De-stress with 'mindful communication'

Mindful Communication

In today’s media-centric world, we should all be expert communicators — we tweet, text, post, comment, pin and share. But in this fast-paced era of communication, are we trying too hard to keep up?

Mercyhurst University communication instructor Brian Sheridan developed a new kind of interpersonal communication course designed to help students focus, de-stress and make conscientious decisions.

The course, Mindful Communication, concentrates — no pun intended — on helping students to become fully aware and present within the moment.

“Experts in 'mindfulness' say we don’t listen to understand; instead, we listen to respond,” said Sheridan. “Unfortunately, this is not mindful. This course gives students tools to improve their communication skills in a mindful way so that they don’t react automatically, but instead, respond thoughtfully.”

For more than 25 years, Sheridan's experience with the martial arts, from Taekwondo to Tai Chi Chuan, has helped him in his own pursuit of mindfulness. While the incorporation of meditation is expected to help reduce stress — a theory backed by several neurological studies — Sheridan also uses the practice as a way to engage students in personal reflection.

 “This class has surpassed my expectations and is unlike any class I’ve ever taken,” said Aaron Loncki, a senior communication major, who hopes this course will prove beneficial after graduation.

“I think this course is going to help me better manage the unexpected events that happen in the workplace and help me deal with stress,” he said. “Often, things don’t go according to plan. The class is about working through challenges, being patient and not beating yourself up over your missteps.”

In addition to meditation — a daily exercise taught by both Sheridan and his mentor and occasional guest teacher, Ed Matthews — students are referencing two texts: 5 Keys to Mindful Communication by therapist Susan Chapman and How to Train a Wild Elephant by Zen master Jan Chozen Bays, M.D.

“In 5 Keys to Mindful Communication, each chapter is an exercise. Each week we choose one, journal about the experience and have a group discussion,” said Loncki. “By doing something mindful each week, like using your non-dominant hand or counting the syllables in each sentence you speak, you learn to focus on the task at hand and become more fully aware of what you are doing.”

Despite being a communication course, Mindful Communication is not intended just for comm majors. Because “strong communication” is a sought-after skill among hiring employers, this course could benefit just about any college major.

“I hope students in this course take the skills that they have learned and also apply them to their personal lives,” said Sheridan. “These mindfulness skills can help them create stronger personal relationships and live a more peaceful, less stressful life.”

Depending on the success of the course, the 3-credit Mindful Communication course may be integrated into the department’s core curriculum. For more information about the course, meditation or the textbooks used, contact Brian Sheridan at bsheridan@mercyhurst.edu, or at his office at 814-824-2464.

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