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If I asked you to pinpoint your tolerance level in a conversation would you be able to?
Could you say that after fifteen minutes if you’re not feeling heard you get frustrated or start to shut down and get passive-aggressive?
Or if after expressing yourself for the tenth time without any changed outcome you know you’re ready to walk out the door?
Rarely do we think of our tolerance level in conversation in such specific terms. We know we get frustrated. We know we feel slighted. We know we’ve lost our patience.
Finding the edge of our tolerance in conversation
Knowing where our edge is – that moment where our language is about to shift, our actions are about to change, our engagement is about to dwindle is important. Why? Because if we know we’re getting close to what we can no longer respond to in a kind, honest, and helpful way, we can possibly prevent the suffering that ensues once we cross the edge.
I’ve been observing conversations and interactions that seem to be repetitive in my day today. Right now with my five-month-old, he’s going through a sleep regression. And while every night is different, the interaction is the same. He cries and I go in to soothe him. When it hits 3 a.m. I know I’ve hit my edge. I know because my language wants to shift – it wants to move out of the nurturing space and into one of frustration.
It’s all about preventing suffering
Before I noticed my edge in the above scenario and got very specific about what it was and how long into the interaction I hit it I was suffering. I suffered because I had gone over the ledge and I was stuck at the bottom of the well. Sitting in the mud. Sitting in the muck. Once I started noticing and becoming aware of my edge I could take steps to prevent coming too close to it or going over it.
The same is true in conversations and in our communication. We have the same interactions again and again and if we can pinpoint, very clearly, what our edge is within the different types of conversations we have over and over – we have an easier time knowing when our language is going to shift into a place that isn’t kind, honest, or helpful.
Mindfulness in communication
So I invite you to start paying attention to your edges. See where you oftentimes spiral out, get angry, shut down or overwhelmed. And remember what it was that sent you there. Then the next time you’ll notice your edge again in that type of situation. And pretty soon you’ll be able to anticipate when it will show up and instead of running into it you’ll lean back.
Cynthia Kane (BA, MFA) is the founder of the Intentional Communication Institute. She is dedicated to helping men and women change their communication routines so they feel in control of their words, and can express themselves in a way that makes them feel understood. She’s also a certified meditation and mindfulness instructor. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Yoga Journal.
This post first appeared on cynthiakane.com, and is reposted with permission from the author.
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