Skillful Speech: Right Time to Speak/Listening from the Space of Silence

Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness (pp. 102-108)

“And what is Right Speech?  Abstaining from false speech, abstaining from slanderous speech, abstaining from harsh speech, abstaining from frivolous speech. This is called Right Speech.”  –The Buddha

When is the right time to speak?

“Monks, a statement endowed with five factors is well-spoken, not ill-spoken, blameless & unfaulted by knowledgeable people. Which five? It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will.”  –The Buddha 

The five factors of well-spoken (skillful) speech are:

  • Right Time (e.g. when the person will be able to listen and perhaps in private)
  • True (not lying)
  • Affectionate (without judging or making distinctions about the person)
  • Beneficial (the listener will find it of value)
  • Mindset is of good will (having good intentions)

 There are three times to be mindful of speaking:

“The Buddha speaks to his son, Rahula:
Whenever you want to perform a verbal act, you should reflect on it….

While you are performing a verbal act, you should reflect on it…..

Having performed a verbal act, you should reflect on it…..” 


Listening is also an important part of communication.  Listening from a space of silence can be beneficial to the speaker as well as the listener.

“Can one listen without any conclusion, without any comparison or judgment? I think there is an art to listening, which is to listen completely, without any motive, because a motive in listening is a distraction. If you can listen with complete attention, then there is no resistance, either to your own thoughts or to what is being said  But it is only the very silent, quiet mind that finds out what is true, not a mind which is furiously active, thinking, resisting.”   –Krishnamurti

The impediments to listening from a truly quiet space:

  • Judging what the other person is saying
  • Having ideas of how to “fix” the issue the person is presenting
  • Having ideas on how to “fix” the person being listened to
  • Reflecting on how the issues being presented are similar to the issues you are experiencing in your own life
  • Thinking about the past or future
  • Thinking of how you will respond to what the person is communicating

As each of these thought processes are recognized, allow them to immediately pass out of consciousness and go back to listening from the space of silence.

When we do listen from this clear and open space and wait until the other person has completed their thoughts, our reply comes from our awareness and it will be more relevant and meaningful.  The person to whom we are speaking will know that they were heard (truly listened to).

The role of mindfulness in being skillful:  Bhante G makes a key statement on page 106:   “but by definition, mindfulness keeps us in control of what we think, how we act, and what we say.  It’s impossible to shout at someone mindfully, or to abuse alcohol mindfully.  If you are truly mindful, you cannot do these things!”


  • For the coming week, try to reflect before, during, and after you speak.  Without judgment, examine your speech to see if it met all of the five criteria:
    • Right Time
    • True
    • Affectionate
    • Beneficial
    • Mindset is of good will
  • When you are listening, be mindful of any of the 7 impediments arising.  If they do, can you let them go?
  • What do you find?

Next: Skillful Action: Introduction/Ethics in Action
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