(Guest Blog) Mindful Communication: “We-First” versus “Me-First”

Published by Esther Hasselman on

Written by Esther Hasselman, heartfulnesstraining.nu, april 2018
om het origineel in het Nederlands te lezen, klik hier

Sometimes I am ‘enchanted’ by my own story, and so eager to tell people what I think, believe or have dug up from deep within myself, that I have totally lost all sense of whether the other person is still listening.

Another thing that happens regularly is somebody telling me something when he or she mentions a specific word, e.g. ‘car.’And all the sudden, my attention is outside, where I had been parking my car. “Did I forget to activate the parking app?” Meanwhile, I have no idea what the person in front of me is talking about.

Or I am walking in town and I meet somebody who I haven’t seen for a long time. While the other person is chatting about … I don’t know what about … Oh, yes! I wasn’t there for him, because I was completely involved in an inner dialogue. I just couldn’t remember his name and I was digging in my memory.

Or—and this will be the last example for now, but I could easily add another 20—somebody is in the middle of telling me a story and I think I already know the outcome. My thoughts are running ahead, and as soon as the mouth of the teller stops moving, I jump in and say something that is supposed to sound really understanding. The teller shuts down; I am totally missing the point. The connection between us is lost.

The good news: I have been practicing Mindful Communication for awhile. This is why I can be mindfully aware what is happening. Then, I can navigate myself back into contact with the other person, and the mindfulness of the ‘We first’ view talked about in Susan Chapman’s teachings. Sometimes this happens quickly and smoothly, but it may also take some time.

And, despite my practice, sometimes I still have no idea … And I realise what has been going an hour later. Or the next morning, when I (suddenly) wake up.

Can you see the connection here between Mindful Communication and Mindful Self Compassion?

This is what daily life looks like. Usually, we all have good intentions. We got up, we did a short morning meditation, and we have set our intention for the day (“May I be patient today, with myself and with every person that I meet,”) … We are ‘all Zen’.

And then our day begins …

Coming off of your cushion – mindfulness in relationship

As soon as we step into the world again, we encounter situations and people. Good practicing material. Often, this material is more challenging to practice with than the stuff we had come in terms with while sitting on our meditation cushion.

People we meet all have their own moods, thoughts, agendas and rhythm. Just like us. And they don’t always seem to line up.

A few years ago, during the introduction of a silent retreat, they talked about why we were not at home, practicing silence by ourselves, but instead we were going to practice together, in a group:

“It is like washing potatoes. You don’t hold them under water one by one; you put them together in a pan and move them around in the water, so that they rub each other clean.”

The rubbing in our day-to-day situations – opening and closing, engagements and distractions – becomes the practicing material in Mindful Communication. During training and practice groups we don’t concentrate on the content of our communication, but on the communication itself. Mindful Communication is the practice.

De vijf sleutels tot mindful communiceren



The Five Keys to Mindful Communication by Susan Gillis Chapman is a good introduction to this kind of approach. I have been blessed with the fortune of having done two retreats with Susan, and on top of that I have done the five week online basic course. Thus, I have heard her speak several times. She is a genius in the field of Mindful Communication, and is a walking encyclopedia filled with theory, anecdotes and examples.

Also, Susan Gillis had developed an equally easy and workable model: a traffic light system. Her partner Greg Heffron explains the traffic light model in the video beneath. (There are also exercises in the book that you can do yourself.)




Susan Gillis Chapman and Greg Heffron have established the Green Zone Institute. A “Green Zone” is a safe area (the term comes from specific safe areas that are created in war zones). In this Green Zone the traffic light is green (open). We can create Green Zones of our own—formally or informally.

Can you think of some conditions for good communication?


A rule of thumb for Mindful Communication: “We-first”

This does not mean that you only talk about “nice” things with each other. But before you talk about any matter, you first take care of the relationship in the moment: is the listener willing and able to hear what you want to say?

You check this over and over, moment to moment, during the communication session. You keep checking if the light is green (both for yourself and your communication partner).


Mindful Communication Courses and Retreats

After the last retreat I did with Susan and Greg, I really dug into the material. I am now assisting Greg in the development of a series of courses:

  • The first layer was already there: the retreats and the online basic training
  • The second layer is a longer-term ‘Advanced’ online training that educates ‘facilitators’ (if you aspire to become one; you can also do the advanced training just to deepen your own Mindful Communication skills)
  • The third layer is a teacher training, launching in August 2019

The online basic training will start again this June 15th. The advanced training will be offered starting late August 2018. (The teacher training is under development.)

All courses and retreats are available on the Programs Page.


Online Basic Training: Mindful Communcation

Start: June 15, 2018

The online basic training is meant as an introduction, and costs only $125 dollar (with cost reductions for those in need). I can assure you that this training is packed with content and useful exercises, and that it is a real bargain. I promise that you won’t regret it.

Personally, I really appreciated the opportunity to integrate the material in my daily life. I had a buddy to practice with on a weekly basis (in my mother tongue, even though the training is in English); that was also very helpful and we have set the intention to keep practicing together.

You can find detailed information on the Online Basic Training here

My personal interest?

I am not making any money out of this. I just find it fascinating and valuable material, especially in our time where we sometimes seem to “unlearn” the art of conversation. And of course, I get to learn and practice a lot for myself. 🙂