When was the last time you felt heard? No, not because you yelled “Wooo!!” and your kids went “Wooo!” — not to say that contagious hollering isn’t fun. But when was the last time you spoke to someone about something you loved, something that annoyed you, something that made you feel sad or frustrated or moved and you felt as if you were able to say the words you wanted to say and that the thoughts and feelings and sentiments you shared were interpreted correctly? Chances are you can pinpoint that moment because when you feel heard, you feel validated, connected, and seen. You probably felt some relief, too, because communicating your feelings can be hard. A good listener understands that.
This is all to say that feeling heard is important and, when able, it’s worthwhile to more intentionally help the people in your life feel heard and understood. Friends. Coworkers. Family. Doing so requires intention, validation, and acceptance. You can’t be quick to judge or butt in, either. It’s not the easiest of things to nail down. It takes practice. But when you do it well, it puts another person at ease and signals that you are someone who puts forth the effort to understand.In other words? It shows that you care. That’s a rare power — and one worth focusing.
So, if you want to make others feel heard, here are some areas to focus on.
1. Listen With Intention
This is Good Listening 101. When someone is telling you something, listen and try to understand what they are saying without interrupting, trying to prove your own point, explaining your side of the story, or sharing a moment from your life that turns the attention to you. Simply be intentional about learning what the other person wants to communicate and respond to their feelings.
“When you do this, you communicate to the other person that you care about what they have to say, and you truly want to understand their viewpoint,” says Allie Finkel, LCSW, the co-founder of Kind Minds Therapy. It’s important to respond with questions that display your curiosity or interest. Some examples of what this might sound like in action are: ‘Thank you for sharing that with me. Can you explain a little more about that?’; "What does that mean to you?"; or ‘I'm going to think more about that.’”
2. Learn To Validate
It’s helpful to confirm the other person’s feelings without trying to change them. Listen to what they’re telling you and suppress the urge to fix the issue, problem solve, or change the way they are feeling about the situation. True validation is about taking a moment to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and ask yourself how you would feel if their experience was yours. “This communicates to the other person that you care about them,” says Finkel, “and that you can handle creating and holding space for them to have those feelings.”
3. Understand How To Hold Space
“Holding space” is an important active listening technique that, when done right, helps a person communicate their feelings in an honest way. It can be thought of as most active kind of listening and occurs when you recognize that someone needs an empathetic ear. The technique requires you to put your own feelings aside to create a space where another person can speak his or her mind and requires involves staying calm, showing that you're present and engaged, and asking questions.
“Holding space involves communicating in a safe and comfortable way that allows someone to feel like they can express themselves honestly and authentically,” says Lisa Kruger, a licensed professional counselor at Stepping Stone Psychotherapy. “It’s about creating a secure, nurturing environment in which someone is made to feel like they are genuinely being heard and understood.”
4. Don’t Be Quick To Judge
Part of validating someone and making them feel heard is letting them know that you understand what they are trying to say, even if you don’t necessarily agree with their point of view. Suspending judgment and simply taking in what is being said can go a long way towards helping someone feel heard or diffusing an argument.
“Acknowledging what is said is separate from being in agreement,” Kruger says. “This involves recognizing that, although the other person may be thinking about things differently than you, their experience is still very real and deserves understanding.”
5. Summarize What Was Said
Doesn’t it feel great when you say something serious to someone and they simply listen and then reply with a more concise version of your statement to make it clear they know what you said? It’s incredibly comforting, especially when the speaker feels nervous or ashamed. , this doesn’t mean parroting back their words. Rather, it means speaking back to them the main message of their argument and letting them know that you understand it.
“This can be really useful in showing that you are actively listening, and are truly understanding what the other person is saying,” Finkel says. “Reflecting involves mirroring back what someone has said and could include phrases like ‘it sounds like’ or ‘it seems like.’”
6. Embrace Silence
Sometimes what you don’t say is just as important as what you do. Take the time for silence in a discussion, showing that you’re processing what is being talked about and giving it the space that it needs to sink in properly.
“You can allow silence by pausing between someone speaking and your response, and resisting the urge to fill silence with your own thoughts or opinions,” Finkel suggests. “Taking a deep breath can be an effective way to offer yourself the opportunity to pause.”
The more people recognize that you’ll give them time to speak, that you won’t interrupt or immediately propose a solution, that you won’t be quick to judge and are someone who hears them,, the more comfortable and heard they’ll feel.