Well do you care?
If you can share your experiences with people who are really listening what difference does it make? Nancy Kline, author of 'Time to think', would say ‘all the difference in the world’.
I recently had two privileged opportunities to be heard by people who have the power to change the law in this country. This got me thinking.
The topic which motivates me most is employment for disabled people.
So when I was asked, on the strength of my written evidence, to give oral evidence at the Work and Pensions Parliamentary Select Committee enquiry I had to do it.
This was a nerve-wrackingly formal experience mitigated by the calm steer by the Committee’s Chair, social mobility guru, Frank Field MP.
I prepared all day before the appearance and on the morning train from Manchester to Euston. I had also been lucky to work with a ‘peer coach’ who heard me well. She discouraged me from treating the upcoming experience as some kind of school exam and encouraged me to use my authentic voice and tell it like it is.
I chose to walk from Euston to Parliament as walking is the best way to clear my mind. On the way I recited the key things I needed to be heard by the MPs.
Our panel’s hearing lasted an hour. I was alongside two impressive leaders, Liz Sayce, OBE and Dr Mike Adams, OBE (ever felt the lack of impressive letters after your name?). It was scary – and exhausting (especially lip reading every detail) – but it was also, I realised, exhilarating.
Why? In the formal stillness of Portcullis House’s committee room, I was being heard.
And it felt great.
But more than that, it felt like a kind of closure. After years of having my situation brushed aside as ‘unreasonable’ (the expense, that is, of supporting a deaf diplomat- as I then was – possibly not unconnected to the financial crisis and the headlong rush to make spending savings/cuts), I was able to get across ideas about suggest some positive solutions for the future.
At one point I described myself, referencing legal language which describes support for disabled workers as ‘reasonable adjustments’, as ‘an extremely unreasonable woman’. I then had to wait while the MPs chuckled. No matter how dark the subject matter, any story can include appropriate humour, so I was delighted.
The ‘Disability employment gap’ (an outrageous 30% more disabled people are unemployed than non-disabled) seems to be popular. The All-Party Parliamentary Group decided to tackle it too, from a different angle. I was happy to be asked to take part in their August meeting.
I was given a specific question about how we could promote disabled people starting their own businesses. This gave me the opportunity to connect with an inspiring local business leader and entrepreneur, Norman Tenray. I was pleased that Norman and I had similar views on the question I had been asked: ‘No, it is not a great idea to create a separate disabled business forum or separate Disabled Chamber of Commerce because we need integration, social capital and the ‘leg up’ that the most powerful (sadly, usually non-disabled) leaders offer and we have a good system in place already.’
The gracious and charismatic Baroness Uddin chaired. As with Frank Field, I noticed the difference it makes to have such an individual in charge. With an autistic son, she was speaking from experience, from conviction. Many speakers wanted to contribute; they wanted to be heard. In the break a deaf man told me his own story of injustice – an inaccurate assessment leading twice to him losing his home – as well as his professional and personal self-esteem. He and I spoke to Baroness Uddin in the break. I watched this man’s confidence soar. He was finally being heard. I felt humbled. And I had a sense of the many untold stories out there and the wealth of experience which we are missing.
So what is it about being heard which makes it so important?
At Result CIC we ran a final group workshop for staff and clients at Greater Manchester Immigration Advice Unit (GMIAU) whose participants we had already coached 1:1. Listening is at the core of coaching’s effectiveness. Our client had the full attention of the group as she said:
‘Getting my story across was important. It never seemed before that anyone understood. There was no judging. It was non-judgemental: listening with care.’
This is one of the best descriptions I have come across of why being heard is important. It enables us to feel that our experience is valuable and valued by others. It is the ultimate compliment – and connection.
There is a bigger issue about being heard. As the country wrestles with the result of a referendum which it seems many took as their opportunity to be heard after being ignored for far too long. When people are ignored they feel angry and isolated. They don’t feel good about themselves. I can’t help wondering if politicians were taught and used the active listening skills which coaches have to acquire, whether we would be in the current situation.
If you would like to try the experience of being ‘heard with care’ as our client described it, do talk to us. You will be heard. And you may be surprised at the difference it makes.