How to Communicate Like a Buddhist by Cynthia Kane

Cynthia Kane

Photography by the incredible Dominique Fierro Hair & Makeup: Abigail de Casanova

I’ve followed Cynthia Kane for a while (I recommend following her on Twitter as well), so I was absolutely delighted when she gave me the chance to read the advanced copy of her newly released book How to Communicate Like a Buddhist. It is an important topic, and Kane is both well-equipped to tackle it and does so masterfully.

While the concepts in the book are rooted in Buddhism, you do not need to be a Buddhist (I’m not) to find it incredibly helpful and valuable. To see how well you do (or do not) communicate already you can take Kane’s free test on her website (this test is also covered at the beginning of the book).

Foundations of communication

The foundation of How to Communicate Like a Buddhist is based on a Sufi saying:

Before you speak,
let your words pass through three gates.

At the first gate,
ask yourself, “Is it true?”

At the second gate,
ask, “Is it necessary?”

At the third gate,
ask, “Is it kind?”

And on what Kane calls the three Cs:

  • “To speak consciously: slow the conversation down (beat, breathe, question) and know what you are and aren’t responsible for in the conversation. (You’re responsible for your words, actions, and reactions. You are not responsible for the other person’s words, reactions, and actions.”
  • “To speak concisely: cut the fat by eliminating anything that doesn’t qualify as right speech and enhance the conversation. Express yourself with the purpose and point in mind.”
  • “To speak clearly: say what you mean, incorporate the ask into your conversations, and be specific.” 

how to communicate like a buddhistHow to Communicate Like a Buddhist covers mindful listening – how to listen to yourself and to others, mindful speech – speak consciously, concisely, and clearly and how to use the language of silence, mindful silence with a great introduction to meditation.

Throughout the book it is very clear that Kane follows her own suggestions. This isn’t a long book, but each chapter is packed with valuable information and tactics. Too often books are much longer than needed, watering down and hiding the true treasures. Not so with How to Communicate Like a Buddhist, instead I chose to read a chapter or just a few pages a day to fully take in and meditate upon her shared wisdom.

Staying Present in the Moment & Knowing What You Are – and Are Not – Responsible For

This was one of my favourite stories, and something I have been working on for a while – staying present in the moment:

After class, Bryan picked me up. We drove to the grocery store, and I couldn’t get the student out of my head as we were shopping. He was asking me questions but I wasn’t paying attention. I was thinking more about the girl in class, hoping that she was feeling better. Standing between the broccoli and me, Bryan put his hands on my shoulders and said, “We’re in the grocery store now. Whatever happened in class, let it go. We’re here now.” I looked into his eyes. He was right. This was a new moment I wanted to be present for. I noted the feeling in my body and let it dissipate. I’m here now, I said to myself. This is a new moment. Be here now. We’re always noticing, detaching, noticing, detaching. Being present is a constant state of refocusing on the moment at hand.

Another topic that I find myself returning to again and again is the topic of taking personal responsibility, and even more so, not to take responsibility for other people’s emotions, feelings and interpretations – I imagine that I’m not alone in this, as it is something that many (especially women) are socialized to do. Kane also covers this topic beautifully and left me with several little passages to return to and meditate upon:

Remember that a bodhisattva is someone who hears the cries of the world and endeavors to limit suffering. For the purposes of communication, a bodhisattva would choose her words carefully so that her listener may understand and be helped by them.
That being said, it’s important to remember that while you do your best in being conscious of which words you choose and how you use them, you are ultimately not responsible for someone else’s reaction to them. Your speech is what you control, but you can’t control how those words are interpreted.

What I have learned is that if someone is having a bad day or a difficult time, there is nothing wrong with trying to make the person feel better, as long as you remember that ultimately it’s up to him or her to have the self-awareness to see what the trouble is and then decide what needs to happen in order to feel better. It’s the other person’s responsibility to learn how to alleviate his or her own pain, but it’s not our pain to resolve, nor is it within our power to do so.

Whether you’re a beginner or an expert when it comes to communication I believe you will discover some excellent gems within How to Communicate Like a Buddhist and I highly recommend it. If you want to dig even deeper I know that Kane also runs an 8 week Communicate Like a Buddhist course.


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