In my first year of junior high school, I shared four classes with a girl I had never met before. We talked and found out she lived close to my house. We became friends and enjoyed each other until she adopted me. I’d wake up on Saturday and Sunday mornings and she’d be in my backyard, waiting — actually, it felt more like stalking.

Being the type of person who needs a little space in my relationships, her neediness began to smother me. At 12 years old, I was at an absolute loss as to how to tell her. So I didn’t — I simply stopped talking to her.

Now she was at a loss as to what happened. This all took place at the beginning of the year, and considering we shared four classes together, it was a very long year. The next year she returned to private school and stayed until she graduated. Was my muteness part of her decision to leave public school?

At 12 years old, it was the only strategy I could think of. How could I tell her she had overstepped her boundaries? I was raised on “don’t hurt other people’s feelings — be nice.” The concept of setting personal boundaries was foreign to me.

Communication — why is it so difficult? Over the years I’ve struggled to find my voice and the courage to speak with sincerity and honesty. My fear of being vulnerable and sharing from my feelings kept me in the “be nice” column far too long.

Today I speak from my feelings, where there is no game playing or deception. Yes, it can rock a few boats and shatter people’s vision of “she’s so sweet” and run the risk of rejection, but it has allowed me to develop many profoundly honest and treasured friendships.

Throughout the years, this is what I’ve learned regarding communication:

» 1. Become quiet. Quiet your mental chatter and move into your center, where your head and heart connect and work together. Allow enough light in to filter through the cobwebs of your mind, clearing away the debris of distrust, jealousy, resentment and judgment. Then you will speak with integrity and clarity.

» 2. Listen to your feelings. Don’t run from them, hide or discount them. Value and acknowledge how you feel and find the courage to express them. Honest communication spoken from the feeling level is empowering.

» 3. Listen carefully to another. Listen in silence to another. Listen with your heart. It truly sees, hears and understands. From your heart you will sense the essence of what people are saying and feeling. Then you can respond from a quiet pool of insight.

» 4. Speak to another with reverence and respect. You don’t even have to like the person or their behavior, but when you speak with respect to another, you honor their truth. In fact, you will help them to discover it.

» 5. Speak from your truth. Communicate your needs to another and be willing to listen to theirs. It’s a balancing act that requires honesty, patience and sometimes sacrifices. Are you willing to occasionally set aside your desires in the moment to allow the needs of another to be met?

» 6. Pay careful attention to the quality of energy behind your words. Your feelings and emotions fuel your thoughts and words. What an incredible power at your command when used for good. However, be aware that they can cause harm when stemming from carelessness and self-centeredness.

» 7. Seek the middle road. There is a natural flow of open communication between two people when both desire to understand and be understood. We all perceive life in our own unique way. Be patient when trying to understand someone. Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t fall into the trap of your way is the best way — the only way. Life lived on a one-way street is very lonely.

» 8. Relinquish the need to be right. When you relinquish the need to be right, you create a safe place for all to enter — a place where there is no wrong or right, no wasted energy spent on proving “my way is better than yours.” Strive to become a serene harbor where others can find unconditional acceptance.

There you go. Just a few lessons I’ve learned along the way. And what about the young girl I stopped talking to? A few years later I was walking down the street and there she was. I looked at her, smiled and said a simple, “Hello.”

The lines of communication gently reopened.

Susan Ann Darley is a consultant and creativity coach for corporations and individuals. Click here for more information, or contact her at or 805.845.3036. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.