Being heard is something that everyone might truly desire, however, how do you know when you are genuinely being heard?
When I talk about being heard I mean having someone present that is actively listening to what you are saying, understands it, and does not judge in the process. Being heard entails someone comprehending what you mean and accepting it for what it is. When you’ve never had these types of conversations with people actively practising effective communication it can be quite moving and eye-opening when it does happen. The feeling of not being heard can be quite disappointing and when it does happen the following thoughts tend to run through my mind; Maybe I am just exaggerating?, Am I being weak? I guess this isn’t as much of a hardship as I thought it was or experienced it to be? Does this person not know how to effectively communicate?
Once in a while, there are other instances where you see it happen to someone else. For instance, when you see it happen to someone else in a friend group when they’re opening up and allowing themselves to be vulnerable. To the point, where they are sharing their story and hardship with us and want it to be acknowledged. In that situation, another individual could interrupt and start talking about their own experiences. Unfortunately, they’re not interrupting in a means to relate but to just talk about themselves. The thoughts that run through my mind then are; ‘’Huh, what just happened? How did we get here? Did you not just hear our friend or this individual open up to us?’’’
In my experience, this has always led to me not opening up to people and not deeming my opinion or experiences to be shareable. Interpreting that my hardships are not seen as actual hardship cause there was always someone else out there having a tougher time than I was. This does not only have to occur when you are sharing life experiences but also when you’re having a conversation in which people are sharing their opinions. When it is your turn it could be that you will not be met with the same courtesy you extended to someone else. In this case, you could be met with someone interrupting you whilst speaking, projecting their view on you and your opinion therefore, it can feel as if your opinion becomes invalid. This can result in one having to realize that not only one person’s opinion or experience is valid. As a result, the feeling of being unheard can continue to grow. I remember the first time I had a conversation after continuously being misunderstood and feeling unheard. A friend who noticed my silence and sensed my withdrawn stance from certain conversations said that I was worth listening to, that I had a lot of knowledge and wisdom to share and I had a safe space where I would always be heard. At that point, it dawned on me how these experiences truly affected me. Hearing someone say I had a lot of knowledge and wisdom to share made me think “What? Me? Since when?’’ and then I realized how negative and detrimental these experiences were to my self-confidence and the want to express myself.
This revelation and insurance truly made me realize how much I have been withholding. The thought of not having to defend yourself or receiving unsolicited advice, and truly just being heard. It felt like a breath of fresh air, not being listened to for the sake of furthering a conversation but effectively communicating with an individual that is actively listening and vice versa. After not having experienced that in a long time I started to value the people around me a lot more in ways I should have done before. Not only that, it made me want to strive to become that person for others as well.
The consequences of not being heard can express themselves in many ways; someone becoming more isolated, their want to speak reduces, distancing themselves from the individual, withholding their thoughts, experiencing a lot of emotional frustration, and if someone truly starts withholding themselves their conversational and debating skills can deteriorate. To the point where, if someone’s opinion truly gets asked and listened to, the person might experience a hard time and some anxiety expressing themselves.
My best advice to overcome situations like these is to actively communicate to the individual what it is you need and want from this conversation. You can start it off with ‘’Can we talk about (insert topic) I need someone to listen to me and hear me out’’. Directly mention you don’t want or need advice but just want to be heard. At times people do not realize that they are only listening to respond and not listening to hear and comprehend. To ensure that you are actively listening to the individual, start by just listening, focus on the individual, do not think about how you will reply, what your response could/will be, or what advice to give them. This does not benefit anyone therefore it is best to avoid this at all costs.
However, if this does occur, that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t well-intentioned, but it does mean that they are not showing up for the person in the way they need them to. Therefore, even though you are trying to be of help, you, in actuality, are not. To avoid this the following list of actions describing what to do might be of help;
Ensure that you are letting the person speak,
Actively listen to them by focusing on what they are saying,
Acknowledge their feelings and
What they are saying through verbal/non-verbal gestures,
Paraphrase to see if you truly understand what they’ve told you,
and lastly if by any chance something is not clear ask for clarification this in turn will showcase that you are actively listening.
On the other hand, clear actions that are not beneficial to a conversation and should be avoided are; firstly, do not interrupt when the individual is speaking, do not judge or jump to conclusions, and lastly do not impose your opinions nor solutions on the other. Sometimes, they might follow up with ‘’What should I do?’’ this is when you start thinking about advice. By practicing active listening through focusing on the individual. And truly trying to comprehend the information relayed, that is when you are benefitting another individual and yourself. When you apply these methods yourself, you slowly start to realize whether someone else is actively listening to you or not.
A beautiful analogy inspired by a great friend of mine on a crucial part of active listening is ‘’Focus’’. When you see a beautiful artistic picture or a beautiful painting you tend to look at every inch of it to see what is in the picture or what the painting is trying to relay. Art gives you a lens to see things through taking for example photography. Through photography, you’re looking at an individual in a moment in time - a photo makes you focus on one point of view/one person. At that moment in time, you are hyper-focused on the individual or what that picture is saying to you. This act in itself when used during a conversation can be experienced and seen as active listening by solely focusing on the other person and what they are trying to relay.
by Amaal Ali