversation is related to an underlying need and focusing on addressing that need is what really matters: 

When we become aware of another’s needs, our heart opens; something softens inside as we understand intuitively what matters to someone else. This is a very important point. If we can’t support what we’ve identified in the other party, then we aren’t connecting at the level of needs. If you can’t get behind it and say “Yes, I want that for them,” it’s not a need. Needs are universal; they connect us. They are by definition something that we want for everyone, something to which we can internally say yes.

– Oren Jay Sofer, Say What You Mean

A simple but effective approach to dialogue


Two men talking peacefully on bench in winter - Say What You Mean

Say What You Mean is a wonderfully smooth read and makes the approach to effective communication simple to understand. But the key steps required to listen deeply and to truly be heard are by no means easy, and require practice and patience.

In our modern society, many of us have been conditioned to protect ourselves and stand strong in our own positions, so exercising compassion and empathy, and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in difficult conversations isn’t always a smooth process. Nonetheless, it’s well worth the trial and error! 

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image: Pixabay