Mar 13

Sorry, what?: on being mindful in conversation

mindful in conversation

Are you being mindful in conversations?

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I have social anxiety. I’m afraid of things like having to make small talk and being assertive. My social fears often prevent me from fully engaging in conversations. I fall into self-perpetuating cycles; I’m so anxious that I won’t be able to hear what someone is saying that I completely miss what they were saying because I was so worried I’d miss what they were going to say. I know it sounds ridiculous, and it is, but that’s my brain for you (I’m sure many of you can relate!).

This issue leaves me with two problems: I’m not actively partaking in conversations, and I’m anxious as hell about it. I would love to just turn off my anxiety, but alas, that is not a realistic solution. It seems the only other way to bypass the problem is to force myself to engage in the conversation. Well how could I do that, you ask? The answer is through mindfulness.

If you’ve never heard the term before, mindfulness is about staying focused on the present and refraining from judging your thoughts and feelings. Being mindful really just means living life as it is happening, rather than worrying and obsessing over things that have happened or may (or may not) happen in the future. It’s a simple concept, but an incredibly difficult skill to master. Activities like yoga and Tai Chi draw on principles of mindfulness.

Being mindful in conversation requires you to focus on what the other person is saying. This sounds quite obvious – it’s what you’re already doing, right? My bet is no. Most people are often caught up in their own thoughts while in conversation. We all want to sound interesting and intelligent, so instead of actually listening to what the other person is saying, we often are planning what we’ll say next or trying to guess how this person will end their sentence. Sometimes, we’ve even moved past the conversation in our minds, and we’re planning what we’re going to do when it’s over (“As soon as he’s done jabbering away, I’m going to go get Starbucks”).

We live in a fast-paced world. It seems like we never have enough time in the day to get half of our to-do lists done. And we make it very clear to the rest of the world – we’re constantly checking our phones, storming around like we’re always late for something, honking our horns when someone isn’t speeding. I’ve argued before for the benefits of relaxation and slowing things down. Mindfulness is the most simple way to go about being more calm.

The next time you’re having a lengthy conversation with a close friend or family member, here’s what I want you to do:

  • Let go of your worries and focus on what is being said. Instead of worrying about bills that need to get paid, notes that need to be read, and calls that need to be returned, just focus on the conversation. Being mindful in a conversation requires that you focus all your attention on what your conversation partner is saying. You shouldn’t be noticing people walking by or listening to music off in the distance.
  • Acknowledge when your mind wanders and bring it back. If your thoughts do wander, acknowledge it, and bring yourself back to the conversation. You will probably find your mind wandering quite often; that’s okay. Just keep bringing yourself back to the conversation.  
  • Speak in turn. If you do have social anxiety, you may not have too much problem with this one, but it’s worth noting anyway. Wait for your turn in the conversation – don’t interject if you think your point is more important. Ideally, you should wait until your conversation partner is done talking before you even think of your response. If you’re formulating your own thoughts while your partner is talking, then you’re not really listening, are you?
  • Don’t judge yourself if you can’t keep focus. If your mind does wander or you can’t help but think about what you want to say, that’s perfectly okay. Mindfulness isn’t a skill you learn over night. Accept that your thoughts wander from time to time, and don’t judge yourself for it. Mindfulness is also about acceptance: acceptance of our flaws and quirks that make us unique.
  • Try to appear calm. If you’re socially anxious, having conversations may not make you overly calm. But appearing calm is different altogether. What I mean is that you shouldn’t be twitching uncomfortably or fidgeting like you’re bored. You also shouldn’t be checking your phone every few minutes or responding to texts. I don’t know when we got to the point in our society where texting while have a serious conversation with someone else is considered appropriate, but I don’t like it (even though I’ve definitely done it before).

Being mindful is an incredible skill to master. It takes time, but you’ll see it can used in any aspect of your life. Mindfulness has many medical benefits, and for years it has been encouraged for patients of all different types of mental illness. I suggest that you find a mindfulness resource online and really try it. If you can practice mindfulness for a few moments every day, I really think you’ll see a difference.

Are you mindful in conversations? I would be interested to hear if any of you do this unconsciously.

photo by: pedrosimoes7


  1. Kristina says:

    Wow! I can totally relate and relieved that someone else “gets” how I feel. I’m constantly frustrated because everyone tells me “get over it”, “make yourself”, or “you have to”. Its not that easy but I’m enjoying and learning from your blog and thankful I have it to look forward to!

  2. Justin says:

    Hi Kristina! Yes, it’s incredibly frustrating when others tell you to just “get over it.” It’s never that easy! It takes time, but you can definitely feel better. I’m happy to hear that you’re enjoying my blog! Thanks a lot.

  3. Lisa Mercer says:

    I have found “staying in the moment” to be SO essential in social situations. I get very anxious in social situations as well (especially speaking with someone one on one) but I have realized that when I an mindful of what they are saying instead of what I am anxious about, it makes both of us feel better 🙂

    You may like my blog also, http://www.anxietyingeneral.wordpress.com, where I talk about my experience with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

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