How to Really Be Heard
“Don’t just do something, stand there . . .”
Have you ever found yourself in the middle of an important conversation, and no matter what you try, you can’t seem to be heard by the other person?
Ugh. Now what?
Even though empathy is one of my superpowers, I’m human and sometimes struggle with effectively communicating. I’m constantly learning and practicing just like you. I can especially get hung up with the people closest to me – including ME – and I bet you do too, so here are some thoughts on what it means to be truly heard and understood.
My bookworm self wants to share some excellent insight about this from a book I recently read. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Dr. Marshall B Rosenberg is now among my top 10 favourite personal growth books. I resisted reading it for ages as the title turned me off, and now it’s my go-to for healthy relationship support (but if it were up to me, I’d rename it “Compassionate Communication”). Specifically, I like how he defines empathy, outlines 10 behaviours that are NOT empathetic and reminds us to practice empathy with ourselves.
The desire to really be heard and understood is the desire for empathy.
Empathy is the respectful understanding of what people are experiencing.
Empathy is giving others the time and space they need to express themselves fully and feel understood.
Empathy is about hearing both the words spoken and the intended meaning behind them.
Empathy requires emptying our minds and listening with our whole being. We’re also listening to what people are needing, not necessarily what they are thinking.
Empathy lies in our ability to be fully present.
Ahhh, feels good doesn’t it?
Now that you more fully understand empathy, how does this begin to answer your question about how to be heard?
10 Obstacles to Empathy
To get to the bottom of this, it can also be helpful to understand what empathy is NOT. I loved this list Dr. Rosenberg shared about the most common behaviours that prevent us from being fully present to connect empathetically with others. Or put another way, none of these are examples of empathising:
- Advising – “I think you should . . .” or “How come you didn’t . . .?”
- One-upping – “That’s nothing compared to what happened to me . . .”
- Educating – “This could become a positive experience if you just . . .”
- Consoling – “It wasn’t your fault, you did the best you could.”
- Story-telling – “That reminds me of the time . . .”
- Shutting down – “Cheer up. Don’t feel so bad.”
- Sympathizing – “Oh, you poor thing.”
- Interrogating – “When did this begin?”
- Explaining – “She probably did that because . . .”
- Correcting – “That’s not how it happened.”
Ooof, just typing those out has me feeling constricted. Of course there are times when these practices are helpful – but not in times of needing to feel heard and understood.
So again, how does this new understanding of what empathy is NOT further answer your question about how to be heard?
The next time you want to share something vulnerable with someone, how could you respond differently so that you are able to fully express your experience AND kindly help the other person know how to be present for you in the way you need?
But there’s more.
Before you seek empathy from others, are you first getting it from yourself?
Are YOU listening to yourself?
We tend to think of empathy as “walking in another person’s shoes” to fully understand them, so it can be odd to think about it as something we can do for ourselves first.
Self-Empathy is a Thing
It is. I found it when googling. I’ve never heard that term before, but now I’m going to use it.
I was looking it up because . . .
I know that when we crave something, the best first step is to offer it to ourself.
I know that we cannot make others do someone (ie. be emathetic), but we can do that thing ourself.
I know that truly listening to ourselves is the starting point to overcoming any struggle.
So I will practice self-empathy more often. And I hope you will too.
How can you use the above definitions of what empathy is and is not to better be present with and fully listen to yourself?
And remember that empathy is my specialty, so if you would appreciate my undivided attention, or could use some support with practicing self-empathy, reach out to me and I would be happy to be present to your unique feelings and needs of the moment.