The Power of Being Seen and Heard

I was walking in Manhattan the other day, enjoying a beautiful sunny day and the sights and sounds of the Big Apple. Inevitably, as in any big city, if one walks long enough, she will get asked for some spare change. Initially when I got this man’s request, “Please, can you spare some change. I’m really hungry!” I ignored him and kept walking. Then, remembering that he’s a human being, I simply turned to him, looked him directly in the eyes and said, “No.” He paused and then with immense relief in his eyes, he quietly said, “Thank you” and walked away to pester someone else.

I was moved by our interaction as I realized that his gratitude was for being acknowledged. No doubt he wanted my spare change but he needed to be granted the dignity of being seen and heard. We all do. In that small moment between this stranger and me, we saw and heard each other. Even though we had competing interests, my desire to “not be bothered” and his desire to “get spare change”, taking a moment to acknowledge the other was all it took to move us out of our “conflict.”

This made me think about what we do in our relationships. Rather than seeking to understand, or really seeing and hearing our partners or loved ones, we usually seek to be heard and understood first. But the power to move through conflict and to create closeness lies in our acknowledgement of the other. We don’t have to agree. Our needs and wants can be very important. And, all of this can happen while giving the gift of validating another’s needs and wants.

So my advice is this: When someone in your life is communicating with you, stop to really listen. Take a moment to validate, to acknowledge and to seek understanding of what the other is saying. You will be surprised at what this can do for your communication. And you will be surprised at how often you too can get your needs met through validating another. As in the case of my interaction with the panhandler, once I validated his needs, he was able to validate mine. If we can stop seeing each other as obstructions to getting what we want and start seeing each other as human beings with valid needs and wants, we can achieve true peace in our relationships.

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