“I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” – Robert McCloskey

“For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” – Bible

Bill and Betty had only been dating for a short time, but already Betty was developing some strong feelings toward Bill. Usually the guys she went out with spent most of the time talking about themselves, like they were trying to convince her how great they were.

Even when she was able to get in a word, she had the impression he was concentrating on what he would say next, rather than on what she was saying.

Bill was different. He listened more than he talked. And when he listened Betty felt like he was really hearing her. He would ask questions or make comments that showed he seriously wanted to understand her.

We all know how important communication is. We are practically overwhelmed with all the methods of communication available to us today. No matter what method we use to transmit our words, however, the art of true communication is sometimes lost.

Are we really hearing the meaning behind the words of the person we are listening to; do they really understand what we are trying to say?

We greet our spouse as they come home from work and we can tell they have had a bad day. But when we ask them about it they give a kind of half-hearted answer that we know isn't the whole truth. It takes some real listening to understand what's really troubling them. Are we sensitive to their feelings at first, and do we care enough to hear their heart?

Consider the following two important principles in effective communication.

First of all, we must recognize that it is the sender's responsibility to make sure the communication is effective.

I had a teacher once who felt his only responsibility was to spew forth information. It was up to the student to try to grasp what was being said. Then I had another teacher, a beloved one by the way, who would go out of his way through both words and actions to make sure we understood. This second teacher listened to us as we listened to him.

Many of us communicate through email, texting, Facebook, and other similar media. With these forms of communication it is difficult to determine if we are being understood unless we ask for direct feedback.

For example, we could say “I'm not sure I made myself clear; could you repeat in your own words what you understood?”

The other side of the coin is illustrated by a phrase made well known through Stephen R. Covey in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”: “Seek to understand before being understood.” Or in other words: “Listen with the intent to understand.”

As Covey says, most of us listen with the intent of preparing a suitable reply, “suitable” usually meaning something that emphasizes our point. Often, when I am telling a friend about a conversation I've had with someone else, I find myself repeating what I said, and not what the other person said. I listened more to me than to the other person.

Richard Carlson, in his book “Don't Sweat the Small Stuff in Love,” suggests we should master the art of heart-to-heart listening. “The foundation of a heart-to-heart talk is an agreement by each person to approach the conversation with love and respect.” Listen in a nondefensive manner while keeping reactions in check.

“The overriding goals of a heart-to-heart talk are to ensure that each partner feels heard – and to ensure that both people emerge feeling closer to one another, regardless of whether or not the issue is ultimately resolved.”

Practicing the principles of heart-to-heart talks will help our daily conversations with everyone, not just our spouse.

The book by Carlson has 100 very short essays designed to nurture and strengthen relationships – a great tool to read together and discuss heart-to-heart.

The Family and Marriage Coalition of Aiken, Inc. (FAMCO) provides resources for you to succeed in your marriage and families. Roger Rollins, Executive Director, FAMCO, 803-640-4689, rogerrollins@aikenfamco.com, www.aikenfamco.com.