criteria for skillful communication

3jewels-vacasutta

Last December, I was invited to give a presentation to fellow members of my local Facilitators Guild on the 4 Gates of Speech after referencing them in one of our monthly meetings. As I prepared, I discovered overlapping ideas across various wisdom traditions and expanded my presentation into a list of Criteria for Skillful Communication below. 


Cultivating skillful communication is more than an intellectual endeavor. It is an embodied mindfulness practice comprised of Deep Listening and Skillful Speech.

We learn to listen deeply by paying attention to our thoughts, perceptions, bodily sensations, and emotions while listening to others and while speaking. Through this process, we can discern what to say, how to say it, and when, if at all, to say it–which is the foundation for impeccable speech.

Intention: To foster understanding and compassion.

Actions: Draw upon silence in order to give full awareness to our experience in the moment and to reflect on our speech before, during, and after speaking.

__________

Before speaking, let your words pass through these gates.
__________

Origins in Philosophical + Wisdom Traditions

I. 3 Sieves/3 Filters ~ Attributed to multiple sources (i.e. Socrates, Quakers, poets).

Is it True?
Is it Kind?
Is it Necessary/Useful?

II. 4 Gates of Speech ~ Possibly Sufi; misattributed to Buddhism.

Is it True?
Is it Necessary?
Is it Helpful?
Is it Kind?

III. 5 Factors of Right Speech ~ Buddhist; from the Vaca Sutta (italicized text mine).

It is spoken at the right time.
Will it be Heard, Received and Understood? Does it Improve Upon the Silence?

It is spoken in truth.
Is it Factual, Sincere, from the Heart?

It is spoken affectionately.
Is it delivered Gently, Kindly, with Compassion, Equanimity, Empathy?

It is spoken beneficially.
Is it Useful, Constructive, Informative, Necessary, Life-Affirming?

It is spoken with a mind of good-will.
Is it offered with the Clear Intention to Not Cause Harm, to Inspire, to Comfort, to Support?

[16 December 2015]


in the dharma circle

So what does this look like in action? Following our meditation practice, Sangha exercises the capacity for skillful communication through a discussion on a selected topic of contemplation.

Our skillful speech has the opportunity to become refined by three factors: silence, bowing (gassho), and breath.  

We speak from discerning through silence — using the sacred pause to garner clarity of thought/feeling and to measure those formations alongside the (3, 4, or 5) criteria named above.

We bow when we wish to speak. Sangha bows in return.
It is an embodiment of our commitment, as speakers, to speak skillfully and, as listeners, to listen deeply in order to cultivate our skillful understanding of what will be shared. 

We bow again at the completion of our sharing. Sangha bows in return.
It is an embodiment of our commitment to give space for understanding to unfold and for discerning whether to contribute a subsequent insight, question, or experience.

We pause and breathe, for at least 3 full cycles, to center and ground ourselves before contributing to the dharma circle.

The pausing, bowing, and breathing not only bridge the sacred energy of mindfulness to the practical aspect of turn-taking. But these practices also disrupt common communication patterns and de-condition our habits of interrupting, cross-talking, or sparking side conversations.

Whichever of the 3 Sieves, 4 Gates, or 5 Factors resonates most with you, use these criteria to gauge the quality of your awareness and ensuing impulses to respond when holding conversations. It can be jarring for practitioners who intentionally cultivate deep listening and skillful speech to recognize how wide the gap is between how we experience and participate in communication inside and outside of the dharma circle.