Two years ago, on one of our long runs where we discuss literally every detail of our lives, my friend Brendan brought up a gut-wrenching topic: how little time we have left with those we love. The conversation was sparked by The Tail End, a WaitButWhy blog post that visually displays how little time we have left with some of the most important people in our lives.
I often think about this post. We make choices about who to spend time with every day. But after we choose to spend time with someone, we make another choice: how we show up to the conversation. How present are we? How closely are we listening? How often are we checking our phones? Conversations are important for self-care – they’re opportunities to strengthen our bonds with others, to discuss challenges, to solve problems, to help us accomplish our dreams, and to smile.
Here is my proposal: the next time you sit down in a cozy chair with a hot cup of coffee across from a friend, imagine that you are – in the words of Michael Franti – plugging your headphones straight into their heart. Yes, I realize it’s a love song, but my translation of this phrase is to communicate from your heart, not from your head. What’s the difference? When we communicate from our head, our ego can show up. We’re waiting for our chance to speak instead of fully listening.
Here are five tips to communicate from your heart:
Hide your phone: According to research, even having your phone on the table can decrease the quality of a conversation. When you’ve made the time to meet with someone, hide your phone.
Follow the conversation: Think about whether you’re asking questions because you want to hear more from the other person or because you want to steer the conversation towards something that you want to say. Do more of the former and less of the latter.
Play catch: Playing catch – going back and forth – is the essence of conversation. Sometimes it’s okay for one person to talk for awhile, especially if they’re describing a painful experience or a challenging situation. But it’s important to “play catch” in relationships as a whole. If you talked more than you listened during a walk with your best friend, be sure to throw the ball back to them over your next latte.
Have courage: Speaking from the heart requires courage – courage to be our unvarnished selves. A few years ago, a stranger started telling me about the shattering effects of his divorce. As he spoke, you could see layers of guilt, blame, and shame starting to wear off. When he finished, he looked at me and said: “I’ve never shared that with anyone – let alone a stranger – but I feel better getting that off my chest.”
Silence: When speaking from the heart it’s natural to have a moment of pause. Silence allows us to process and reflect on what was said. Don’t feel the need to fill every moment.
In 2011, I quit my job to become a yoga teacher. As I shared the news with colleagues, they described hobbies that they were passionate about, instruments that they wanted to play, languages that they wanted to learn, causes that they wanted to help. Motivational speaker Les Brown describes a graveyard as “the richest place on earth” because it contains “all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered.” The magic of my conversations with colleagues as I prepared to become a yoga teacher was that they all came from the heart. Those are the conversations worth having––let’s make coffee shops, dining room tables, and sidewalks the richest places on earth!