When teamwork is lacking at home or at the workplace, a common complaint is: “I don’t feel heard.” Children and adults speak it differently, using a wide range of emotions ranging from anger, sadness, frustration, indignation and resentment.
I probed deeper into what exactly “feeling heard” means to people. Over the last few months I took a survey of eight families (including the kids who say this) and four businesses (10-30 employees). I asked what they meant by “not feeling heard.” The most common responses (exact wording or paraphrased) were:
I can’t get X to agree with me.
X doesn’t respond; it’s as if I’m talking to a wall.
X interrupts me all the time.
X thinks it’s all in my head, that I’m wrong or nuts.
X acts like he/she is listening, but then X goes and does what I was complaining about.
Conversely, when asked how they know when they have “been heard,” people said:
When X makes the change I’m asking for
When X tells me back what I said and says he/she will do something about it
When X makes me feel like I’m the most important person in the room
When X is not looking at his/her phone while I talk
This survey pointed out two misconceptions and one expectation about “feeling heard.” One misconception is that a good listener agrees with the speaker and makes the changes the speaker wants − false. It is also a misconception that it is responsibility of the listener to do all the communicating − false again. The expectation is that a good listener shows value and respect for what the speaker has to say − true. It’s important for all parties to come to a consensus of what “being heard” means. It includes the following:
1) listening does not always mean agreeing
2) as a speaker, be responsible for helping the listener listen by stating facts and feelings in a calm, clear and concise way. It means collecting your thoughts before sharing them, toning down emotions and avoiding expletives or loud talk.
3) as a listener, try to limit distractions, pay close attention and tell back what the speaker said in your own words as evidence of your effort to hear them and to clarify that you heard them correctly.