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Dialogue Strategies for Transforming Conflict - A Conversation with Jean Handley

Jean Handley is a Memphis-based communications specialist who practices a communications model known as Mindful Communication. On June 8, Jean will be joining CTC to offer a special one-day workshop called Dialogue Strategies for Transforming Conflict, based on the Mindful Communication model and her other work in Restorative Justice and Restorative Practices. Last week, I sat down with Jean for a conversation about her life, her work, and what to expect from her upcoming workshop.

I was hoping we could start with you telling me a little about yourself and how you got into this work – the Mindful Communication work?

Well I’m not sure how far back to go, but I often point to living in the Amazon with some indigenous people and seeing how they communicate as an important turning point for me. Where I lived there was no television or radio, there was no electricity, nothing. So in the evenings, after they finished work they would sit around and talk about what happened during the day or if there were any issues between them. That was a major change from the Western type of communication. Then in 1983, I immigrated to Israel and actually began working in communication. During that time, for 8 years, I was also working with Ethiopian immigrants. This was an experience with yet another culture where people tended to talk to each other, whether it was about feelings or needs or what have you. When I came back to this country in 1999, I began developing my Mindful Communication model building on these experiences and others.

What I recognize is that a lot of people have issues with each other because of making of judgments, which totally cuts off any form of communication. Mindful Communication is a model that makes a shift away from making judgments to empathizing around feelings and needs, and being authentic around feelings and needs. So, any time I look at a person’s behavior, that’s always going to be a judgement. Mindful Communication makes a total shift away from behavior. All human beings have needs and values, but many times we make decisions about trying to get those needs met with strategies that don’t work. Mindful Communication helps to find ways either of meeting my own needs or empathizing with someone else’s needs.

Which I would imagine would require some real, genuine communication?

Absolutely. That’s what it’s all about. I think essentially the core of what I do is creating space allows for the telling of stories. One of the skills learned through Mindful Communication is the ability to tell my own story without blaming another person, or being a victim – while connecting to another person’s story.

What should someone expect to get out of the workshop on June 8? What is it designed to accomplish?

It’s really about connecting to my own power. When I say, “You make me angry,” well, I make myself a victim. You have the power to make me angry. The Mindful Communication response is, “When I heard you talking about me to other people, I felt angry, and I need respect. Would you be willing to come to me and talk to me when you have something to say?” So it takes away the victimization and helps a person to really connect to their own power. And, empathy, of course. It affirms the other person’s power without them being a victim either.

Who do you imagine will be the benefit from coming to a workshop like this and learning about Mindful Communication? I imagine it’s everybody?

No one teaches us how to communicate. At best you have “active listening” which is a very superficial form of communication, but it’s better than the opposite. But Mindful Communication aims for a real form of communication that helps to connect to intention, whether it’s my own or the other person’s. So it’s really for anybody who is interested in being able to connect at a different level.

How have you seen your own practice of Mindful Communication have an impact in your life?

Because of the practice, I have a reputation as a nonjudgmental listener. I think it leaves me a lot of space to be graceful towards other people, and where they are, without judging them. I believe it is the empathy that results from Mindful Communications that allows for that space of grace. It’s a whole mind shift, a whole change. People sometimes tell me that I’m one of the most nonjudgmental people that they’ve ever met – but I used to be one of the most judgmental person. I mean I was really awful to live with. It’s helped me to make a whole transformation in my ability to connect with other people – to be with other people.

This may not be possible, but if you were to sum up Mindful Communication in just a sentence or a phrase, what would it be?

I don’t really have an elevator speech. But I think, to me, the most important thing about Mindful Communication is that it offers a way to connect to another human being without judging, and while maintaining my own power.

To learn more about Jean’s work and register for the upcoming workshop, click here.

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