“I felt it shelter to speak to you.” Emily Dickenson

I am not sure if there is a more challenging aspect in relationships than communication. It is the currency of all relationships, personal and professional, and it 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, “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 to admit, I have never been a good listener. 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 in relationships. 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 the uninterrupted space to listen is so close to being loved that in the heart of the one being heard, there is no difference.

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, are the safe havens 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.


Robert O.
Robert O6 years ago

Thanks Wendy!

Bee Hive Lady
Fiona Ogilvie8 years ago

Nothing like holiday festivities, howling winter winds, and a cozy fireplace to awaken our gratitude for the blessing of comfortable shelter. This year, during this wretched economy, there are small children who are suffering homelessness. My heart breaks. I wish my very small town had opportunities to volunteer. Then, again, my small town is blessed without a homeless problem.

Abo Ahmed r.
Abo r8 years ago

Hi Wendy Strgar:
First Happy new year and holidays to all.
second: Thank you for posting the artickle.
Listining needs skill as speach needs... Communication process is the way of expressing our thoughts and feelings ...
nonverbal and indirect communication are issues we must take care of during our direct and verbal communication its very danger if we donot pay attention to them as we may act the opposit of what we speek or the reciepient may explain gestures tone of voice .. etc different of what we say.
Listening also is the Key for speach..if we want to answer question or direct a dialog or communicate we need to listen to the end of the partner idea or message then speak.
Some very important to Thiking ... Always think of what is behind the music not just to the words of the song.
Think whats behind and between the spoken words and gesturs too.
I am a good listner and speaks when it should be..I give chance to the speaker to speak all what he needs to say and in the same time I like him to give the same thing.
Again thanks for the post.

Erica Hidvegi
Erica Hidvegi8 years ago

Then no wonder, if everybody woud listen with those two ears twice as much as speaking, we may actually run out of those to hear . . . and change could manifest without any interference. Wouldn't that be grand !

Teresa T.
Teresa T8 years ago

Nice to know I'm not the only one who needs to listen more (and better) and speak less. I think of myself as a good listener, but that's not exactly true, there are always thoughts or comments running through my head so I'm really only half paying attention.
Thanks for a good reminder!

Pamela C.
Pamela C8 years ago

I agree, listening is often the most difficult form of communication. I need to listen more and not assume that what I have said is going to be assimilated the first time. We need to hear things three times in order to learn them. This goes for the everyday items, not just in the classroom. If you want someone to remember something, mention it several times and you increase the odds.

Wendy Strgar
Wendy Strgar8 years ago

I continue to learn this lesson... probably deserves a book for the amount of time that I need to make a permanent shift in how I listen to others and myself... I really like the idea of the silence in the conversation being a deepening of the connection and the awareness of the moment. I am going to practice that... thanks for your thoughtful comments.

Cindy M.
Cindy M8 years ago

It's double edged sword, a fine line of what's write, to listen to the other person, but to also listen to ourselves. We must be fair to both parties in conversation, otherwise it's a lonely road, no matter how many others are around, since there's only one aloud on. But we also have to respect ourselves, and like the wise Jackie S. on this post states, we need to listen to ourselves as well. We can't completely shut ourselves up, nor should we. And the harder we try, I'm guessing the harder it is to do. Living simply is simply just very danged hard to do. But it is possible, as much as we really want it to be that way, if we just relax and let it be, trying to be respectful to all people in our lives at the moment.

Jackie S.
Jackie S.8 years ago

In listening, our most urgent need is to listen to ourselves, and to be able to do this is the rarest quality of all. I, too, like the partner of the author of this piece, am a 'strong silent' type, who in any one-to-one conversation spends most of the time listening - as carefully as I can. What I listen for above all is: is my counterpart listening to her/himself? Is he/she just talking off the tip of their tongue, or is what's being said run through the filter of being internally listened to while it's being spoken? A telling indication is 'Does this person leave time for silence in this conversation?' Silence in a conversation, for me, is not emptiness - it is time for a deepening of the communication and of the rapport and of the awareness of the preciousness of this moment. I am always disappointed when people experience silence as a threat to a conversation, and react - almost in panic, sometimes - so as not to allow it to happen. My experience is that very few people listen to themselves, or know the need or the importance to listen to themselves. It is with those who do that I have the most memorable and valuable conversations...

Hillary M.
Hillary M.8 years ago

Oh, I am often doing the same thing, running over other people's thoughts in the rush to get out my own. I hope to learn more about listening.