Have you ever had a really rough interaction that has stuck with you long after it ends? Of course you have, you’re human. Ok, how about when you consult with your “go-to” friend to get blow off steam. You want to explain to your listener how hurt you are – that you’re not sure how to move past these feelings right now. You just want to be heard and your feelings validated. Instead, you’re told what you should do. You really didn’t intend for this conversation to go this way. You didn’t want advice and now you’re not only frustrated from the initial interaction, you’re now irritated with this second conversation. You just shut down and nod yes for the rest of the time your friend spews advice.
What if things went a different way? You’re with another confidant explaining the rough interaction. You see that your friend is looking at you, nodding her head, listening. As soon as you finish relaying how upset you are, you hear, “wow, that sounds really tough,” and “how are you holding up?” and “what can I do to help?” This time, you feel heard, like your friend is on your team. After you’re done talking, you might feel lighter, even if the situation isn’t resolved.
Steven Covey said that “most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intend to respond.” When one listens with the intent to respond, it means that the listener has an agenda. There’s something forced in that dynamic. It’s as though you need to get your word in to know that your input is valuable. Either that, or you just think you’re a know-it-all and no one else has anything worth listening to.
Ultimately, the best listener will make the speaker feel heard. When one is heard, we are acknowledging their thoughts and feelings. The Power of Acknowledgement allows a speaker to feel understood.. Feeling understood can give a person the same sensations of receiving a genuine compliment or even feeling loved. Acknowledgement makes one feel truly understood and seen. Even if it’s a work relationships, acknowledgment and understanding will give others a feeling of trust and safety and create a more intimate work relationship.
Anatomy of an Acknowledgment
Acknowledgment has a way of showing the storyteller that you’re truly listening. It also has a way of indicating that you truly understand what’s at the core of the story. Although acknowledging can feel like a compliment, it is a little different.
A formula to giving the best acknowledgements. It typically starts with “You are” and is a 3-5 word sentence. The longer it gets, the muddled it gets. Short, sweet. You don’t need to support it with evidence.
Examples of acknowledgements
You have a huge heart.
You are a good mother.
You are a loyal partner.
You are so brave.
How to give an Acknowledgment
Don’t overthink it – if you’re intently listening to someone, it’s usually obvious when you want to verbally acknowledge your storyteller. An indicator for me is whenever the word “wow” pops into my head about a situation, there’s something there. If the story elicits a “wow, that’s a crappy situation,” you might note how the speaker is handling the situation and say something like, “you’re really strong.” The storyteller isn’t telling the story to get feedback. She’s not likely fishing for a compliment. Often when we’re in an emotional place, we’re just looking for release and to feel right again.
Step 1: LISTENNNNNNN.
You really have to listen. Put down your phone. And be honest; if you missed the last sentence, admit it and ask for it to be repeated.
Step 2: Don’t hold your own agenda.
You have to listen with a heart of empathy. It doesn’t matter what you want. It only matters how the speaker is feeling. Even if the outcome impacts you, you need to listen as though you’re the speaker. For a moment, you have to remember, nobody cares what you think.
Step 3: When they’re telling the story, listen AND observe.
What is her demeanor? When she speaks, what is her body language? Notice her attitude and behavior.
Step 4: Give an acknowledgment.
I usually ask, “can I tell you what I’m seeing?” or I simply just come out with the acknowledgment. It’s important not to surround the “You are ___” sentence with a ton of fluff. Short and sweet goes straight to the heart. If you add all the logic or explanation, it goes to the brain. KEEP IT SHORT, friend.
Seems simple, right? It seems SO easy but often, our emotions are neglected by others until we’re so frustrated that we want to blow up. We want to think of ourselves as powerful, strong, courageous, compassionate, (insert any other powerful value here). It’s not often that we get told we’re showing up in the world that way. It’s not often that somebody takes a moment to give us a piece of valuable feedback that’s genuine and catered to us.(like a compliment, as nice as it feels to get one).
Use this with your best friend. Use this with your partner. Use this with your business partner. Use this with your mom. Use this with your kids. Use this with anybody to strengthen a relationship. You’ll see some dramatic results in no time.