Why being truly heard is such a gift

I took last week off to enjoy the week my wedding was supposed to happen. After ten years as a couple we wanted to celebrate our love for each other, the shared commitment and trust. We wanted to show gratitude for every beautiful moment that we experienced together. We wanted to dance and laugh with those people who shaped us as individuals and as a couple. Then Covid-19 hit.

Everything goes downhill

In Austria, the most significant day was March 13th, when our government announced strict regulations to ensure everyone’s health. The day before, we’d bought my partner’s wedding suit. Now, suddenly everything was under question. We started to adapt our plans. We reduced the number of guests, opting for online presence but kept hoping.

Two weeks later, the Austrian government explicitly forbid weddings with more than 5 guests. When I heard that news I turned my phone off. I was not ready to face the questions, ideas, or commiserations of my friends and family. I just cried.

In this moment I realized how important this celebration was for me. A ritual of celebrating love and therefore the essence of live itself, had to be cancelled due to an invisibly deadly power.

Almost two days later I started to look at my messages again. I started answering my phone.

Listening as a habit

99% of my phone or video calls followed the same pattern: People asking if it was true that everything had to be cancelled. They stated that they felt sorry for us/me. Then there were some variations:

Some tried to comfort me: “It’s not lost forever. You can wait another year. It does not make a difference.” “You do the right thing, you cannot put anyone in danger.”

Some tried to put it into perspective: “It’s only a wedding.” “There are people facing far more impact by Covid-19 than you.” “Think about people who’s health is in danger, who loose their job…”

Some tried to help with their ideas how to solve this issue: “Don’t worry, you can still get married, just choose 5 guests.” “You can elope, go someplace and do it”. “You can have an online celebration.”

I began to realize why I’d shut off my phone before. Why I was afraid to “face my friends and family”. All were trying to be supportive. Talking to them did not help me though. It was more something I had to to.

I new that I had options to postpone. Still, I was f***ing sad that it did not work out. Yes, I was aware that other people had far more problems to deal with. Still, I was heartbreakingly disappointed that this special day of my life wouldn’t take place. Also, I knew that I could change the setup of the celebration. But this would have contradicted the whole purpose of the wedding. We didn’t care about the papers or the rings. We wanted to celebrate something so special with everyone who had some part in it.

So in all conversations I took on this “yes, but”-role explaining (partly defending) our point of view.

It’s a blessing to be truly heard >> ❤

There was one conversation that went differently though. My friend Hailey gave me time to tell her about our decisions and our reasons. Then she was quiet. After some time she just said: “I am so sorry for you guys. I know how much you wanted this to happen. I am truly sorry. Shit, you must feel terrible.”

As I was really sad, I started to cry a bit. She just kept repeating how sorry she was for us and how shitty this situation is.

After some minutes, I suddenly felt more energetic. Like “now it’s time to do something about it”. I started to tell her how we could still create something special, what would be positive aspects of this situation and how we could find creative solutions for the next try.

The science behind

I became curious why this one conversation was so different from all the others. Why this one call gave me more energy and positivism than all the others that had drawn my energy.

In cognitive psychology this phenomenon is called “emphatic listening”. The difference to “normal” listening is, that emphatic listening happens with an open heart. It allows to experience a situation through another persons eyes and establishing an emotional connection. As a listener you connect with the experience of the other person. It is a way of honoring each other and gives us the feeling of being fully heard.

There is a super-cute video showing this effect and explaining what I experienced from the movie Inside Out.

When you feel fully heard, this is when the healing starts. You find a space where new thoughts are possible and new ideas emerge. This is also reflected in Otto Scharmer‘s concept of 4 levels of listening:

It is this kind of conversations that make the difference in a person’s live. I am so grateful that Hailey listened to me that way. It turned out to be such a valuable talk for me.

Having experienced this feeling of being fully heard in such a situation, someone offering to share the pain for a minute was a grateful and graceful experience.

So I decided to offer this gift to other people as well. I work on my listening skills and practice emphatic listening so that maybe another person can make a similar experience after talking to me.

What about the wedding?

Maybe you wonder how things turned out in the end. Despite the fact that strict regulations were lifted shortly before the wedding date, we decided to postpone for a year.

We were so lucky that we found a great date. We kept celebrating our original wedding date though. We spent some time in a nice hotel at a beautiful lake, we took time off together, we had a lovely couples shooting, we drank Champaign and our families delivered wedding cakes for us. We couldn’t have been more happy.

