We often have a strong desire to feel listened to and understood. And when we don’t feel like our point-of-view is being heard, we can quickly become lonely, sad, frustrated, or even angry. This is one of the biggest contributors to conflict in our relationships and society as a whole.
A recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology looked into this phenomenon. They studied the tension between Palestinians and Israelis, as well as Mexican immigrants and white Arizonians.
What they found was that when individuals were given a chance to share their stories and experiences with people from the other side, it helped improve their attitude about the “opposing group.” This effect was even stronger when it was a member of the “disempowered group” being heard by someone from the “dominant group.”
Disempowered groups often feel like their voice isn’t being heard. They think their values and needs aren’t being considered, and this can fuel resentment toward the more dominant group, who often has more of a stronghold over public debate.
However, when the dominant group makes an effort to hear things from another point-of-view, the disempowered group begins to feel that their values and needs are being listened to. This can be a great starting point for easing conflict and tension.
There has been a lot of research showing the positive benefits of perspective-taking in our relationships. This is one of the first studies to show that “perspective giving” – the opportunity to share our experiences with others – can be just as helpful in building stronger relationships.
However, researchers don’t recommend that the disempowered group does all the talking. Instead, they believe that this is evidence that each group should have an equal opportunity to share their viewpoints.
Studies like this have very real world implications on how we should approach our relationships. If we tend to be the more dominant voice, then it’s a good idea to step back and give the other person a chance to say what’s on their mind. Listening to what others say, without interrupting or being disrespectful, is going to help both of you to find ways to make your relationship more positive and rewarding.
If you are the more reserved voice, then it’s just as important that you find ways to express yourself. If a romantic partner, family member, or roommate isn’t giving you a chance to speak your mind, then it may be important to intervene and tell them that you need to sit down together and let your concerns be known.
In society and politics, we should also strive for ways to let everyone have an equal voice. In the Middle East, many are trying to put together “peace camps” to help resolve long-seated conflicts between Palestinians and Israelis. These camps are focused on open and respectful dialogue between opposing groups, in hopes that they can each begin to see things from the other’s point-of-view. While peace in the Middle East may still be far away, this is a step in the right direction.
Similarly, in the United States, there is still a lot of tension between government, corporations, and Occupy Wall Street protestors. In many ways, the violence associated with the OWS movement (both from police and protestors alike) is a result of a lack of communication. Maybe if OWS protestors were given an opportunity to express their concerns in a healthy and safe way (such as a town hall meeting or public forum), then maybe there would be less violence and aggression on the streets. People wouldn’t feel as frustrated, because at least they would feel their opinions are being heard and taken seriously.
When we don’t have these outlets to express ourselves, it can often lead to negative consequences for everyone involved. Being heard is important for both ourselves and others. It’s a part of healthy communication, and it leads to solutions we won’t find if we just ignore one another.
Check out A Roadmap to Relationships for everything you need to know on how to build healthier connections.