Heart and Mind: The two dimensions of communication

In her TED talk, "I grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church. Here's why I left," Megan Phelps-Roper offers four conditions that, when met, enable us to have constructive conversations with "the other." Her four conditions are 1) assume positive intent; 2) ask questions; 3) stay calm; and 4) make the argument.

The first three conditions are examples of what I call the heart dimension of communication, and the last is an example of the mind dimension. Note the 3:1 ratio.  Too often we short-change the heart dimension, creating a relationship that lacks the connection, trust and resilience necessary for engaging in a difficult conversation.

The following fleshes out the heart and mind dimensions in a little more detail.

The Mind: The mind is the mental dimension. It’s the home of concepts, comparisons, and judgments. It’s where things are turned over, taken apart, held under a light and cross-examined. It’s the dimension of right and wrong, good and bad, liberal and conservative, rights and privileges, individualism and collectivism, acceptance and rejection, and every other “opposite” you can think of. It’s where we take stands, draw lines and, if necessary, defend and fight. The mind dimension currently dominates our national discourse.

The Heart: The heart is the foundation of dialogue, prioritizing relationship over ideologies and positions. Rather than drawing lines, it draws circles—encompassing everyone simply on the basis of our common humanity. Rather than preparing to defend and fight, it prepares to connect and accept. Beyond all else, the heart operates from the foundation of unity. Nothing is allowed to disconnect the common thread that binds us as human beings. In this way, the heart creates the safe space for true and open dialogue to occur.

Heart/Mind Teamwork: When a dialogue becomes a conflict, it’s an indication of a heart/mind disconnect. Partners become enemies; another becomes “an other.” We cease to see our common humanity and we lose the ability to be empathic, to deeply listen, and to see clearly. When this occurs, it’s important to stop, take a breath, and consciously choose to reconnect at the heart level: to set aside our agenda and reaffirm that we prioritize our relationship over being right.

If that seems counterintuitive or counter-productive, it may be because we’ve been trained to ‘stick to our guns’ and to ‘win’ at whatever cost. But if we look at the world today, we can see our desire to “win” is only producing losers.

Successful dialogue—the prerequisite to clear perception, cooperation and collaboration—requires both heart and mind communication. If we fail to prioritize our relationships over our positions (heart), or fail to understand the true nature of our challenges (mind), we’ll be unable to secure the future we most want for ourselves and our children.