With so much going on in the world today, it’s essential that we recognize the thoughts and feelings of our loved ones and help to make others feel heard. There is a major shift happening around the globe and many individuals are struggling with feelings of uncertainty, grief, anger, and loneliness. Each person copes with and expresses these feelings differently.
It’s important to recognize that every person’s feelings are valid. Their experiences are unique and what seems one way to you may not be the same to another. It’s these differences that make us beautiful. Still, with many conflicting opinions, news stories, and feelings, sometimes it feels like no one is listening.
This can be even more challenging than coping with negative feelings themselves, as we all crave the same things: human interaction, compassion, the acknowledgment of others, and love. Learning how to make others feel heard can provide those around us with a sense of comfort and understanding, even if it’s just during a brief passing exchange.
What You Can Do
We all have the best intentions, but sometimes we forget the little things. In our fast paced world it’s natural. But these little things are important. We tend to think of monumental gestures when considering how to make others feel heard, but there are tiny actions you can take every day that make a huge difference.
You don’t have to deliver a home baked cake to someone’s door, or even send them a card, to let them know you’re listening. Though you certainly can if you want.
Here are five things you can do to make others feel heard, whether your interaction lasts 30-seconds, 30-minutes, or 3-hours.
1. Ask Open-Ended Questions
When you’re engaging with someone, whether it be a co-worker, a neighbor, or your significant other, do you find yourself responding with “mm-hm,” “okay,” or “yeah,” a lot of the time? While we all do this, take a minute to ask the person you’re speaking with a few questions.
Don’t just ask yes or no questions, ask them things like “How is this impacting you?” or “Is there anything I can do for you right now?” Questions like these let others know that you hear them, that you’re thinking of them, and that you’re invested in their well-being.
2. Stay Off Your Phone
I know that your emails are streaming in, your best friend just texted you about a fight they had with their partner, and your boss is calling. That’s how it goes in our tech-connected world. It’s hard to put our phones down; many people even feel anxiety when they do.
When you’re interacting with another person, even for a few brief moments, try to put your phone away. That text message can wait a few minutes, and your emails will still be there. When another person sees they have your full attention they are more likely to feel heard and cared for.
3. Provide a Thoughtful Response
You may think that to make others feel heard you simply need to listen, and while this is true, you also must respond. Responding thoughtfully shows others that you value what they are saying, that you are truly hearing them, and that you recognize that their words matter.
Be careful not to insert an opinion that is meant to invalidate their feelings or contradict their direct experience in a confrontational way. It’s okay to disagree with someone, but in order to help them feel heard it may not be the appropriate time for a debate. Also, while many think that nodding their head and agreeing consistently helps make others feel heard, it often isn’t enough. Engaging in a meaningful conversation is much more valuable.
4. Repeat Their Feelings Back to Them
Repeating someone’s words back to them might seem silly, but it shows that you were listening to what they said. You don’t even have to repeat their exact words–you can provide a summary of how you perceive they feel. Using phrases such as “I know how hard this must be,” or “I completely understand why you feel that way,” shows empathy.
Or, using phrases such as “I understand why you’re angry,” if the person didn’t say they are angry, yet you can hear it in their voice, shows that you internalize not just their words but also their emotions. It shows that you are truly in tune with what they are saying.
It also provides a moment for clarification, for the person to respond with an answer such as, “I’m not angry, I’m sad,” if that is the case.
5. Suggest Next Steps
Sometimes people just need to vent. They’re just looking for an outlet for their emotions and thoughts, and if that’s the case just being a shoulder can lean on can be beneficial. It may also be helpful in some situations to provide others with guidance.
If someone expresses sadness or anger at a situation, you may prompt them to take action to change what is happening around them. Or, you may provide them with useful coping mechanisms. You can start by saying “When I feel this way I…”
When Silence Is Necessary
While all of these tips are excellent recommendations for engaging in one-on-one conversations, sometimes, the best way to make others feel heard is to be silent. While coming together in solidarity is always essential, sometimes the power of silence is one of the GR8EST ways to make others feel heard.
Take a step back and allow others who are passionate on the topic to speak. Take a break from posting silly memes and social media statuses about your dog so that others have the opportunity to share news and information that can be seen by as many as possible. This can be particularly beneficial and help make others feel heard during times of significant social change. Even if it’s just for one day, allow other voices to take the stage.