Listening and making people feel heard

I was at a meeting yesterday where we were trying to make a difficult decision. We all had our points to say and passionately expressed them, but did little to acknowledge each others' points or to identify and bridge our differences. We ended up talking past each other. Such meetings aren't very productive, and most people don't feel good or united after them.  

In retrospect, we could all have been better listeners and made others felt heard.  

Being a good listener means

  • You can clearly articulate the other person's point and rationale. Even if they are unclear about and even if you disagree with their point, you try to bring clarity to it. 
  • You understand how they feel about the topic, discussion, people involved, and underlying beliefs. 
  • You can gauge their level of understanding and gaps about other points discussed.
When you set this standard of listening and understanding for yourself, you'll pay a lot more attention to what others say and ask for clarifications until you get there.  

It's also important to make people feel heard

When people know you understand them, they trust you more and are willing to hear your points. Making people feel heard means:
  • Others feel you understand their point of view as well as they do or even better. 
  • They feel you are open-minded and genuinely considering their point of view and its right to exist.
  • They should not feel judged or disrespected, even if you disagree with their point of view. 
  • They feel safe, welcome, and appreciated for expressing their point of view. 
There are many tactics to making people feel heard. 
Fundamentally, you should have a genuine belief that the other person's points have a right to be said and considered. 
You can show genuine warmth in your body language, words and expressions. You ask specific questions until you clearly understand. You can paraphrase and playback what you heard and acknowledge the underlying feeling and beliefs. You can help them make their points clearer and stronger, even if you disagree with them. 

To resolve disagreements, you need to start with alignment on goals, priorities, and a framework for evaluating the options rationally. You then have to clearly and impartially lay out the merits and demerits of the different options against the framework. 

Being a good listener and making people feel heard does wonders to relationships, camaraderie, attitudes and productivity in both work and personal life.