I think 2014 is going to go down as the Year of the Really Awful Summer. Violence, pain, death and outrage seemed to dominate the news. If a lead story wasn’t about ISIS or Gaza and Israel, it focused on Ferguson or the Ukraine. We also lost Robin Williams, and then bullies temporarily drove his mourning daughter off of Twitter. More recently, celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence had their private photos leaked.

Personally, I was left shaking my head by all of this, wondering what, if anything, one single person could do in the face of so much awful. Then, I read about and participated in the UNIFY Global Meditation for Peace and paid more attention to posts from the Metta Center for Nonviolence.

And then it dawned on me. I’m a communicator. It’s what I do for a living. I interact daily with people from around North America, even internationally. Each of those interactions is an opportunity for me to focus on how I communicate to ensure it’s done in a way that fosters quality, respectful relationships. At the core of all this summer’s violence and anger, I believe, is a lack of mutual understanding and respect in communications, which then drives the actions we’ve witnessed.

So, I asked myself: Am I a mindful communicator?

Am I a Mindful Communicator?

I’d be lying if I said the answer was comforting. I’m human. I have a temper. My buttons get pushed, and I react. I can be petty, judgmental and too focused on getting my own way. Some days the background stress of legal PR, the demands on me, and the expectations of media and clients kind of snowball, and I don’t always act from my best self.

Ugh. Deep breath.

After that revealing (and slightly embarrassing) bit of self-examination was over, though, I realized that this awareness about my communication habits — because that’s what they are, habitual ways of reacting — was the first step in making a change. You can’t fix something that you don’t know needs a bit of shoring up. Just as when you meditate you observe your thoughts without judgment and let them go, so too could I temper my initial impulse to just react.

Becoming a Mindful Communicator

These are some ways in which I’ve been trying to be a more mindful communicator:

  • Really listening to reporters, clients, and colleagues and keeping in mind who they are and where they are coming from. Maybe they just got dumped on by someone else, missed a deadline or spilled coffee all over their keyboard.
  • Letting go of my impulse to formulate a response in my head to what someone else is saying while they are saying it. That extra pause lets me respond in a more mindful, charitable way.
  • Keeping this saying from my days at ProfNet and PRNewswire front of mind: We’re all on the same team.
  • Be one of the good guys when it comes to pitching reporters: Respect deadlines and busy times, don’t be aggressive and don’t pitch garbage.
  • Realize that, as a handbook I got years ago when traveling on a Contiki tour said, “There are few things in life that are actually fatal.” And there is likely nothing I do in legal PR that could result in a fatality. So, chill out, dude.

Have I been perfect in my mindful communication efforts? Um. No. Am I getting better? I hope so. It’s a long, long process that I doubt I’ll ever completely finish.

And, no, paying attention to how I communicate with others may not prevent ISIS from attacking civilians or end violence in the Ukraine, but I do have my own sphere of influence. Just as a butterfly flapping its wings in Texas might ruffle someone’s hair in China, so too can my daily humble attempts create ripples I may not ever comprehend.

Leave me a comment on how you are working to improve your communications skills below, or email Vivian Hood at vhood@jaffepr.com.