Listening affects our psychological health at work

Marie-Josée Michaud

Marie-Josée Michaud

Author, consultant in psychological health at work, leadership and human resources mobilization.

I explain in this article why listening, this seemingly obvious act, can have such a huge impact on our well-being.

Listening is a crucial element in maintaining the mental health of individuals. Some of you may be surprised by this statement, for those who work in the field of mental health or peer support, they will say that it is indeed one of the key elements they have had to develop in order to effectively support their patients or peers.

What about listening in the workplace? Why do I say that this action, which we take for granted or even as a banal act, can have such a considerable impact on our well-being? Because feeling heard and understood is the proof that we exist in the eyes of someone else and that this right to exist is crucial to our survival. I'm not telling you anything new when I say that human beings are gregarious and that most of us need to feel a sense of belonging or legitimacy in order to flourish.

In our human and normal need to create commonalities on which friendships and alliances will be based, when we meet new people, our reflex is to quickly find affinities in order to be reassured and comforted that we are in the right place. We will seek to form or be part of a family, a clan or an organization that will share the same dream of accomplishment and in which we will be able to fulfill the roles that contribute to our happiness.

I can assure you that during this probationary period, we put our ears to work and listen carefully to find those famous similarities or differences. Our senses are sharpened, on the lookout for the non-verbal language, the word or the intonation that will indicate to us whether or not we are on the right track to create this alliance or this friendship that seems to us, at the time, to be essential or not to our project or to our well-being.

We feel like we are listening but it doesn't seem like others are reciprocating

Of course, during conversations with a third party, one can quickly discover the lack of affinity and choose indifference because the game is not worth the candle and judging oneself misunderstood, one simply rejects the person with a: "Ah, that one, I don't feel like talking to her anymore, she understands nothing about my reality!" We quickly move on, the small feeling of irritation is quickly mastered and we quickly forget the event. Now let's say that this same scenario occurs but that the person who is not listening is someone who is very close to us in our workplace and on whom the acceptance of a project or a future promotion depends, or simply, on the need to belong in the organization?

This is where listening comes into its own in maintaining our psychological health at work. But does this mean that we must take responsibility for listening to everyone at all times in order to contribute? No, in fact it is the responsibility of each of us to validate the real need behind the imperative to be heard, in order to target the right action to put in place.

It is the responsibility of each of us to validate the real need behind the imperative to be heard, in order to target the right action to be put in place. MJ Michaud

It is essential that I be heard because my project or my idea is a priority

In other words, do I need to be listened to in order to put my project ahead of everyone else's because I want to succeed and be better or do I want to be listened to because I want to make sure that this project will benefit everyone in the organization?

If the first scenario is the one that drives you, the one to be better or to be ahead of the others no matter what the consequence for them, probably your interlocutors will unconsciously or consciously pick up your intention. Your project will then become a potential danger to their own value in the organization; they will only listen to you to identify this danger in order to reveal it or counter it! If you are driven by a real need for your project to benefit everyone, your verbal and body language will reflect this and you will most likely receive positive attention.

Remember that a person who feels in danger is no longer able to listen carefully and reason as clearly. This is why sometimes, no matter what you say, the person in front of you seems not to hear anything and may even distort your words completely, giving you the impression that they are not listening!

A being who feels in danger is no longer able to listen attentively and reason as clearly. MJ Michaud

However, she is listening but with a very specific angle, that of proving that she is right to be suspicious of you. Is it her responsibility to listen to you better or is it yours to take the time to understand her fears and to give her the time to regain her ability to use her semantic brain to understand what you are saying?

But there is this person who no matter what I do or say, she doesn't want to hear anything

Yes, there will always be this type of situation in your life. You could try once again to interact with this person with the freshly realized or brought to light realizations from reading this article. If, despite this new attempt, you do not get the desired result, you could then simply redefine the importance of this person in your life! This in itself is a significant exercise in our need to belong at all costs.

There are also those individuals in the company who think that because of their positions, everything they say is worth its weight in gold. What do you do when faced with an executive who thinks he has just developed the most sensible and obvious strategy in the world, when you notice serious inconsistencies and you perceive that the only person he seems to want to listen to is himself? Do a little introspection here again. Is my objective to show him/her that I am more coherent and intelligent than he/she is, or is my objective to show him/her that I am really trying to understand in order to be able to validate the validity and especially the feasibility of this strategy? Perhaps this individual has suffered from not listening to other people who were essential to his or her sense of belonging or existence, and he or she is trying, unconsciously in the present moment, to compensate for this through dictatorial or narcissistic behavior.

The importance of listening in maintaining psychological health

I am sure you are now beginning to understand the importance of listening in maintaining mental health. To maintain mental health, we need to feel understood, normalized and approved. But it is not only the other person's responsibility to fulfill this need. Our own judgmental attitudes and goals may greatly influence the other's ability to listen.

I will close by reminding you of a very important fact. Beware of this need to belong to a role in which your happiness with a capital B seems to depend; this belief may make you say yes to something that required a no in order to preserve your psychological health. How many times in the last month have you regretted saying, "Okay, I'll do it" when your gut was telling you not to? When you feel this way, it is a physical sign that you are in internal conflict and this state can, in the long run, have negative repercussions if you are not careful!

Our happiness is too often dependent on successful integration. In other words, we will strive to be part of that clan or organization and judge ourselves as successful or unsuccessful based on whether or not we are recognized by our peers. We often measure this affiliation by how well we are listened to, and when we don't perceive it, we may isolate ourselves to brood over our anger, our sense of injustice and our fear of not being enough. This is a sign to watch for. If we constantly feel misunderstood and judged, no matter who we are talking to or what event the conversation is taking place at, this could be a sign of a problem.

Are you by any chance unable to listen to yourself, to others or to see these signs?

If this is the case, don't be too judgmental of the one who seems unable to do it for you. Learn to listen to yourself, your body speaks to you about your unconscious and fundamental, real needs, which you may be trying to put aside in order to be what others expect of you. With practice, you will know how to say no when necessary, understanding that your life is not just about pleasing others, but about being ethical for all; which means that your actions will be beneficial for you AND for others. You will then become the one who is listened to attentively, because with time, you will have demonstrated that your words are worth their weight in gold, that of trying to preserve the integrity of all!


2 thoughts on "Listening affects our psychological health at work"

  1. Caroline Doré

    Excellent article Marie Josée!

    This article is very timely!

    Thank you

    1. Thank you so much Caroline for taking the time to read the article and it makes me happy to know that it helps you!

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