Learn the key ideas of the book by Oren Jay Sofer

Say What You Mean

How to communicate with awareness and empathy

Communication is one of the most powerful instruments available to us; yet more and more often it is relegated to those kinds of activities we carry out when we are distracted, without really being engaged. Fortunately, it is possible to communicate better with the help of the principles of mindfulness and non-violent communication. In his book Say What You Mean: a mindful approach to nonviolent communication, Oren Jay Sofer explains the three essential phases of his method, which are presence, intention and attention, and how they can help us work on ourselves and move towards engaging in dialogue from a place of awareness and empathy, to improve our relationships and the way we perceive the world around us.

Say What You Mean
Read in 21 min.
Listen in 27 min.

Communication is a powerful and pivotal tool in our lives

In a world that is increasingly demanding our undivided attention, we often find ourselves communicating in a way that is empty and distracted, without realising the importance that words have not only in everyday life, but in general, in shaping our lives and relationships, and in the long term, the world around us.

Communicating correctly and establishing a dialogue with others, in the right way, is essential, if we are to improve the world we live in: the words we think and say influence the way we perceive our circumstances and other people, and are in fact the engine that drives our actions. Even a conversation between people goes much further than a simple exchange of ideas: conversing with awareness is an active process, which transforms the relationship and bases it on trust and mutual respect, leaving both parties richer for having taken part in it.

Even though small changes to the way we converse could transform relationships and society as a whole, our daily reality is bursting with examples of terrible communication, in which violence tends to take over, and words are used as weapons to diminish, attack and hide people’s fears. For example, just think about the ways to communicate on social media, where disapproving, aggressive and mocking tones are pretty much the order of the day. We do not deliberately set out to communicate incorrectly, yet it is the result of what we have learned growing up: what we are often taught is that there are winners and losers, that the strongest person is the most aggressive and takes everything, and that showing our needs is a sign of weakness. To hide negative emotions, such as fear, anxiety and having needs, we end up activating the type of communication which is aimed at showing who is the strongest, setting our positive and natural feelings aside, which are empathy, cohesion and interconnection.

While it is true that communicating this way has become the norm today, fortunately, it is also true that there is a technique to reverse this process and to improve our communication skills, and with them, the quality of our lives and our relationships. To outline his technique for change, the author brings together the principles of three disciplines:

  1. mindfulness from the Buddhist tradition Theravada, which places importance on presence and awareness;
  2. the nonviolent communication system, based on the idea of empathy between individuals, developed by the American psychologist Marshall Rosenberg;
  3. the theory of somatic experience developed by Dr. Peter A. Levine, according to which the regulation of the nervous system is a key factor in the resolution of trauma.

The combination of these three disciplines has given life to a three phase pathway that we can follow, in order to train ourselves to create positive and valuable conversations:

  1. be present and aware during the conversation;
  2. be driven by curiosity and interest, meaning be intent on listening, getting to know and understanding the other person;
  3. concentrate on what matters, keeping your focus on the most important concepts.

Even though these three steps might seem obvious, the process of changing the way we communicate are far from simple: from the moment we are born, and then for all of our lives, we have learned, and had reinforced, the wrong ways to communicate, and we continue to use them today, so starting from scratch and making a change in this area requires great effort. Having said that, just as we have learned, we can unlearn, and make a change: it takes time, practice and patience, but the end result can be invaluable.


The key ideas of "Say What You Mean"

Communication is a powerful and pivotal tool in our lives
The next step to successful communication is being completely present
To strike up an effective dialogue, it is important to have the right intention, which means to be truly interested
Listening with empathy shows genuine interest and builds trust between people
Consciously choosing where to direct your attention helps you to focus on the conversation
A successful and harmonious conversation is like a dance
The secret to getting the most out of a negative conversation is to be prepared and stay in control
Take-home message
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