#70 Play It By Ear – & – Listen By Heart

More than just listening or receiving messages – truly being heard requires attention, desire, and full, active participation. That seems a lot more like passion than simple, polite duty. And that’s what it takes to listen by heart.

In his book (Nudge), Leonard Sweet described an interesting exercise.   Let’s try it:

Circle the first four letters of the word HEART, and consider them. Next, circle the last three letters of the word – then look at the three letters in the middle. Got it?

Hearing with heart – is the art of love.

We have identified conversation as a form of intimacy. That connection requires the full engagement of a speaker and a listener – or sender and receiver. If we had just one without the other, we would have a monologue – or lonesome silence.

It has been suggested that since we have two ears, but only one mouth – we should listen twice as much as we speak. I have read of others who recommend a much higher 9:1 ratio instead. These folks remind us that ‘talk is cheap’ – but feeling truly heard, and understood, is priceless. In terms of supply and demand – that seems right.

Whether sharing our feelings to ask for support, or hearing a need, and wanting to give support – we need to listen for the whole message. We want to share just enough of the ‘right stuff’ to restore and support connection, without losing the delicate balance of conversational intimacy.

This article is a bridge between senders and receivers. It’s a reminder that reaching out with love – requires listening with heart.

So, how is that accomplished?

Listening by Heart – Is Music To My Ears:

Imagine listening to a musical symphony – beautiful in composition and brilliant in performance. A typical symphony orchestra includes four groups of instruments: the woodwinds, brass, percussion, and strings. Each group is made up of a variety (family) of related instruments. There are at least 90 musicians in a full symphony.

Incredible melodies, blended harmonies, tones and rhythms are presented in movements. I love that the parts within this type of musical composition are called ‘movements’, because that’s exactly what they do – they move us, touching our emotions (playing on our heart strings) through perception and interpretation of sounds.

Human speech may also be described as having four groups, or related types, of instrument. We use words, tone of voice, rhythm, and volume. But wait… there’s more.

Non-verbal behaviors (facial expressions, body posture, proximity and physical movement) are equally important instruments of communication. Each enhances the richness of a message – adding to emotional movement. We need to look beyond the lyrics and hear/see the whole message to understand those movements.

If we listened to the isolated sounds of a third position violinist, or to any other single instrument – we would miss the blended beauty of a symphonic performance. We would probably have some trouble just identifying the composition.  Is it Brahms, Mozart, or Beethoven’s 5th Symphony (da da da dummm)? It would be hard to identify by sampling just a single instrumental contribution.

When we listen to each other with heart, we pay attention to the whole message (spoken and unspoken) that is being expressed. We’re not distracted with our own expectations or plans. We’re not just letting sounds wash over us, but are truly focusing on individual elements, as well as the interpretation of each – within the whole. Sometimes silence can scream.


As we converse – we contribute our own expressions. We create opportunities to blend new understanding – with repetition, questions, and clarification, as needed. In the give-and-take, our perspectives and understanding can harmonize.

Harmonies are not created in solo performances. It takes two – or more.

Only by carefully listening to each other, while playing their individual parts, can an orchestra truly perform well. This is equally true in effective conversation.


Some conversations are easy, like the casual banter of friends at a ball game – or the teasing at a barbecue where a pal’s quirky mannerisms can be ‘roasted’ – along with the corn on the cob.

There are fun times, where the winner in a battle of wits is so quick with a punch-line response – we suspect they were, somehow, able to leap to the conclusion, without even hearing all the words of the original message.

And some conversations are difficult, like the ones we have referred to in the past few articles. Sharing our weaknesses, fears, or pain can be hard. Learning about a loved one’s weakness, fears, or pain – and wondering how to help, can be so hard. These moments of intimacy are anything but easy.

Easy conversations seem to flow without much effort. We just dive in and enjoy.


It’s in the hard ones that we find our greatest opportunity for ‘listening with heart.’ Some of the best opportunities lie in awkward silences that seem to choke expression – when we don’t know what to say, and we aren’t sure what to do. This is bittersweet.

We know that kind of silence is uncomfortable. We want to spare everyone as much discomfort as possible (including ourselves), so we are tempted to rush the silence – filling it with anything at all, just to end it. But, please don’t.

These are not the times to ‘leap to conclusions’ or to allow our attention to shift into planning what we should say or do next.

Scripture can help – and offers some great instruction:

“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath;”      James 1:19

“For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another,”                 1 John 3:11


Those awkward, uncomfortable moments of silence are, sometimes, like gift boxes we can fill with love – in the form of our time, attention, and presence.

The gift of your silent presence – your willingness to listen to the words and the music in the dance of language that is being shared with you (however haltingly) – that gift is priceless.

There are some moments when silent love is the only communication possible.

So lean in closer, listen, look, pay attention, and wait for full understanding of what is being shared. If there are silent moments – fill them with your compassion, your love, and your patience – not necessarily with your words.

Don’t worry about ‘figuring everything out’. You don’t need to have all of the answers right this minute. Also, don’t worry about what ‘they’ might think – just be, there and share, and offer to listen with your heart.

Do You See What I’m Saying ?

Suspend judgment as much as you possibly can – for yourself and for your conversation partner.

One more quote from Mr. Sweet’s book…

       “It’s not our job to see through each other – Our job is to see each other through.”

Go ahead, ask the questions you need to ask – then watch, and wait for answers (verbal or unspoken). If the question was addressed to you, answer as well as you can – and if you don’t know how to answer … just say that.

It might come out like this: “I don’t know what to say right now – I just know how much I want you to know I care. I’m here for you. How can I help?” – or – from the other point of view: “I don’t know what else to say right now. I just want you to know that I need and appreciate your support.” – oryou both could say: “This is hard – but we will go through it together.”

Ask for what you need. That advice applies to both sides of the conversational equation.

Tune in – even to the silence. You will be amazed at all that can be shared – with passionate ears. Enjoy the symphony!

Until next time: Blessings, Love and Laughter to you,


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One thought on “#70 Play It By Ear – & – Listen By Heart

  1. This is my favorite of all your pieces. Powerful, deeply useful and so so true. May LOTS of people be touched by it.

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