How to use 4 dimensions of knowing as a navigation system for personal growth

Some people choose for themselves to change something others are forced to do so by outside circumstances – such as the pandemic that we are experiencing right now. Every deep-level change throws us into unknown territory. The level of uncertainty rises and it can be hard to navigate through times were solid prognosis are just not possible.

We are educated to use our intellectual mind, logical thinking and rational deductions to make decisions. We make lists of Pros and Cons and analyse possible risks before trying out something different or take a decision.

This is definitely helpful to some extent. Let me introduce you to three more dimensions of knowing, which have helped me to smoothly navigate through uncertainty: Emotion, Intuition and Embodiment.

In addition to the intellectual mind, emotion, intuition and embodiment, used as data source, help you to follow your path and take decisions that are right for you.

Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

Steve Jobs

Emotion

In our professional lives we are often trained to store away our emotions. Especially for women emotions at the work place are not received positively. Often they are labeled as “too emotional” or “too sensitive”.

Also in our private lives we are often expected to be happy and well. How are you? as a welcoming question is not expected to result in an emotional drain.

Research shows that tapping into our emotions – even the messy, difficult ones – and accepting them, leads us to thrive and be truly happy.

As Susan David says in her TEDtalk:

Our emotions contain flashing lights of things that we care about. When we are open to the difficult emotions, we are able to generate responses that are values-aligned.

Susan David

If we take a look at our emotions with curiosity, compassion and some courage, we can take values-connected steps in our lives.

Intuition

Sometimes all facts and logical thinking clearly favor one option – but then you instinctively go for the alternative. Like turning down a job offer from a great company just because it did not “feel right”.

In times on uncertainty – like we are today – we often even lack the rational information part. Everything is really hard to estimate, surprises happen and things evolve dynamically and often with unexpected domino effects.

According to Gary Klein, ex-Marine, psychologist, and author of the book “The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work,” 90% of the critical decisions that we make are made by intuition in any case. Intuition can actually be a far more accurate and certainly faster way to make an important decision.”

Psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer argues in his interview with Harvard Business Review that

gut feelings are good tools for an uncertain world. They’re not caprice. They are not a sixth sense or God’s voice. They are based on lots of experience, an unconscious form of intelligence.

Gerd Gigerenzer

Even tough most high level managers don’t admit it in public, research shows that about 50% of all their decisions are at the end gut decisions.

Gigerenzer continues saying that instinctive decisions are often rationalized afterwards. People look for evidence that backs up their intuitive decision in order to present it as fact-based.

Embodiment

Another dimension of knowing is your body. Researchers conclude that psychological processes are closely linked to the body.

When you are dealing with change take a look at your body’s responses. Observe yourself to find out, what is working for you: When are you tensing up? When can you breathe easily? Where do you feel pain in your body? What outside events or context is it linked to?

I myself found out, that my belly makes noises as if a was hungry, when I feel trapped in a meeting and cannot express my position on the matter of discussion.

When do you feel the urge to eat chocolate, smoke a cigarette or drink a glass of whine? This is mostly a sign that you are about to numb an emotion.

Being tired every morning, forcing yourself to get our of bet, can be as sign that something is off.

Or the other way round: How can you practice self-care and do yourself something good? Be it a looooong nap, a walk, healthy food,… Even if it feels strange or esoteric, try out some yoga practice to become more aware of your body. Calm your mind with some meditation exercise to also sense what’s happening in your body.

Observing ourselves how our bodies react to certain situations can be a helpful data source to find out what is right for us. Taking care of ourselves including our body, we make sure that we respect and worship this part of us.

To grow as a person and advance in your transformation make use of all four dimensions of knowing: intellectual mind, intuition, emotion and embodiment.

By using multiple sources of data, we get a clearer picture of where we are heading to. Not everything seems logic at the first sight. Some signs that we receive from other dimensions of knowing are contrasting to what we is “the norm”, what is accepted” or “expected”.

If we observe these signs with curiosity and appreciate them as valuable source of information we might surprise ourselves. Then we only need the courage to follow up.

I am happy to share how these four dimensions of knowing have helped me navigate through my personal and professional adventures in an upcoming blog post.

Thank you to  Daniel Gonzalez for providing the picture on top!