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Nobody hears me

November 13, 2020

I was discussing the recent elections and the timing of the announcement. I spoke up about why I thought the announcement was premature and was shocked at the reaction my observation generated. What I hadn’t anticipated was the bees nest I had jostled. I was sharing my feelings about the event and it stimulated strong feelings from others. We continued talking about the “facts” and our feelings were what the real conversation was about.

Initially, those speaking up were thinking they were talking about the facts, when the tenor of the interchange was charged by the emotions of the feelings. There was yelling and talking over each other.

This year, emotions have a greater part of our experiences than at most any time in my 63 years on this planet. The emergence of a virus that wasn’t following the rules of the common cold giving us images of people dying with doctors flailing and the most insidious part of it all we can’t tell who is carrying the virus until it’s too late. There is also the social justice movement gaining traction asking for change in our systems and in our daily lives. The election is bringing decisions for very polar perspectives and candidates. All are at a level of intensity because the outcomes for each are uncertain. Change is at the heart of all three and they are coming at the same time. The uncertainty means there are truly no known facts, speculation fills the void, and emotions are what get more weight in our thoughts.

We were talking at each other stressing facts while amplifying our voices and passion by our emotions. I was shocked at the reaction and I was being told what I was thinking. I was not hearing what was being spoken as their passion. I was caught by their declaration of the facts about what I was saying didn’t fit my thinking. I was not thinking the way they were asserting I was. Fortunately, there were seven of us engaged in this conversation. Two of us at the heart of the interaction, passionately spewing our emotional reaction to what we thought we were hearing. A couple of the others were able to observe this dynamic and draw us away from our passionate defenses to highlight what each was saying so the other could hear. They were also able to highlight what I was saying did not match what I intended to say which unfortunately was the match that lit this flame.

With these additional observations, the tension was reduced, and we could move deeper into the conversation and being clear about the points being made by both of us.

What was amazing to me is this was a conversation among people who share very similar views on all of the issues we are facing this year. We were not starting from opposite perspectives. Yet it felt like I was interacting with someone who had a very different view. It was a clear example to me of how communication plays a part in our experience in life.

What does it take to be heard?

The words we select, what we are waiting to hear, and what we anticipate in our future all influence our ability to communicate and collaborate. This interaction gave me a grand example of how words make a difference. Above that was the intention and caring by the listeners and the speakers is even more important. The foundation of this group of seven is our commitment, care, and trust that has been developed over years. We know each other, what’s in each other’s hearts, as well as in our minds. Enough to know a yelling interaction means something is off. There is something not being heard or what is being said is not quite what is being meant. It was a reminder communication among people who love and trust each other can get heated and off track. Together we acknowledged the emotions and in that moment the lack of trust that came from not being heard. Then how it turned with these acknowledgements and our working to hear each other. At this point we weren’t trying to persuade, just to be heard. Being heard felt so good and opened me to hearing how my causal communication lit the emotions when that was not what I was trying to do. It also allowed me to hear my friend’s point without defending my position. The conversation was then able to move forward to finding our trust again and our understanding of each other.

Listening is a gift I can give to others. Letting them speak, regardless of my personal belief, is part of the equation for me to be heard. Finding common ground is impossible if we aren’t listening, and difficult even when we are. It gives us the opportunity to work together, to feel our connection with each other, to find trust. Trust is not limited to those having identical views. Trust is available when we can hear each other.