To be truly heard is one of the greatest gifts that someone could receive. And despite its apparent simplicity, it is also one of the rarest. Fortunately, listening deeply is something we can all cultivate.
To be heard, acknowledged and understood is a deep human need and when unmet could lie at the heart of disharmony in both personal and professional relationships. At some level, it is also part of the sad story of escalating global violence and political demagoguery, as certain ‘unheard voices’ search for an outlet, often with devastating consequences for themselves and others.
Busy home and work lives can limit the time we have to connect with one another— to deeply talk, listen and understand, and it is vital that we make the time.
It is empathy that lies at the core of truly listening to someone. By empathy, I mean the ability to share the feelings and perspective of another. What precedes empathy however, is an openness to understand others without judgment— an openness to recognise and respect the circumstances that have shaped their lives.
It is not about agreeing with particular actions, but rather about acknowledging with compassion the unique reality of that individual. By allowing ourselves to deeply listen in this way, we can have a profound effect on someone’s wellbeing. For some, it can be the difference between life and death.
It is very easy for us to think that “we know” or that “we know better”. Indeed, our tendency to listen with the intention to reply, rather than to understand, is widely talked about today. Sometimes, we can even simply forget to ask and forget to listen— one-sided feedback sessions at work spring to mind here! To truly hear someone then requires a kind of humility, a humility out of which is born an openness to understand.
So, the next time you find yourself talking to someone, I challenge you to really hear them out, to listen and understand so deeply that you feel you have walked in their shoes. It costs nothing and it will mean everything to them.