Not Just Seen – But Seen AND Heard

When you were little, how many times were we told, or have since told our own children, “You need to be seen and not heard”? What does that mean? Is what we are saying more about them or about ourselves? Is our child just making a noise, verbally expressing itself or developing their newfound talking skills?  Or is it that we feel embarrassed and are worried about what people may be thinking of us as parents, is not controlling our children, and keeping them from making a noise?

I feel it is part of a behaviour that we have learned from our parents, which is that to fit in we have to keep quiet, not ask questions, not disturb other people, and to always play small.

As we get older, this can manifest in our fear of asking the first question, asking for help, saying we do not understand and not standing up for what we believe. Through listening to one another we can begin to break this fear-based pattern of behaviour.

It is only when we begin to question what we say that we realise this is not helpful to our children or to any of us.  As much as we all wish to love and to be loved, we also all wish to be heard and seen.

I recently watched the compelling series about Brain Doctors, set in the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.  The star, although he would not agree, is the Paediatric neurosurgeon Jay Jayamohan.  Jay goes about his work with the skill and competence you would expect from someone with his experience and obvious expertise.  What struck me most of all though was his ability to easily and naturally connect with his patients and their families.  He does this by truly listening and being empathic with them, but above all seeing them as fellow human beings on their journey.

The Dalai Lama, said during his recent tour, and on the upcoming film Road to Peace, “That this century should be the century of dialogue”.  I feel the more we listen, understand, empathise and connect, that we build trust.  Be that with a loved one, within our business and with our customers and suppliers, and with those that we come into contact every day.

We are great at talking, in fact, some have made a career out of it, but how many of us are great or even good at listening.  I don’t mean hearing the words someone says, but true deep listening.  Listening without judgement and putting aside our own prejudices, but by being present and really seeing that person.

Recall those times when you felt truly heard, truly seen, and how you felt safe enough in their presence to allow what needed to be said to do so.  Remember how reassuring and supportive it felt……

Next time you have the opportunity to listen to someone, turn off any distractions, i.e. mobile, television, etc., turn to face them, look into their eyes, suspend your need to provide an answer or a reply and just let them speak.  Listen to what they are saying and begin to feel it.  Your reply or response could well come from your heart this time and not your head, and may not be what you would normally have said, but they will go away feeling seen and heard.


Colin D. Smith
Colin D. Smith
COLIN is ‘The Listener’, a listening skills specialist and the ‘go-to’ person for individuals and teams who want to be heard, think for themselves, and transform their business and personal relationships through active listening. Colin has that innate ability to actively listen to people. He works with management, project and creative teams, facilitating the development and improvement of their listening and thinking skills. Thereby equipping them to more effectively meet their business, relationship and service challenges. He also works privately with individuals, enabling them to feel heard and valued, to think more clearly for themselves, articulate their creative ideas, address their personal concerns, and achieve their personal and professional goals. Colin has had a varied and successful career in consultancy, business development, IT and customer support, across many sectors, including finance, motor, retail and the NHS. In looking back he realises that much of his success was due to his listening and connecting abilities. His inquisitive and curious mind also enables him to explore, with others, unusual, thought-provoking, yet grounded, observations and alternative approaches to business, people, systems, and change. To make things happen, and to take ideas and thinking further, he connects his Clients with his trusted network of entrepreneurs, consultants, thought leaders, free thinkers, coaches and change makers.

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  1. People may learn to live within full spectrum synesthesia, and to actively engage with appropriate sensory channels while so doing. Example: studies on sensory variation and extending attention spans as well as significantly off-setting loss of retention curves.

    • Thank you for your observations. I am curious, would welcome you expanding on what you are sharing.

  2. I’ve always believed it is a give and take situation in that some will talk continually if allowed while questioning builds wisdom and also clarifies ones correct understanding of what is being said.
    Good read.

    • That is so true Johnny, thank you. For me, like a lot of situations, “It depends”. There is always so much context that we need to know before we can make a judgement. Sometimes in a conversation, all we need to do is look at the person, be interested and they will not only talk but will answer their own questions, saying, “Thank you for listening”. Other times it can be a to and fro banter style, both sides listening equally and sharing equally. Other times it is slower, requiring questions, assurance, reinforcement that they are being heard, sometimes even guesses about what they may be feeling, building trust, creating a connection, showing empathy, such that they open up more and more, until they finally share what was on their mind in the first place, although they did not know it until they felt heard and valued. If we listen with our hearts, as well as our heads, so much of this comes naturally.

    • I must say that as I’ve grown older I’ve learned that domination in a conversation only provides me with information I already know and that I purposefully stop speaking to allow others to respond (I conscientiously tell myself, Johnny, shut-up). I also feel in age that I have gained a healthy sense of give and take mostly because of my children whom I want to express their opinions and I don’t appear as a dominating know it all as that can shut them down completely. I suppose some wisdom, that I have gained through mistakes is better left up to the individual finding out themselves.

    • Thanks again Johnny for adding to the dialogue. So true, we only learn when we listen…although if we are in the presence of someone listening to us, we can think more deeply, more originally, by being able to speak out our thoughts and feelings…which can be both enlightening and hugely comforting. What a great idea, saying, “Shut up”, internally to ourselves. An additional thought, simply breath deeply in and out and maybe in and out again before responding. One might find the speaker has started speaking again…a sort of second wave of thinking coming through. I would like to think I have got better at listening as I have got older too, although that lovely phrase of the more I know, the more I realise what I don’t know, holds true for me. So valuable how you are treating and being a role model for your children. With children, listen first, always…then they are going to be much more willing to listen to us. Funny, how this also applies in business too. Colin

    • Sorry about the error in my grammar, I hate spellcheck, That should be subconsciously…… J

  3. Thank you for this article. I recently created a training on communication for entrepreneurs with Listening as the most important, and as I wrote the Sales Letter it brought back memories of childhood.

    As a former British colony, a lot of our formative years in Jamaica were impacted by similar beliefs, as you mentioned, expressed by parents. They taught us respect, but unknowingly kept us small. If you had a thirst for knowing WHY, you were often considered rude and not.submissive.

    We learn so much just by listening. It’s a simple but challenging skill to master.

    For clarification, this refers to growing up in the 50’s and 60’s. Attitudes of young people have changed significantly.

    • Thank you, Yvonne, for your insightful observations.

      Agreed, teaching respect, having good manners, which often meant we were kept small. And so it went on into schooling and in those days, work as well. Keep your head down, do as you are told, and all will be well…except it didn’t. And then we started to wake up.

      Agreed, the attitudes of the younger people are very different, yet in spite of that, we have growing rates of suicide, mental health, addiction…..

      We are at a time of huge connection yet never have we felt so alone.

      There is still a need for youngsters to be seen and more importantly heard, such that they know they belong, they are valued and that they and their words/thinking matters.

      I firmly believe that we are dying to be heard, literally and figuratively.