One of the most significant factors in making someone feel seen, is simply listening. Seeking first to understand. Understanding the importance of listening first has taken me way longer than I’d like to admit. As a self-proclaimed “articulate” person, I find myself much more comfortable telling you how it is than I do learning how it is (or was) for you. In the realm of privilege, people, including myself, are notoriously not good at listening. You see, we think we know the answers. We have been taught to believe we know the answers. But as time marches on in this ever-growing experience of aging, I am learning that I know less today than I’ve ever been aware of knowing before. The job, for so many of us, is to first sit down and shut up.
Truly, sitting down and shutting up might be one of the hardest things ever asked of anyone, because we see things from our own experiences first. Because we’re most exposed to the things we know to be true, it’s difficult to alter longstanding perceptions, beliefs, identities, and understandings. Being able to slow down long enough to wonder what it might be like to have an experience foreign to us, while withholding judgment—ooh-eee!—now that’s a skill. The more traumatized you’ve become, the further damaged that ability often is. It also appears to me that as you become more divisive in your opinions, your access to the gray—that space between black and white—becomes almost unreachable. If you’re so steadfastly entrenched in any belief—as evidenced by it’s all you think about, know about, talk about, and believe to be true—then wondering about alternative thoughts, ideas, or opinions might deserve some attention. This is different from passion, passion fuels good work; being entrenched is exhausting.
As you can appreciate, just sitting there and not saying anything often isn’t enough. The actions (often even more important than the words) that follow next are the things many behaviorists don’t talk a lot about: the simple, yet complicated act of acknowledging.
Acknowledgment is the power that changes the whole game. This act of holding space, of appreciating, is absolutely key to so many things, including strong relationships and successful teams. In my latest book, Feeling Seen, I dedicate an entire chapter to acknowledgment – discussing what exactly it is, and (maybe) more importantly, what it isn’t.