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The Three Light Approach To Mindful Communication


Susan Gillis Chapman, in her book The Five Keys To Mindful Communication, intorduces the concept of the three lights of communication. 

Chapman explores the importance of communication and conversations in our world. She upholds a we-first perspective to replace a narcissistic me-first attitude in our relationships with others. By using the different lights, you can identify not only how you are feeling in the conversation but also when is a good time to halt communication or when to continue with or bring up communication topics based on where the other person is in the conversation too. 


Red light is closed communication. Green light is open communication. And yellow light is in between and is a good place to pause until you are or the other person is ready to be open. 

Below is a summary of each of the zones and signs to look for to determine which zone you or the other person is in: 

The Red Light: Defensive Reactions

  • Defensiveness

  • Needing to be right

  • Putting self-interest first

  • Controlling and mistrustful 

The Yellow Light: In-Between Open and Closed

  • Curiosity

  • Self-concsiousness

  • Surprise

  • Disappointment

The Green Light: Openness

  • Let go of opinions

  • Fluid awareness or state of knowing

  • Trust your instincts

  • We-first - focused on the well-being of the relationship

Learning to recognize where you are and where the person you are communicating with is in the stoplight approach to mindful communication helps you find a place where you can work together. When facing or faced with red light communication, it is better to take a break. Ask for a break and a time to come back and discuss the topic further later. When you break from the red zone, you can more fully enter the yellow zone. The yellow zone is the point to hold steady. We often want to plow through to the green zone but if you stay curious in the yellow zone, you can begin to see the middle ground and the ways to get to open communication. The Buddhist teacher, Pema Chödrön, calls this “holding your seat." When you are in the green zone that is where resolution is found naturally and without effort. 

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