The most incredible feeling I’ve ever felt is being understood. Deeply, intimately understood. And nothing makes me understand being human more than being understood.
What comes before understanding though is being heard.
When I was younger, much much younger, I remember never shutting up. I would talk non-stop.
Until I witnessed no one listening. And I felt invisible. I remember many occasions talking to someone and them leaving the room while I was mid-sentence; then returning and not even noticing that I had not finished my story. Or trying to tell a story and others talking above me and louder than I at a table. It was exhausting and a reminder of how invisible I could be.
I stopped talking. This seemed like a reasonable solution and logical with the added bonus of not having to deal with the painful emotional reminder of being invisible. It didn’t seem to bother anyone so it was the correct solution I thought. I learned responding only when asked a question and keeping it short was the best way. And when forced to indulge someone further, talking fast was the next best way; really fast to keep within the short length of people’s attention spans.
There were and have been many times as an adult, where I stop talking mid-sentence; observing how no one is paying attention and when I have not been asked to continue it reinforces my already-given perception that either I am exceptionally boring, or people are really bad listeners. It also keeps me from falling into that false sense of security thinking that one has outgrown being invisible.
Through many courses, development programs and life experiences, I learned about listening skills. And throughout my life, I’ve made many attempts to put these skills into practice. Mainly because I never want anyone to think that they’re invisible (it’s great most times, but when there’s that one story you need to get off your chest, it would be ideal to be visible); but also, because being heard means being understood and that means being part of something. Being understood does not mean the other person is agreeing with you or your story but there’s something special about having your point of view seen; it coming to the light and a vulnerability that you’re willing to share, and the other person is willing to receive. This is special.
Maybe this is why I’m more comfortable with writing than speaking. There’s a flow that happens for me in writing that I can never seem to find in words when speaking. It gives me the control to say as much as I want without worrying about how little people will read. It also allows the receiver to read as much or as little as they want so in this way, both parties are in control of receiving and giving.
If you really want to understand someone, hear them. Not just with their words but with the vulnerability they are sharing; with the keen curiosity that what you are hearing may be the best story told; a story you may disagree with, but one that gives you a little more insight to the person than before.
It’s that one step closer to sharing that feeling of being human with someone else, and that’s vulnerable.