How To Make People Feel Heard

Guest Post by Dr. David Burkus

Originally posted @

One of the most common complaints among disengaged employees is about not feeling heard, not being seen or recognized for what they do, who they are and what they are experiencing. As a leader, a lot of this frustration may stem from you. When people approach you with their problems and you jump right to give advice, you may feel you’re helping their problem…but you’re not helping them feel heard. And if they don’t feel heard, they’re not really hearing your advice anyway. Other times people speak up to share a new idea and get met with a quick retort about lack of budget or previous, similar ideas that didn’t work. You may think you’re helping move the conversation along, but you’re more likely causing team members to want to move along to find a new leader.

In this article, we’ll outline how to make people feel heard through five actions leaders can take to send the message that they are listening and respecting the contribution every member of their team is making.

Model Active Listening

The first way to make people feel heard is to model active listening. There’s no faster way to make someone feel ignored than to…ignore them. But in an era of constant distractions fighting for our attention, it can be difficult to focus in on someone sharing, and even more difficult to communicate that you are focused. That’s where active listening comes in. Make sure you’re truly centering your attention on them, receiving what they have to say. In addition, demonstrate your attention through nonverbals like nodding and gesturing. Before you take a turn responding, try to summarize what you heard and check for understanding. As you demonstrate active listening, you’ll find your team members feel more heard, but also that they hear each other better as well.

Praise The Contribution

The second way to make people feel heard is to praise their contribution, even if you disagree with their idea. Recognizing and appreciating their willingness to share their thoughts fosters a sense of validation and encourages continued participation. Highlighting the positive aspects of their contribution is crucial in creating an inclusive environment. By focusing on what they did well, you acknowledge their effort and encourage them to further develop their ideas. Moreover, praising contributions can also inspire others to share their thoughts and opinions. When individuals witness positive reinforcement, they are more likely to feel comfortable expressing their own ideas, leading to a more diverse and innovative team dynamic.

Challenge Assumptions, Not Ideas

The third way to make people feel heard is to challenge assumptions, not ideas. There may well be ideas shared in team meetings you want to push back on or challenge. But it’s important to maintain that feeling that you’re hearing and considering those ideas. So instead of criticizing the person or the idea directly, a more constructive approach is to question the assumptions behind their ideas. This allows for a deeper understanding of their thought process and encourages open-mindedness. Avoiding personal criticism is essential in maintaining a respectful and inclusive environment. By focusing on the assumptions, you shift the conversation towards exploring different perspectives and finding common ground. Asking questions to delve into the assumptions behind the idea not only demonstrates a genuine interest in understanding their viewpoint but also encourages critical thinking and fosters a culture of collaboration.

Questions Before Advice

The fourth way to make people feel heard is to ask questions before offering advice. Before providing advice, it is crucial to focus on understanding the problem at hand. By asking questions, you allow the person to feel heard and understood, creating a safe space for them to share their thoughts and concerns. Asking follow-up questions helps to delve deeper into the situation, uncovering underlying factors that may not be immediately apparent. This thorough understanding enables you to provide more relevant and effective advice. Show empathy throughout the conversation, acknowledging their emotions and experiences. By creating a safe and supportive environment, individuals are more likely to open up and engage in meaningful dialogue.

Addition Before Subtraction

The final way to make people feel heard is to add before you subtract, meaning build upon their existing idea or comments before challenging anything you heard. When offering feedback or criticism, it is essential to always start by highlighting the positive aspects of what was shared. By acknowledging the strengths and value of their contribution, you create a more receptive atmosphere. Even better, when you build upon the idea you demonstrate how much you value it. If you must offer constructive feedback and suggestions for improvement, focus on growth and development rather than solely pointing out flaws. This approach encourages individuals to embrace feedback as an opportunity for growth rather than feeling discouraged. Building on strengths and encouraging growth fosters a positive and supportive environment. By emphasizing the positive aspects, you inspire individuals to continue sharing their ideas and contribute to the team’s success.

Making people feel heard is a fundamental aspect of effective leadership.

By modeling active listening, praising contributions, questioning assumptions, asking questions before offering advice, and focusing on addition before subtraction, leaders can create an inclusive and empowering environment. When individuals feel valued and understood, they are more motivated to contribute their ideas, leading to better outcomes and improved team culture. By implementing these tactics, leaders can foster a culture where everyone can do their best work ever.

David Burkus


One of the world’s leading business thinkers, Dr. David Burkus’ forward-thinking ideas and bestselling books are helping leaders build their best team ever. He is the bestselling author of four books about business and leadership, including his newest Best Team Ever. A former business school professor, Burkus now works with leaders from organizations across all industries, including PepsiCo, Fidelity, Adobe, and NASA.



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