New parents instinctively understand that a toddler’s loss of a teddy bear (or ice cream cone or favorite blanket) is a earth-shaking experience for them. We try to empathize and not belittle their feelings – even while their reaction may work our last nerve. But for some reason, when our kids get older, many of us begin to think it’s our job to provide advice. Rather than just listen to our child’s pain, fears, hopes, etc., we feel compelled to offer solutions, ideas, suggestions. We can see so clearly (we think) what they should (or should not do). We become so intent on communicating our opinion that we sometimes forget to let them know that we really hear and understand them.
Are you listening?
It is way too easy (perhaps even easier) to make these same mistakes in a work environment. Have you ever attended a meeting where the facilitator
- Invites comments but inadequately listens or acknowledges them – or even starts immediately refuting them?
- Selectively writes down some input and not others?
- Totally changes the meaning or intent of someone’s input by rewording it?
We all have had the experience of not feeling heard or acknowledged or understood – it is uncomfortable and frustrating whether it is happening to us or others.
Just because we have “grown up” doesn’t mean we still don’t need to be heard – and the same is true for our colleagues. Feeling heard and knowing someone understands what we are trying to communicate – even when they don’t agree with it – is satisfying and essential for productive communication.
In a group setting, writing down what someone says – in their own words – is a simple yet powerful way to show someone that they have been heard – that their words matter. It demonstrates commitment to hearing what is said – no matter how difficult it is to hear or say. It is an equalizer – it shows everyone’s issues matter.
Here are other simple ways we can validate others:
- Mirror back to them what we have heard to ensure we have heard them correctly
- Make it visible -it can be powerful for people to see their input included with everyone else’s
- Use their words – don’t try to make it sound “better” or different. If you summarize, check to be sure you have accurately captured what they meant.
- Ask more questions – these demonstrate interest and help ensure understanding
- Resist interjecting your own opinions or suggestions – unless invited to. Not everyone is looking for a solution, but everyone does want to be understood.
Validation in any context is empowering and encourages future collaboration. As you move forward with your communications, how will you let others know you have heard their concerns?