Language is powerful. One word can make or break a conversation. Yes, most of what we communicate lies in the unspoken, the space between the words or energy underlying them; but the words you choose have the power to bring someone closer to your heart or further away.
The heart of communication is connection. Consider connection to be like a tube running from my heart to yours. The wider the tube, the larger the connection; the more can be passed through, felt and experienced between us. That tube is never static—it’s always changing given how something is communicated and what is being communicated. The tube, or openness between two people, fluctuates moment-to-moment depending on the words chosen, one’s energy and body language—the three main aspects of communication.
Let’s turn to words…
If someone says to you, “You need to join that class”, that may make you feel uncomfortable, which would then shrink the tube and thus connection. But if they say, “I think you may enjoy that class”, then you are likely to be more receptive and open, and the connection expands. And when the tube of connection broadens, there is more room between you to share authentically, vulnerably. You may want to engage them on why they think this way.
We know what it’s like when a conversation and connection expands in dimension. There is flow and openness in the dialogue, an aliveness, a feeling of being present with the other, even if only for 30 seconds. There’s an unspoken permission to be ourselves because the spaciousness of the tube invites it. More is allowed in and out.
Safety & Invitation
With the example of “I think you may enjoy that class”, you can feel that it is inviting. Inviting language creates safety to reflect and have agency or choice. Both “I think” and “may” give room to the other to make their own decision. They invite consent to the proposed idea.
“May” is what’s called tentative language. Tentative, because like “perhaps”, “maybe” and “might”, the word “may” implies not being stuck in a rigid holding pattern of truth or expectation. It leaves safe space for further conversation, for options and exploration, for a yes, no, maybe or I wonder.
By contrast, “You need to join that class” is directive, even if said lightly. How it is received depends on the person’s sensitivity, the context of the conversation and your relationship. Generally, though, when people are told what to think or do it often engenders a reaction. “You need…” can instigate quiet or overt push back, withdrawal or shut down. Less energy is spent on safe reflection (wondering) and engagement and more on defending one’s interest not to be told what to do—not to go to that class.
When this happens, connection suffers. The tube closes down a bit, or a lot. It becomes harder to share from the heart and hear the heart. It can then take time or a time out to rebuild the connection.
In short, safety is about invitation and invitation is about safety. In essence they communicate: I invite you to consider this; I invite you to hear how I feel; I invite you to know what I need; I invite you into my heart, my world; I invite you, and you get to choose. Safe and inviting language brings people into your heart, and theirs. It opens the tube of connection.
One of my favourite ways to demonstrate safety and invitation is by saying “I miss…”. Here are some examples:
- I miss being alone
- I miss being alone with you
- I miss my friends
- I miss (your) touch
- I miss laughter
- I miss camping
- I miss bread
- I miss us
- I miss you
You can see that the focus can be on self, other, the relationship, experiences or things.
In the context of relationship, a beautiful way to express your needs is to say what you miss. In many communication trainings we are taught to say, “I need…” or “I have a need for…”, both of which are generally safe and inviting ways to communicate. But there is something eloquent and soft about “I miss…”.
See the difference for yourself:
- I need more time / intimacy with you
- I have a need to be (intimate) with you more
- I miss being with you
Can you feel the difference?
With the third example, you don’t even need to say “intimate”. The tender eloquence of the sentence implies it. It’s actually quite a romantic way of speaking.
Feeling into the energy of “I miss…”, you can sense the fragrance of longing. There is a poetic, vulnerable and appreciative undertone that touches closer to the soul that “needing” does not quite reach. The longing of “I miss” has a nostalgia about it that invites the other into days past when the flicker of light between you shone brighter. It invites the person into memories (reflection) where feelings arise that create an inner connection to the heart of old times and lost time, and perhaps a longing to return to what was.
“I miss” is that powerful. You don’t need to say much. Just saying those five words—”I miss being with you.”—, or even “I miss you”, followed by silence, says it all.
Tending to your heart
This is my invitation to you. Play with “I miss…”. Remember to pay attention to your tone. Speak gently, and ideally when you can feel the other present with you. Set aside a time in the evening after the kids are put to bed and hopefully you are both not too exhausted. Light a candle. Take a breath. Look into the other’s eyes and share what you miss.
Remember, by saying what you miss you are speaking from your heart. You are giving it a voice. And it’s only from the heart that we can truly connect.
Tending to the heart is the heart of the matter, here. By acknowledging and thus connecting to your heart and what it misses, irrespective of how the other responds, you are giving yourself more to heartfelt living. You are living more true to yourself, and the other.
Check out Vince’s book: Wild Empty Spaces ~ Poems for the Opening Heart
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