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Mindful communication and McMindfulness

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Business Spotlight - epaper ⋅ Ausgabe 9/2021 vom 25.08.2021



IfI had a euro for every hit that Google supplies for the term “mindfulness”, I would be a multimillionaire. The popularity of the term has, however, led to considerable controversy in the past few years.

Yet, it all started off with such good intentions. With roots in Buddhist meditation, mindfulness became a term used by clinical psychologists in the West from the 1970s to describe various therapies to treat conditions such as anxiety, depression and stress.

But then mindfulness slowly became the goose to lay the golden egg many times over. The increasing commodification of the term, often at the expense of the ideas behind it, led to what Buddhist psychotherapist Miles Neale calls the “McMindfulness” business, said to be worth some $4 billion ...

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Mindfulness: helping to improve intercultural understanding
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... (€3.4 billion).

For Ting-Toomey, mindfulness in intercultural communication is a form of heightened awareness of people’s behaviour during interaction. She refers in her book to the “focused attention to the process of communication taking place between us and dissimilar others”.

Language and mindfulness

The qualities and attitudes needed for mindful intercultural communication are fairly obvious: an open-mindedness, an awareness of one’s own cultural and individual assumptions, values and norms and of those of the other, a willingness to take account of these different perspectives in one’s actions and evaluations of people from different cultures.

But how do you actually “do” mindful communication? How do you achieve this process orientation in language when communicating across cultures?

Ting-Toomey provides a number of recommendations, admittedly unsupported by authentic examples, that are intuitively plausible and have been elaborated on by other scholars: using language (and appropriate non-verbal signals) to show attentiveness to what is being said; modifying language to make it more comprehensible; using language to construct and negotiate meaning by paraphrasing, summarizing, testing the correctness of one’s understanding; and repairing misunderstanding when it becomes obvious.

Commodification of an idea? An example of McMindfulness? Hardly. More the application of an idea for heightened interpersonal and intercultural understanding.


In addition to the criteria and outcomes mentioned in this article, Stella Ting-Toomey’s 1999 model describes and elaborates on the components of mindful intercultural communication. These are “knowledge factors” such as cultural and personal values, language and verbal communication, relationship development and conflict management; “motivational factors” such as the need to be mindful of identity domains, identity needs and ethnocentric tendencies; and “skill factors”, which include mindful observation, listening and stereotyping, as well as the skills of flexible adaptation and constructive conflict management.