In the movie Avatar, natives on Pandora greet each other with three words:
“I see you.”
That was my favorite part of the movie. Kind of made me wish human beings were more like the Na’vi people.
HERE’S WHY: This phrase was more than a simple greeting – it was an acknowledgment.
It’s a form of namaste that means: I love you, I honor you and I understand who you are.
That’s how you make people feel seen.
Not just noticed.
Not just looked at.
Not just listened to.
And while you can’t bastardize the art of making people feel seen into a technique, here are a few ideas to keep in mind as you engage with the people who matter most:
1. Greeting is the engine of seen. My parents were high school sweethearts. They’ve been together more than forty years. And when I asked them to share their recipe for a successful, enduring partnership, here’s what they advised:
“We never got lazy with each other.”
Too bad more couples don’t practice that. After all: Relationships work when you work at them. Otherwise they degrade into predictable, boring, complacent stalemates. And that’s when people start to feel invisible.
One test is to pay attention to the length of time you devote to greeting people. How long do you hold eye contact? Handshakes? Hugs? Kisses? Because there is an inverse relationship between the length of your greeting and the level at which people feel seen.
For example: When my girlfriend and I greet each other, our unofficial ritual is that we always embrace for a minimum of ten seconds. Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, that moment is for us.
And it’s not like we’re kissing with one eye on the clock. She doesn’t slap me if I pull back after nine seconds. The point is to stay present. To honor and celebrate the relationship. And to never, ever get lazy with each other. When your significant other came home from work yesterday, how long did you kiss each other?
2. Honor the unique person, not just the assigned role. The biggest complaint about large hospitals is their insistence on formality. Instead of connecting personally and communicating directly, doctors reduce patients to the anonymity of a horizontal figure between the white sheets. And all that does is underestimate their hearts.
The secret is to give feedback and support for the things that make people unique. Instead of giving a dull, blank stare – plunge yourself insatiably into the uniqueness of the other person. This honors who they are, not just the role they fulfill.
Also, take the time to do what you could have easily blown it off. Even if it seems mundane. Even if it would have been easier to delegate it to your assistant or send a surrogate. You’ll find that what’s pedestrian to you become priceless to them.
Remember: When you continually communicate visibility, you give people a gift. Are you turning a blind eye to the human experience?
3. The convenience of connectedness comes at a high price. When you divide your attention between the person in front of you and the people you’re giving snippets of your digital attention to, it’s disrespectful, annoying and makes people feel invisible.
Are you really that important? Or are you putting yourself at the beck and call of people you barely even know just to feel needed?
In the book Crazybusy, Dr. Edward Hallowell writes about this very topic. His research proves that each time you introduce a new object of attention into what you’re doing; you dilute your attention on any one object. “Multitasking is usually disrespectful to someone,” he says.
My suggestion: Put down your phone. Honor the audience of one. Listen with your eyes. And when you’re with people, really be with people. Instead of checking your email under the dinner table, make it clear that human beings are more important than technology. People will feel seen.
Remember: Just because you’re instantly connected to the masses doesn’t mean you’re intimately connected to the people who matter. What do people get when they get you?
4. The opposite of listening. Conversational narcissists drive me crazy. Probably because I used to be one. If you’re not familiar with the term, let me explain: If all you’re doing is thinking about what you’re going to say next, you’re not listening – you’re rehearsing. And that’s the polar opposite of making people feel seen.
My suggestion: Stop adding value. Stop anticipating what people are going to say next. Stop crafting the story you’re going to tell to demonstrate empathy. And stop plotting how you’re going steer the conversation into the direction of your personal agenda.
Instead, plaster yourself with patience. Say yes to silence. And practice otherliness by shifting the focus from you to the other person. Like a good yoga student, learn to stay in the posture until the teacher says change.
Otherwise you leave people wondering why they even bothered to talk to you in the first place. Are you losing track of conversations with key people because of inner conversations you’re having with your ego?
5. Stay fascinated with people. There’s nothing worse than attending a meeting where people treat you like you’re part of the wallpaper. Not the best way to make you rush back next month. As an approachable leader, part of your job is to keep an eye out for new people and guests who haven’t had a chance to contribute.
First, because still waters usually run deep. And they probably have cool input to offer. Secondly, just because they’re quiet doesn’t mean they hate the spotlight. They might just need a little push onto center stage.
To make them feel seen, ask them to share their experience. Give them permission to contribute to the group. Respond to their ideas with a foundation of affirmation. Then, go out of your way to thank them at the end of the meeting for sharing. This invites them to continually do so in the future, plus leaves them feeling impressed with themselves.
Remember: Making people feel seen isn’t about being the life of the party – it’s about bringing other people to life at the party. How many people did you go out of your way to ignore last week?
6. A small drop goes a long way. I’m not on social media as much as people think. Just enough to fulfill several key intentions. First, to publicly thank people who inspire my work. And I do so across all platforms on a daily basis. How are you paying homage to the voices that shape you?
Second, to hear what my readers are saying. Then, use my listening platform to turn feedback into inspiration. Are you using social media as a selling tool or a hearing aid? Third, to send personal, private and direct messages to people who follow my work. This combination of gratitude and engagement keeps me connected to the people who matter most. Does your autoresponder make people feel invisible?
The point is: This level of engagement doesn’t require an inordinate amount of time. It’s not like I’m tweeting every spare minute of my day like Gary Vee. Or spending family time glued to my smartphone. Or getting sucked into the digital vortex by responding to every magnet for my attention when I should be paying attention to the person across the dinner table.
Making people feel seen online is like epoxy glue – you don’t need much to make it stick. It’s simply a matter of bothering to bother. Are you taking time to show people they’re worth the effort?
REMEMBER: You look with your eyes, but seeing is something you do with the heart.
Don’t make people feel invisible.
Love them. Honor them. Acknowledge them.
And they will come back.
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What do you see when you see people?
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That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor
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