Annabel Beerel

Communication: What is the Problem?

Extract from:   Mindfulness: A Better Me; Better You; Better World by Annabel Beerel, PhD and Tom Raffio, FLMI

In my consulting meanderings through countries and companies, I have yet to encounter an organization where people do not complain about the quality of communications. The irony is that we are living in the so-called communications age. We have more tools for better and faster communications than ever before. Yet, people complain communication is poor. They lament that if only communications would improve, the organization would save so much time and money.

Most people talk as if this is someone else’s problem. Someone needs to fix communication! But who? Who will take this on? Is there some almighty communications God that is going to fix the communications problem? Or is it up to you and me? Is this not our problem to fix?

Communication begins with each one of us. How do we communicate? What do we communicate? How do we pay attention? What is the quality of our listening? Do we listen to other people? Do we give them our undivided attention or just half-an-ear? Do we assume we know what someone is going to say before he or she says it? Do we even care about what he or she has to say? And then, how do we speak? Do we have meaningful things to contribute? Or do we just add to the noise? And of course reading and digesting information, is another matter.

What about our meetings? Are they effective? Do the right things get communicated? And emailing? Do all those gazillions of emails communicate what truly needs to be communicated? Do people read carefully? With all our technology, websites, media, apps, smartphones – we still hunger for better communication. What is going on? Wherein lies the problem?


The Gift of Being Heard

I think we all agree that it is a great gift to be heard. We feel respected and appreciated when we are heard. Feeling heard is even more important than solving people’s problems. They can do that best for themselves. People want to be heard – really heard and felt understood. Often, we feel we do not have time to put everything aside and give someone our undivided attention. Yet we cannot afford not to. Mindful listening is about giving that undivided attention.

With mindful listening, we are receptive to not only the words of the other, but to their sound, to their vibrations. We are listening not just with our ears, but with our entire beings. We are seeking attunement with the other. As we listen, it is not just the words we hear. We sense the emotion, the feelings, the significance of what is being conveyed.

With mindful listening, we clear our minds. We drop our egos that are dying to have their say. We push away our comparisons, biases, and judgments. We truly listen. We do not interrupt, play out opinions and scenarios in our minds, think of questions or rebuttals, look for what we do or do not want to hear, or let our minds finish sentences or rehearse what we are going to say next.

Mindful listening is honest listening. It is a caring listening. It is carried out with an alert passivity. There is no strain, just openness. There is no anxiety, no need to control, and no need to influence the results. With relaxed attention, one hears a great deal. One gets a sense of the song behind the words. One hears what is both said and not said.

Listening is a search for understanding. With mindful attention, one understands – one stands under, or gets beneath the surface phenomenon. One truly hears. Once one truly hears, real communication has begun.  Here is a mindful listening exercise………


I will never forget my first day of PhD studies at Boston University. There were at least fifty students seated in the chapel of the Theology School eagerly awaiting to hear the opening remarks of the day.

A gowned professor took the stage and promptly launched into a long monologue on theology, study, commitments, ethics, expectations, you name it. In between, the professor would make some comment, that I barely caught, after which he would roar with laughter. The rest of us dutifully laughed too. At the end of his tortuous presentation, another gowned professor went up to thank him. She said, and I will never forget these words: “Thank you Professor Confusion for a most profound and entertaining speech. It was so profound, I never understood a word!”

Boy – did we then roar!

One Conversation at a Time

So much of life is affected by the quality of our conversations. We build and break many relationships, one conversation at a time. If we are poor listeners, it is likely we are also poor speakers. Why? Because we are not there. We are not present paying attention. We have not trained ourselves to make every moment count. Instead we fall into the motor-mouth trap. This is when we talk just for the sake of talking. We say nothing of any value. We simply make unconnected sounds. Someone talks, we talk back. No-one talks, we talk to fill the space.

Mindful speaking means being totally present in every way to everything we say. It is about consciously selecting your topic, your words, and your body language as you attentively convey your message. Your goal is to enhance engagement and connection. You are interested in advancing the relationship with the people with whom you are conversing. You want to give him or her something of value.

Mindful speaking is about being attuned to others and the situation. Mindful speaking is purposeful. It is about moving things forward. It is about progression. It is about creating new options, new perspectives and new ideas. Mindful speaking is about increasing harmony in the world. Mindful speaking avoids the temptation to engage in gossip, criticism and negative comments.  Hints on mindful speaking  …….


In his intense book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains, Nicholas Carr documents how the increase in use of the internet is destroying, among other things, our memories and our ability to read.

He explains how the layout of the pages and the flashing of advertisements, popups, side-bars and then the intermittent videos, have ruined our ability to concentrate and to read effectively. He claims that young people who spend a lot of time either on the computer, or on their phones, have lost the ability to read and comprehend passages. He cites research into the comprehension skills of students at a variety of ages. The picture is bleak. Younger and younger students, attached to all their technical gadgets have minimal comprehension skills, and can barely read one page accurately and then report on what they have read.

More on mindful reading………..


Another Bl….. Meeting!

Talk to many people and they will say they spend their lives in meetings. Each day they go from one bl….. meeting to the next.

In attempts to improve communications, many organizations have increased the number of meetings. Despite these many get togethers, frustration reigns. People invariably complain that most meetings are unproductive and a waste of time. They remain being confused, misaligned, misdirected, or lacking the information they need to be effective in their jobs. People often joke about the meeting after the meeting.

One client I worked with had a real problem with the meetings of his senior management team. People dreaded the meetings, often arriving late and armed with all kinds of strategies as to how to get through the laborious two hours.

One VP slept through every meeting. He would arrive, take up is usual seat and within five to ten minutes be sound asleep. The other VPs would time how long he slept. Another VP would – ostensibly taking notes – plan her overseas vacations. A third VP would send emails. The VP of HR would review job applications. The VP of Operations would read articles for his online MBA program.

The CEO, who knew what was going on, would simply continue with the meeting. Now and again he would ask questions of various people who would feign attention and give some non-comital response. Two, sometimes three hours later, everyone would emerge tired and disengaged to see what real work they might accomplish.

Nowadays many people arrive at meetings with their laptops and their phones, ostensibly to write notes or to be sure to be in touch for that all-important customer call. Well, let’s face it. That is baloney! The technical crutches are there to help with their indifference, boredom, need for distraction, and attempt at multitasking. How many people email during meetings? Or keep sneaking a peak at what is posted on Facebook? Or worse still, look at vacation packages?

There is no doubt that in most organizations the investment in meeting time is enormous. The question is: What is the return – if anything – on those investments? More on mindful meetings…………


That thing we love to hate!

People love to complain about the number of emails they receive and the state of their inbox. Many of us assume that we must read both the welcome and unwelcome intruders and respond to them. We also use some of our most valuable time, when we are fresh and have energy, to tackle the email onslaught.

Responding to emails can be a great distraction from tackling other challenging work like meeting goals, finishing projects, engaging with customers, having difficult conversations with staff members, finding creative solutions to problems, initiating new projects, and being seen by employees. Hiding behind emails often provides a marvelous excuse. Let’s be honest!        Here are some savvy email strategies……….

Communication: The Problem in a Nutshell

Communication is not working because we do not in fact communicate. To communicate means to share; to relate; to come together. It means engaging in a reciprocal relationship with the right people at the right time in the right way. But we are never there. We are never present. We are always distracted, somewhere else in mind and body, agonizing over the past or fretting about the future. We mishear, misunderstand, misperceive, misconstrue, misread, misspeak …Life is one big MIS!

That is the problem! Quite simple really – if we look it in the eye, swallow it whole, digest it well, and decide to change our minds!