Credit: Flickr – CC 2.0 – W. K. Kellogg Foundation – Harvesting Change
Feeling unheard, people withdraw or attack, making real communication and collaboration hard. Feeling fully heard relaxes people and opens them to hearing and working with others. This happens in relationships, groups and whole societies. So help people feel really heard by using active listening and reflection. Be curious. Ask: “Am I getting it?”
Related: 1 All Concerns Addressed, 14 Context Awareness, 32 Integrity and Authenticity, 44 Power of Listening, 48 Prudent Use of Power-Over, 53 Safety First, Then Challenge, 57 Story Sharing
Going deeper …
This is an edited version of the video on this page.
This pattern comes out of my understanding of a number of processes that are particularly potent, in which the main active person in the process – whether the facilitator or a person taking initiative in the communication – is trying to truly and deeply understand whoever is speaking. They kind of climb into that person’s universe, try to articulate what they think and feel, and explicitly check if they are really getting it. They really want to know; they aren’t just going through the motions. They reflect the essence of the speaker’s emotions as well as their content, perhaps saying something like “You really do hate your boss, don’t you?!“ – with all the emphasis of the speaker’s passion. After all, you don’t have to agree with somebody in order to reflect back the essence of what they are really feeling and thinking.
This experience of being truly and deeply heard is so rare. There is this funny kind of shift that happens in people when they really feel heard. They can kind of let go of the thing they were trying so hard to push out into the world. And there is a relaxing and opening – often with a sigh of relief. And if this is done really well with somebody, even if they are very adverserial or ideological, they will loosen up. If this is done in a whole group, they will all open up and be able to hear each other more. When that happens there is a more ready flow of information, of perspectives, emotions, insights, all the things you need in order to come to a wise decision, they are all finally there in that space. It isn’t a bunch of solid minds and hearts bouncing off of each other.
It is great for relationships when that happens, and even in the whole of society. When you look at what is going on in the larger society, you experience people in an argumentative state because the system is set up for everyone to fight and try to get their way. Hardly anything can happen and when something does happen, it is because somebody has won and somebody has lost. Then those lost people continue fighting to get heard and get their way as soon as they can.
There is something sad about how all that is put together. You can’t ever reach a point of seeing the larger picture that everybody has a piece of. You can never wake up together and say, “Oh, THAT is what is going on. And THIS is what will make sense!“ When nobody is really hearing each other, we just never get there.
Oddly enough feeling heard is different from listening. The Power of Listening is a separate pattern in this pattern language. It is a different function. You can really listen well to somebody and they still may not feel heard. Or somebody can feel really heard even if they are not being listened to well. There used to be a computer program that mimicked a therapist who repeated back to you certain things and asked you more questions based on what you said. People felt heard even though there was nobody there at all. So these functions are different, although they are obviously related. And I wanted to highlight this phenomenon of feeling heard because it is particularly powerful at freeing the flow of ideas, emotions, creativity in a group or society, and that power is seldom fully understood and realized.
In working with this pattern, Dynamic Facilitation and Nonviolent Communication stand out for me, particularly because people are checking or assuring themselves whether they are truly “getting it” – meaning really understanding what is going on in and for the other person. They say things like “Let me see if I am hearing you“ and they really want to know. There is a level of presence and mirroring actively going on. At an implicit level they are saying “I am trying to replicate what is in your universe and to really companion you there…“ And it is such a profound experience and plays such a profound role in opening us up – individually and collectively – to the emergence of collective wisdom.