“I felt it shelter to speak to you.” -Emily Dickinson
I am not sure if there is a more challenging aspect of relating than communicating. It is the currency of all relationships, personal and professional, and reflects us in the world more deeply than any other part of who we are. Professionally, it is not uncommon for less qualified applicants to get a job over more qualified competitors based solely on their ability to communicate. Our personal relationships thrive or fall victim to our willingness and capacity to disclose and listen to the people we love.
An ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus once commented that, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” For all of my work on loving relationships, I have never been a good listener. In my earliest childhood memories, my capacity to articulate and charm almost landed me on TV and kept the peace in my dysfunctional home. I learn about my thoughts by speaking them; not surprisingly I married a strong, silent type who makes a living listening to people.
In some ways our very opposite styles of communicating fit; certainly, in my own life, I can attest to the fact that not everyone has the same need to be heard. Yet I have also learned, often the hard way, that not listening to others with the same attention as you are given guarantees a bumpy road to relating. Even after decades with the same man, I must learn and re-learn how to listen to him. How many times he has forgiven me for the unconscious ways that I run over him with my fast-paced, fast-thinking articulation and kill the very thing I work so hard to nurture.
There are no excuses for my poor listening ability because I know full well that even as I form my next thought in my head, I am only half listening. Even the best multi-taskers among us cannot truly be listening while doing anything else. So many communication errors occur in this half-awake state. We believe that we communicate when in fact the message has not been sent or is more likely misinterpreted.
This is largely a result of a thinking error that we all share. Often, we go to our conversations with an agenda, determined and sometimes desperate to have our point of view heard and acknowledged. We rarely go into them with the openheartedness of the explorer. Curiosity and a genuine desire to understand the person you are talking to changes everything. Creating an uninterrupted space in which your loved one can be heard is no different, in their heart, from giving them your love.
This is where our communication, both verbal and non-verbal, is a shelter. Speaking my heart to those who are closest to me, those who always laugh at the right time and want to listen to me until my last sigh, is the safe haven of my life. We are always communicating- whether it is with what we choose to say or what we hold back. Our eye contact, the way we hold ourselves near others- all of these messages are exchanged continuously. Just as breathing changes by the consciousness we bring to it, adding deliberate and loving intention to what and how we communicate can build shelter in our lives.