Heart Listening (for All Relationships)

January 25, 2015

This is another practice inspired by my work with Chloë Goodchild of The Naked Voice, as well as David Smukler of Canada’s Voice Intensive. I can’t say enough about this practice or the principles it embodies. It has saved relationships and made an actor out of me even though I have no technical training. It is how I make music in a group setting. It is the heart of how I listen when I work with clients one-to-one and in Circle.

Call on this practice anytime you need to slow down communications, before it accelerates or gets ugly, to get to the core of what is asking to be expressed. Use this anytime you need everyone to fully express so that you can discover fresh information and creative solutions. Do this with a stranger and I almost guarantee you’ll start to fall in love.


Partner up with a friend to speak and to listen. One of you simply witnesses while the other speaks for a set period of time on a particular topic. Sometimes I choose “What I love about my voice” as the topic. Often it is simply “How are you, right now?” There are other useful questions under the “Extras,” below. 2-5 minutes is often enough, and you can set a timer if you prefer.

Reverse roles and do it again. So that both of you have a turn as Listener and Speaker.

CRUCIAL: There is to be no commentary, no questions, no “right or wrong,” no judgment, no wild gestures, simply silence and a chance for you to speak and be heard. Be ruthless with yourself about this. Resist the urge to anything but engaged silence when you are the Listener.

Next step, repeat all of the above but instead of words, communicate from and with your heart, in silence. You each take a turn as above, communicating the same themes or answering the same question, but without words, gestures, or sounds. Imagine communicating the information from your heart as the Speaker, and receiving the information in your heart as the Listener.

Gratitude. When you are complete with both parts of the exercise, the spoken and the silent, each taking a turn, thank your partner. A simple bow or eye contact will do.

Share (optional). If you want, you may gently share your own experiences with the exercise, a simple observation of “how that was for me”—but do refrain from commenting on your partner’s sharing, from analyzing, or making right or wrong.

Notice. As you share, note how it was to communicate with words, how it was to communicate with silence. Where are you most comfortable? What felt efficient or easy?  What felt silly or unwieldy? There is no right or wrong, it’s simply useful awareness to have. Words and silence serve us differently in different contexts.


-You can modify this practice to use in a educational or corporate context, in your relationship with a partner or friend or co-worker. In those situations, the other party may or may not be committed to practicing together, but you can still call on the essential principles on your own. You can:

-Ask questions like, “Who are you?” “What do you need?” “How do you feel?” “How do you experience this situation?” “How are you right now?” And then LISTEN without prejudice, judgment or interruption. Just wait. Hear. Trust that you can hear their words and be OK, no matter what. Trust that a response will arrive at just the right moment, with the appropriate words. Know that if it doesn’t, perhaps silence is enough. Know that if it doesn’t and things get messy, that too can take you through to the other side. But your chances are about 1000% percent better if you listen from your heart.

-Especially with family members and partners, especially with them. Enough said.***

-A more general approach, ask yourself: Where in your life can I use less words? Where would silence be enough? How can I create moments or spaces for others to be heard? How can I create moments or spaces for myself to be heard?

In my voice coaching practice, I utilize this way of  listening as a pillar of how I work.  Find out more about my style of voice coaching, here.



***the caveat I offer here is if you are in any relationship in which you are in physical or emotional danger.  In that case, leave the room or the building, get yourself somewhere safe, and do not attempt to communicate with someone who is demonstrating irrational or frightening behaviours. In voice work and in life, safety comes first.

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