Summary:  The Art of Communicating by Thich Nhat Hanh
Summary: The Art of Communicating by Thich Nhat Hanh

Summary: The Art of Communicating by Thich Nhat Hanh

There are two keys to effective and true communication. 

  • The first is deep listening. 
  • The second is loving speech.


The Keys to Deep Listening

I am listening to this person with only one purpose: to give this person a chance to suffer less.

Keep this one purpose of deep listening alive in your heart and in your mind. As long as you are inhabited by the energy of compassion, you are safe. Even if what the other person says contains a lot of wrong perceptions, bitterness, anger, blame, and accusation, you are really safe.


Listen to understand, not to judge.

Remember that the other person’s speech may be based on prejudices and misunderstandings. You will have a chance later to offer some information so that he or she can correct his or her perception, but not now. Now is the time only to listen. If you can keep your mindfulness of compassion alive for even thirty minutes, you are inhabited by the energy of compassion and you are safe. As long as compassion is present, you can listen with equanimity.


Do I understand someone enough?

If you want to make someone happy, you should ask yourself the question “Do I understand him enough?” “Do I understand her enough?” Many people are reluctant to talk because they fear that what they say will be misunderstood. There are people who suffer so much; they’re not capable of telling us about the suffering inside. And we have the impression that nothing is wrong—until it’s too late.


If you don’t understand, just ask.

You can say, “Dear One, I want to understand you more. I want to understand your difficulties and your suffering. I want to listen to you because I want to love you.” When we take the time to look more deeply, we may see for the first time the big block of suffering in that person. Someone might pretend not to suffer, but that’s not true. When you’re able to listen compassionately, other people have a chance to tell you about their difficulties.


Do you think I understand you enough?

Don’t wait until the other person has left or is full of anger to ask the important question “Do you think I understand you enough?” The other person will tell you if you haven’t understood enough. He will know if you’re able to listen with compassion. You may say, “Please tell me, please help me. Because I know very well that if I don’t understand you, I will make a lot of mistakes.” That is the language of love.

The question “Do you think I understand you enough?” is not just for romantic relationships, but for friends, family members, and anyone you care about. It can even help in a work setting. If you live with a family member, a romantic partner, or a friend, you may think that because you see this person every day you know a lot about him or her. But that’s not correct. You know only a little about that person. You may have lived with someone for five, ten, or twenty years. But you may not have looked deeply into that person to understand him or her.


The Six Mantras of Loving Speech

#1 “I am here for you.”

To love someone means to be there for him or for her. To be there is an art and a practice. Are you truly there for the person you love, one hundred percent? Using the skills of mindful breathing and mindful walking, you can bring together your body and mind to restore yourself and produce your true presence in the here and the now. To be there like that, for yourself and for the other person, is an act of love.

We can also use this mantra with ourselves. When I say to myself, “I am here for you,” it also means that I am there for myself. My mind goes home to my body, and I become aware that I have a body. That is a practice of love, directed to yourself. If you are capable of being with yourself, you are capable of being with the person you love.

#2 “I know you’re there and I’m very happy”.

The second mantra is: “I know you are there, and I am very happy.” You are letting your loved one know that his or her presence is important to your happiness.

The second mantra acknowledges that you really see the other person. This is crucial, because when a person ignores you, you don’t feel that you are loved. You may feel that the people you love are too busy to see you. Your loved one may be driving the car and thinking of everything except you who are sitting in the next seat. You don’t have that person’s attention. To love means to be aware of the presence of your beloved one and to recognize that presence as something very precious to you. You use the energy of mindfulness to recognize and embrace the presence of your beloved one. Embraced by your mindfulness, the other person will bloom like a flower.

#3 “I know you suffer. That’s why I’m here for you.”

The third mantra is: “I know you suffer, and that is why I am here for you.” Thanks to your mindfulness, you know that something is not going well with your friend or loved one. When your loved one is suffering, your impulse may be to want to do something to fix it, but you don’t need to do much. You just need to be there for him or her. That is true love. True love is made of mindfulness.

Because of your mindfulness, you know when something is not going well with a loved one. When you notice that, you want to do something to help him or her suffer less. You don’t have to do anything other than to be there. When you say the mantra, right away your loved one will suffer less.

#4 “I suffer. Please help.”

The forth mantra is a little more difficult, especially for those of us with a lot of pride. You use the fourth mantra when you suffer and you believe that the other person has caused your suffering. This happens from time to time. If it was someone you didn’t care as much about who had said or done that to you, you would have suffered less. But when someone you love says something that feels critical or dismissive, you suffer deeply. If we suffer, and we don’t look deeply into our suffering and find compassion for ourselves and the other person, we may want to punish the person who hurt us because he or she has dared to make us suffer.

#5 “This is a happy moment.”

The fifth mantra is: “This is a happy moment.” When you are with someone you care about, you can use this mantra. This is not autosuggestion or wishful thinking, because there are conditions of happiness that are there. If we’re not mindful, we won’t recognize them. This mantra is to remind ourselves and the other person that we are very lucky, that there are so many conditions of happiness that are available in the here and the now. We can breathe easily. We have each other. We have the blue sky and the solidity of the whole earth supporting us. Sitting with the other person, walking together, you may want to pronounce the fifth mantra and realize how lucky you are.

#6 “You are partly right.”

The sixth mantra is the truth. You don’t lie, and you don’t fall into false humility. You just say it, either aloud or silently to yourself. Inside you there are many wonderful qualities and many weaknesses; you accept both. But that acceptance doesn’t prevent you from developing your positive qualities and addressing your weaknesses. We can use the same method when we look at other people. 

We can accept others like we accept ourselves. We know that what they are expressing is only part of them. Even if that person has many weaknesses, he also has many talents, many positive things.  No one is without positive qualities. So when others judge you wrongly, you have to say that they are partly right but they have not seen the other parts of you. The other person only sees part of you, not the totality, so you don’t have to be unhappy at all.