Hear, hear! – The Importance of Being Heard

Jul 16, 2019 | Culture

In parliaments across the globe, politicians shout, “hear, hear!”— and, no, it’s not “here, here”— as a form of verbal applause. It is a shortened version of the older “hear him, hear him!” and serves as a way to show approval of what another person is saying.

In the business world, co-workers would probably start avoiding you in the hallways if you yelled “hear, hear!” in meetings where you really agreed with Susan from Finance. But the phrase speaks not only to the importance of individuals speaking up, but to the value of feeling heard and validated. 

“Being Heard”

A few years ago, MIT conducted a study about interactions between groups in conflict. Part of the methodology involved engaging Israeli and Palestinian participants at a low point in the Middle East peace process. In the study, some participants wrote about the difficulties of life in their society, while other participants interacted via face-to-face chat with a partner from the other group about the same topic.

The study found that, for Palestinians, “perspective-giving to an Israeli effectively changed attitudes towards Israelis,” and that these changes were correlated with “how effectively [Palestinians] felt that the interaction partner summarized their views.” The researchers defined perspective-giving as participants being given “the opportunity to express their views, and feel ‘heard’ by a member of the [other group].”

At the same time, merely writing an essay “without interacting had no effect on attitudes, illustrating the critical role of being heard.”

The MacPhie Way

At MacPhie, executives routinely approach us for help in seeking input from their stakeholders. We understand that there is a role for written surveys and questionnaires when organizations need some perspective. But, we recognize that genuine engagement means interacting with live people, authentically exchanging ideas, and understanding the importance of perspective-giving.

That’s why MacPhie firmly believes in the power of focus groups and face-to-face facilitations to address challenging issues. We gather the right people in a room to discuss thought-provoking questions, so stakeholders understand that their leaders are not just mechanically checking off a box but genuinely want to engage in a meaningful conversation. Our approach — based on active listening —drives towards optimal solutions and provides clarity on difficult topics.

As the MIT study summarized, “the interactive nature of dialogue… is a powerful driver of positive attitude changes.”

Perspective-giving on an ongoing basis

Given the tensions that can arise in organizations, leaders need to ensure that their employees, boards, and other stakeholders feel valued and empowered. As one of the researchers in the MIT study said: “you can partly address [the sense of being neglected and disregarded] by providing an experience of being heard.”

However, it is not enough to simply create one-off opportunities for perspective-giving and being heard. Perhaps unsurprisingly, when the MIT researchers questioned participants “a week after the initial exchange, they found that attitudes had reverted to pre-experiment levels.” This speaks to the value of ensuring others feel heard on an ongoing basis. If genuine engagement is a priority, then providing opportunities for perspective-giving becomes a sustained effort to communicate with your stakeholders.

As leaders, it’s important to show people that you listen and value perspective-giving — they’ll hear you.

By: Swaraj Mann


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